George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Israel Putnam, 7 May 1779

From Major General Israel Putnam

Camp Reading [Conn.] 7th May 1779

Dear Sir

I am now taking the earliest opportunity to acquaint your Excellency with my arrival in Camp to resume the command of my Division.1

In the course of my tour to the Eastward, I was at Hartford, during the setting of the Assembly, who supposed from a Resolution of Congress, which then lay before them, that all the men raised for the publick service in this State, under whatever description, whether Artillery, Dragoons, or Artificers, were to be consider’d & credited as part of the eight Battalions of Infantry, which were assign’d as a quota to this State for the year 1779.2

This sentiment I opposed, at the time that the Return of the number wanting to compleat the eight Battalions to the present establishment, was laid before them—However instead of raising fourteen hundred men, the deficiency of the two Brigades under my command, they have made such deductions, as leave by their calculation but six hundred men to be raised & these are to be procured by voluntary inlistment—In consequence of this resolution, very few recruits I fear will be brought into the field, unless your Excellency should think proper to make some representations upon the subject to the Assembly, who will set the next week at Hartford, & this I presume will be of more efficacy, than any other means whatever.3

From the Letters, which passed on my absence, & which I have seen since my return I find there was reason to apprehend, the Enemy would have been in motion before this time, & that upon those appearances, it was judged necessary, for all the troops which were under my command, to march for the defence of the posts on the North River, except the first Connecticut Brigade, which is now held in readiness for that purpose.4

Altho I do not in the least doubt the necessity & propriety of these measures, or wish to be inform’d of the secrets of the ensuing Campaign, yet it is exceedingly natural for me to have some little curiosity about my future destination, whether I am to command those Troops which have been with me the winter past, ⟨or⟩ in some new Department, or whether I am to remain to guard the Huts at this Place—For after Genl McDougall is reinforced with the whole of my Division (which will augment his, to a very respectable command) nothing is said concerning the part which I am to act—However disagreeable the situation may be, I know there is a delicacy in thinking & treating on a subject⟨,⟩ where ones self is so intimately concerned beyond the limits of which, I hope I shall not be accused of passing.

I am unhappy to inform your Excellency that upon the removal of our Detachments from the Sea Coast, the Enemy have exhibited some specimens of enterprize a little unusual for them; A few nights since a small party, from a Whale Boat landed at Fairfield, surprized & carried off Brigadier Genl Silliman of the militia & his Son Majr Silliman5—Last night another party landed at Middlesex near Norwalk, in quest of one Capt. Selleck, who happen’d to be absent; But a Mr Webb late a Lieut. in the Train, two of the Inhabitants, and the ingenious Doctor Bushnell fell into their hands—As the last mentioned Gentleman, who was there in the prosecution of his unremitted endeavours to destroy the Enemies shipping, is personally known to very few People, it is possible he may not be discover’d by his real name or character & may be consider’d of less consequence than he actually is.6

I am this instant informed that about fifty of the Enemys Plunderers landed at Selleck’s Farms this morning, & carried off every man his Sheep, that is to say 50 before the Militia could be collected to oppose them,7 These incursions I expect will be frequent & troublesome, but I hope not decisive or very important. I am Your Excellency’s most obedient & very humble Ser⟨vt⟩

Israel Putnam

P.S. I design’d to have suggested to your Excellency the difficulties I am appprehensive will arise in procuring forage for the Baggage Horses & Teams⟨.⟩ The grass is by no means sufficient to support them—And dry forage will be furnish’d with great difficulty, & I fear in very small quantities.


1Putnam had left Redding, Conn., on 2 April in order to attend to his “domestic concerns,” and Brig. Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons had commanded in his absence; see Putnam to GW, 1 April.

2Congress had resolved on 15 March that “all officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers, now belonging to the corps of light dragoons, and artillery and infantry, and the corps of artillery artificers, commissioned and inlisted since the 16 of September, 1776, for three years, or during the war, or which shall hereafter be so commissioned and inlisted, not being part of the 88 battalions originally apportioned on the states, be considered as parts of the quotas of the several states to which they did or shall respectively belong when so commissioned or inlisted” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 13:317).

3The Connecticut general assembly had resolved in April to raise 600 volunteers to fill up the state’s Continental regiments (Conn. Public Records description begins The Public Records of the State of Connecticut . . . with the Journal of the Council of Safety . . . and an Appendix. 18 vols. to date. Hartford, 1894—. description ends , 2:229–30). GW replied to Putnam on 14 May that he was writing to governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., on the subject, but his letter, possibly dated 13 May, has not been found.

4See GW’s letters to Putnam of 17, 19, 23, and 28 April, all of which Brig. Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons opened in Putnam’s absence.

5The Connecticut Journal (New Haven) reported on 5 May that “Saturday night last [1 May], Brigadier General Silliman, and his Son, Major Silliman, both of the militia, were taken from the General’s house, in Fairfield, by a party of about 10 tories, from Long-Island. The affair was conducted with such secrecy, that altho’ they liv’d near two miles from the water side, the inhabitants knew nothing of the matter, till it was fully accomplished.” The same newspaper reported on 8 Sept. that “one Glover,” the leader of the party that had captured the two men, had received his comeuppance by being captured during a raid on Long Island. Brig. Gen. Gold Selleck Silliman and his son, Brigade Major William Silliman (1756–1818), were exchanged in October 1780.

6Privateer captain Simeon Selleck (Sellick) of Connecticut had been rewarded by Congress on 1 Jan. 1776 for taking a quantity of British goods in Turtle Bay, N.Y. (see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 4:13, and Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964—. description ends , 3:301–2, 559).

Samuel Webb (d. 1825) of Stamford, Conn., had served as a clerk of the 5th Connecticut Regiment in 1775 before being appointed first lieutenant of Col. Samuel Elmore’s Connecticut State Regiment in April 1776. He was commissioned a first lieutenant in the 2d Continental Artillery Regiment in January 1777 and resigned in May 1778. After his capture and exchange, he became brigade major of Brig. Gen. David Waterbury’s brigade of Connecticut state troops in January 1781, and resigned three months later.

David Bushnell (1742–1824) of Saybrook, Conn., who had studied mathematics before the war at Yale University, made his mark early on in the war by devising a number of infernal machines for use against British shipping. His most notorious construction was the Turtle, the first submarine to be used in combat, with which Bushnell attempted and failed to sink the British 64-gun ship Eagle in New York harbor in September 1776 (see William Heath’s second letter to GW, 10 Oct. 1776, n.3; and Papers, Confederation Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1992–97. description ends , 3:282–83). Unfazed, he continued his attacks on British shipping by other methods, damaging a schooner and killing three British sailors with mines in August 1777, and sending gunpowder-filled contraptions down the Delaware River in January 1778 in what became known as the “Battle of the Kegs” (see Continental Navy Board to GW, 17 and 30 Dec. 1777; and General Orders, 5 Jan. 1778). Captured by Loyalists on 6 May 1779, Bushnell went undetected as Putnam had hoped, and both he and Webb were exchanged several days later (Conn. Public Records description begins The Public Records of the State of Connecticut . . . with the Journal of the Council of Safety . . . and an Appendix. 18 vols. to date. Hartford, 1894—. description ends , 2:289–90). Gov. Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., formally introduced Bushnell to GW by letter on 29 May 1779, and Yale professor Ezra Stiles recommended him in a letter to GW of 2 June (DLC:GW). Bushnell was appointed a captain lieutenant in the corps of sappers and miners on 2 Aug. and promoted to captain on 19 June 1781 (see the general orders for those dates in DLC:GW). He served for another two years, but his inventiveness seems to have declined after the war and he died in obscurity. For a revisionist assessment of Bushnell’s efforts in submarine warfare, see Alex Roland, “Bushnell’s Submarine: American Original or European Import?” Technology and Culture 18 (1977): 157–74.

7Putnam apparently is referring to farms near Stamford, Conn., that had been confiscated from the Loyalist Abraham Selleck in 1778.

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