George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Horatio Gates, 25 May 1779

From Major General Horatio Gates

Providence [R.I.] 25th May 1779.


At Eight O’Clock last Night, I had the Honour to receive Your Excellency’s Letter of (Blank) day of May 1779,1 by Fredrick Deitz, who says he left Middle Brook Saturday Sen’night.2 The Letters from the President of the Congress, to the Councils of Massachusetts, & New Hampshire, were immediately forwarded. The Effect of all my former Applications to the three Neighbouring States is as Follows; Connecticut, in a manner decline giving any Aid; urging that New London is threatened, and their Southern Frontier too much exposed to the Ravages of the Enemy.3 The Copy of Governour Trumbull’s Letter to me upon that Subject, will convince Your Excellency of the Intention of that State.4

The inclosed Copy of a Letter from The President of New Hampshire, shews no Troops are to be expected from that Quarter.5 Massachusetts Bay have Ordered One Regiment to be raised, by giving an Enormous Bounty, which, with the additional Pay they have granted, will, as I am informed by General Cornell who Commands at Tiverton, amount to the extravagant Sum of Forty pounds a Month, per Man, for the time they are engaged to Serve.6 As yet, no more than One Hundred and Fifty of this Regiment have arrived at Tiverton, their Rendezvous. I doubt if they will ever amount to Five Hundred, which is but one third of the Stipulated Quota of That State.

The General Return, which I inclose, will shew you how very Deficient This State is, in the Numbers they agreed to provide for their immediate Defence.7 I think I need not say any more upon the Subject; Your Excellency’s Wisdom, and Experience, will draw all the necessary Conclusions. I must now beg you will turn Your Eyes to the State of the Enemy’s Force upon Rhode-Island. Yesterday, Two German Surgeons Mates, and One Serjeant, with an Inhabitant of Newport, made their Escape to us from the Island. Their intelligence, which Your Excellency will find in the packet, has every mark of Authenticity; and is, I firmly believe, as exact as it is possible for such information to be. Your Excellency will Also find in the Packet, the Examination of a Lad a Mariner on board the Sloop George, taken last Thursday, at a point about Four Miles below East Greenwich.8

The Commissions for the First, and Second Rhode-Island Regiments, received by The Express, are delivered to the Officers Commanding those Corps.

I have attentively considered the Contents of Your Excellency’s Letter; and think with you, that the States in General are shamefully tardy in providing their Quotas of Troops. It is to be feared that, nothing less than some great Misfortune will bring them to a proper Sense of their Duty.

As I am totally unacquainted with the plans in Contemplation between Your Excellency, and the Congress, I shall not presume to give any Opinion upon them. I have already informed You, that I think a formidable Expedition with Cannon, with a view to reduce the Fort of Niagara, is, in Our present Circumstances, highly improper.9 Nothing that I conceive, can be attempted with reasonable hopes of Success, in the Back Country, but in the manner that the Surprize upon the Onandagas was conducted.10 Pitsburgh, Wyoming, and some advanced Post between them, might be good places whence such large Scouts might be detached. Could a Blow have been Struck upon the Senecas, at the same Instant with that at Onondaga, it might have Ended the Indian War.

I have not obtained an Authentic Account of what Number of The Enemy went from New York, in the Embarkation Your Excellency mentions to have taken place. Whither that Force is Bound, and what are Your Designs in consequence of that movement; what reinforcement it is expected the Enemy will send, & what we are to depend upon from the House of Bourbon, are Objects so intimately connected, that the one can be viewed but imperfectly without the other; but since I can neither Advise, nor reason without the means, I Shall Silently wish for the Independence, Peace, and Freedom, of the United States.

Inclosed is an Extract of a Letter just received from Carolina.11 By this, it seems, General Lincoln was in a prosperous Situation: I pray Heaven it may be so!

The Money lately sent to this Department, will barely pay the Arrears due to the Troops, and Militia, as part of General Spencer’s were yet to settle with, and all of General Sullivan’s Command. The parts of Rations, &c., of which I wrote to Your Excellency in my last Letter,12 remains unpaid; many, if not all the Continental Troops, might be reinlisted for the War, but without money down, that cannot be done; I must desire Your Excellency to request The Congress to Order a further Supply of Money to this Department.13 I am Sir Your Excellencys most Obedient Humble Servant

Horatio Gates

LS, DLC:GW; ADf, NHi: Gates Papers; copy, DNA:PCC, item 154; copy, DNA:PCC, item 171.

2Frederick Deitz (Dietz) served as an express rider for the quartermaster general’s department and also served during the war as a private in the German Battalion. “Saturday Sen’night” was 15 May.

3The drafts of Gates to Jeremiah Powell, 25 April; to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 28 April; and to Meschech Weare, 29 April, are in NHi: Gates Papers.

4The enclosed extract copy of a letter from Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., to Gates, dated 1 May at Lebanon, Conn., reads: “With respect to the Seven Hundred & fifty men, mentioned in your Letter, to be furnished by this State for the defence of Rhode Island, predicated upon the agreement at Springfield; I do not consider that agreement obligatory upon this state; the other states, who were parties, having failed in their part; and am informed that Congress, upon application to them to have it inforced, Considered us as not holden by it.

“I am far from thinking we ought to relax our vigilance, or exertions: the disappointed malice of our enemy, will undoubtedly Spur them on, to seek the low gratification of diabolic revenge, on a people whom they are taught no longer to despise, nor to entertain the least hopes of Conquering.

“In the Year 1777, I think I agreed to Send Troops to the Northward, for the Massachusetts, and they to supply for us at Rhode Island—which they have not done. Massachusetts, & New Hampshire, are now least exposed; & I think ought to supply the Troops to be stationed in the State of Rhode Island, for any time.

“I am Sensible of the exposed condition of the State of Rhode Island; and myself, & Council with me, are not relaxed in our Zeal for the Common Cause; & stand ready to exert ourselves, according to our strength; we look upon ourselves much exposed at present” (DLC:GW).

5The enclosed copy of a letter from Meshech Weare to Gates, dated 15 May at Exeter, N.H., reads: “I have received yours of the 29th Ulto, and must acquaint you that the agreement entered into at Springfield to raise men for the defence of the State of Rhode Island, was always understood in New Hampshire, to be intended only for the Year then following. Nevertheless, as they have been, they still are determined to exert themselves in the Common Cause; and feel greatly for their Brethren in that State.

“The General Assembly, at their last Session, resolved to endeavour the Enlisting Six Hundred men to serve during the War, to recruit the Continental Army, and gave orders for that purpose, which are now Carrying into Execution with some degree of Success, altho the want of Money hath Embarrased the Business; And no order for raising men for the particular defence of Rhode Island was made; Indeed, the Empty state of our Treasury, the difficulty of Borrowing money, and Scarcity of Men, hath left us in such a situation, that I can scarce conceive a possibility of raising men at this time. However, I shall lay your request before the General Assembly, at their meeting in June next, for their Consideration” (DLC:GW).

6For the Massachusetts resolution, see Gates to GW, 25 April, n.2.

7The enclosed return has not been identified.

8The enclosed record of an examination of deserters, dated Thursday and Friday, 20–21 May, reads: “Examination of James Robilliard, 15 Years of age; A Sailor—born in Guernsy. Was taken in the ship Peggy, bound to Glasgow to Jamaica, 1776. entered into the Continental Service, and deserted to the Enemy in January last. Was on board the George in the late Cruise to Tarpaulin Cove, in Company with five other privateers, and two Transports—under the direction of Mr Leonard—a Refugee from Boston. Their object was a number of Horses, of which they got about Fifty; another, but Secondary part of their design, was a descent on Martha’s Vineyard, for Sheep and Cattle; this was entirely defeated, from Apprehensions of an Attack by Capt. Hacker, in the Privateer Sloop providence. Upon discovering him, they made a display of their Force, but did not intend to fight, had he moved down upon them. Yesterday they returned to Newport, and in the Evening proceeded to the north End of Conannicut; About daybreak they disembarked a Light Compy, and Twelve of Whitman’s Corps, (both amounting to 100 Men,) who Swept about forty Head of Cattle from Quidnecit point.

“No Vessels of Force in Newport Harbour. The Thames, of 36—& the Renown, of 50 Guns, sailed on the 19th Instant—Eastward. Conannicut is Guarded only by Brown’s Regt, which is generally Supposed to consist of Two Hundred Men; their proportion of Artillery is very small.

“The Fleet consisted, of the General Leslie—10—four pounders & 50 men. Genl Prescott—6—twelves—& 4—fours. 38 men. Dugan Schooner 6 threes & 30 men. Sloop George 2—threes & 4 Swivels—The Bombardier 12 Men & 10 Swivels—2 of them mounted on Carriages. Fancy, 10 Swivels, 12 Men. A schooner Boat, 4 Swivels & 4 Men.

“John Zeman Hairbanck, & George Kizlebauch, Surgeon’s Mates to the Hessian Regt of Ditfurth, who deserted on the 21st Instant; having been examined, report as follows.

“‘That four Hessian, four British, and Fanning’s, Regiments, are posted in Newport, excepting two Companies, which are Quartered without the Lines; Two Anspach Regiments near the North Battery; Brown’s Corps upon Conannicut, with a Detachment of Sixty Men from the Hessian Line, relieved Weekly. Half a pound of Salt meat, only, issued to the Troops daily; & Seven pounds of Flower per Week. That General Losbeg has frequently told Hairbanck, they could not expect a peace soon; or a removal from this Country; and, from his long intimacy with him, he thinks it the General’s real sentiments.’

“‘The Force of the Regiments, are as follows’[:] Ditfurth 636[;] Landgrave’s 500[;] Hanau 480[;] Anspacks 2 Regts 1350[;] Buknau’s 530[;] 4 British 1200[;] Brown’s & Fannings Corps 600[;] Artillery, Officers & Men 100[;] Total 5396” (DLC:GW).

10For details of this expedition, see Philip Schuyler to GW, 27 April, n.1.

11The enclosed extract copy of a letter from Nathaniel Russell & Co. to Clark & Nightingale, dated 28 April at Charleston, S.C., reads: “The Embargo was taken off last Night, a Number of Vessells will sail tomorrow; Rice will now be very High; they ask this day for it, 25 PrCt, there is but very little at Market, there is large Quantitys in the Country, that is not threshed Out, & the Season is almost too Hot for that Business now; Money has Depreciated here of Late, as fast as with You.

“Our Army under Gen: Lincoln is about 6000 Strong, He march’d Six days ago, it is Expected he will cross the River, & attack the Enemy; God Grant him Success, & free us from such Troublesome Neighbours” (DLC:GW).

13GW replied to Gates on 11 June and forwarded Gates’s request for money to Congress in his first letter of 3 June to John Jay (NHi: Gates Papers; DNA:PCC, item 152).

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