George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel Israel Shreve, 26 May 1779

From Colonel Israel Shreve

Elizabethtown [N.J.] May 26th 1779

Dr Gen:

Captain Castles Come out of Ney York Yesterday in Exchange, he is a very Intillegent person.1 Says for three or four Days past the Enemy have Been puting on board transports A Great No. of Shells and Other Military Stores.

that all the Shiping in the Harbour Are Ordered to be in Readiness to Sail upon the Shortest Notice, by Several Accounts Since My Last,2 part of the Enemy with three Ships And a Number of flat boats has Returned from a Manuver up North River, they are Now Encamped at Spiken Devil.

by the Return of the flagg Sloop plenty Last Evening and one from the other side this morning, Came an uncommon Number of Letters and News papers Directed to Tories in philadelphia, two of which Letters after Roasting I here Inclose,3 Many of them Breathes peace Immediately Others Asures their friends the Enemy are Comeing to Philada Again &c. Many of them I have Condemned and burnt, the News of Pandeckery4 and Rivingtons Account of Gen. Matthews in Virginia, fill many of the Letters.

there are about twenty persons men Women and Children, Now Waiting at this post to go in the Enemys Lines, with passes from the Different States, this business with the Situation of the post, I find Calls for the Greatest Attention, As Our Enemys Wish to take Every Little Advantage they possably Can.

While I have the Honour to Comand here Shall pay the Greatest Attention as to the Safety of the place, and Do all in my power to prevent Abuses. I am with the Greatest Respect your Excys Most Obedt Hume Servt

I. Shreve Colo.


1This may be Robert Castle, who in 1777 had been captain of the armed sloop Camden.

2Shreve had last written to GW on 25 May.

3Shreve enclosed two seemingly innocuous letters from New York City that after “Roasting,” or running over a flame, revealed secret letters written in invisible ink. The first letter, addressed to one “Fred. Kisselman” of Philadelphia, reads: “having an Oppertunity, I thought propper to acquaint you that I am at present in perfect good health, and have no reason to be discomposed in mind on any account, but being absent from my family—please to remember me to all my Good friends, and receive the best wishes for your wellfare.”

Below this, and on another sheet, appears a letter written in invisible ink from Bezaleel Kerr (possibly a pseudonym) to his wife: I Shall for the future write in this manner to give you a little Secret intelligence for your Satisfaction—we are in the Greatest Spirits here not a day but there are 3 or 4 prizes brought in here, Some times 7 or 8—I have had a Conferance with the man who carries the Dispatches to buttler & Brant, and he tells me that 35 nations of the Indians have taken up the hatchet in favour of Government So that I the Country will be envested on all Sides—indeed all the Letters from home breath a vigourous Campain, and every one here thinks the rebellion will be at an end even at the Close of this year—but I am afraid not So Soon. I sent you some Gauze, Ribbands &c. for Caps, Should be Glad to know if you Got them—Give my love to your father and tell him that I Shall tryumph over all my enemies, that we shall be in Philadelphia as Shure as he exists—that perhaps my banishment may turn out fortunate for me Kiss the Dear little ones for me. This is followed by another line of mostly illegible text, partially written in the margin (DLC:GW).

The second letter, ostensibly from one “G. Ross” to Aneas Urquhart, reads: “G. Ross Complements to His Freind Mr Aneas Urquhart accquaints Him He recd His card by Mr Rice expressing His welfare, which gave Him inexpressible pleasure His Brother M.R. is soon expected from England from whom He recd, accots of Mr & Mrs Barkleys welfare, as did G.R. of Mrs McBean’s, but no further particulars of Him. M.R. accquaints of Your Friends in the North being well, G.R. will be obligd to His Friend if He gives Him frequent Accos of Him, assuring Him of His constant attachment Cum ris chin sho! for farther Particulars.”

Below this, and written upside down between the lines of the letter from Ross to Urquhart, appears the following letter from Bezaleel Kerr: “I have wrote to my wife, and Comunicated Some Little matters in this Secret manner, which avise her to Toast her Letter well, on the inside of the Cover—I Should be Glad to See George Soon as Possible.... I Should like to Know how it goes with my family and affairs, and if my father in Law is Coming to Philadelphia to Live—Pondicherry is taken, and we Shall have the Particulars Printed this Day—there will be the Devil to Pay on the Continent this Summer—all your freinds think it is your advantage to be here—wheneve[r] I write to you or my wife, toast the Letters well, for all the Secrets will be between the Lines—it is wrote with milk“ (DLC:GW).

4Shreve is referring to Pondicherry, a territory in southern India that British forces had captured from the French on 18 Sept. 1778. The New-York Gazette printed a detailed account of the event on 24 May 1779.

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