George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Oliver Wolcott, Sr., 17 July 1779

From Major General Oliver Wolcott, Sr.

Head Quarters Horse Neck [Conn.] July 17th 1779


I was honored with the orders of Governor Trumbull particularly to attend to the defence of the Sea Coasts in the western parts of this State;1 In consequence of which I had with about Seven Hundred of the Militia, arrived at Norwalk about Twenty four hours before the destruction of that Town,2 upon the moving of the Enemys Fleet westward I have come on to this place, with about the same number of Militia from the interior parts of the Country as were at Norwalk; the whole of them indeed are not yet arrived, but will be very soon in; These men are to serve but for one Month only.3

The Desolation threatened by the Enemy to every part of the Sea Coasts of this State, has rendered it necessary that the Troops of it should be distributed for a general defence, consequently a great number of them could not be sent here, and which it was supposed would not be necessary as it was apprehended your Excellency would Afford some protection to this part of the State—I am happy to find my expectations realised, by the directions given to Colonels Meigs & Starr to post themselves in this Quarter—It was imagined by the Movement of the Troops of the Connecticut Line under Genl Heath that they were intended to protect these parts, but as Genl Heath has taken his station at Ridgefield no immediate aid is I suppose to be expected from him,4 And this morning Genl Parsons communicated to me an Order5 wherein he was directed to send Starrs Regiment and the detach[ment] under Major Leavenworth6 to him7—This State will acquiese in any degree of suffering which it shall be necessary for them to indure, rather than endanger the Public safety, consequently will not wish that your Excelly should send away any of your Forces which you shall judge necessary for the defence of Hudsons River; to effect this the desolations made in this State are perhaps principally designed, but whether a System of Burning or a Policy which no civilized Nation ever before adopted be intended, am at a loss to determine; We view with great reluctance the destruction of our Towns & wish to prevent their Ruin, and cannot therefore but hope it will consist with your Excellency’s views to suffer at least the Two mentioned Regiments to remain in this part of the State under the command of Genl Parsons, who together with the Militia may perhaps defend this Town and Stamford from destruction, which without the aid of those Regts will not I fear be done—I shall be happy to be acquainted by your Excelly what support you will be able to give these Towns in order that I may know how to conduct myself so as to discharge the duty which I owe to the State.

The unhappy situation of our Affairs I have no occasion to represent & am happy in having a confidence that your Excely will be disposed to Afford the State all the protection which it can reasonably expect, Genl Glovers Brigade which it was expected would be in the eastern parts of this State, is I understand ordered to join Genl Heath8—So that only a single Regiment is now destined for our Protection.

By a Mr Fitch who went to Maroneck & parts adjacent to make discoveries and returned last Night9 we learn that the Enemy struck their Tents yesterday & in a few Hours pitched them again in the same place—That Adl Collier in the morning lay near Hart Island, Afterwards bore westward & a Prisoner which Mr Fitch took says that he understood the Troops on board the Fleet landed opposite White Stone Yesterday afternoon—Mr Fitch further says that his Friends10 informed him strict orders were given by the Enemy not to let any Persons whatever pass without the Lines,11 that the Enemy’s Force amounted to 4 or 5000 Men, that it was apprehended by the People they intended soon to move to Hudsons River.12 I am with great Esteem13 your Excellency’s Most Obedient Servt

Oliver Wolcott Majr Genl

P.S. since writing the Above Genl Parsons has recd Orders from Genl Heath to march both of the beforementioned Regiments to PeeksKill. I understand it ⟨is⟩ by your Excellency’s order,14 but I tho’t it might ⟨no⟩t be improper to send this forward for your Excellys information & beg leave to recommend this part of the State to your Protection.15

LS, DLC:GW; ADf, CtHi: Oliver Wolcott, Sr., Papers. Mutilated matter on the LS is supplied in angle brackets from the draft manuscript.

Oliver Wolcott, Sr. (1726–1797) graduated from Yale in 1747 and was a delegate from Connecticut to Congress between 1776 and 1778 and again from 1780 to 1784. He served as a brigadier general in the Connecticut militia until promoted to major general in 1779. Wolcott became lieutenant governor of the state in 1787 and succeeded to the office of governor upon the death of Samuel Huntington in January 1796. Subsequently elected governor without opposition, Wolcott died during his term.

1The records of the Connecticut Council of Safety for 8 July read: “Sent letters to Majr Genl Wolcott, Brig. Genl [Andrew] Ward &c., to march to the relief of Fairfield if needed &c. &c.” (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 2:356). The Council of Safety received a letter from Wolcott on 9 July “informing of his proceedings on the N. Haven alarm &c., and requesting directions and a commission to be sent him &c. An answer to G[en]. Wolcot prepared and sent with a blank for the Secretary to fill a commission &c.” (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 2:357).

2For the British raid on Norwalk, 10–11 July, see Norwalk, Conn., Officials and Stephen St. John to GW, 9 July, and n.2 to that document, and Samuel Holden Parsons to GW, 11 July.

3For the British raids on Connecticut in early July, see GW to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 7 July, source note.

4GW had ordered Maj. Gen. William Heath to march the two Connecticut brigades to Ridgefield, Conn. (see GW to Heath, 10 July [first letter]). Heath then detached Col. Return Jonathan Meigs’s 6th Connecticut Regiment and Col. Josiah Starr’s 1st Connecticut Regiment to Stamford, Conn. (see Heath to GW, 15 July [first letter], and n.4 to that document).

5Wolcott’s draft manuscript reads “from Genl Heath” at this place.

6For the recall of Maj. Eli Leavenworth’s detached command, see Heath to GW, 16 July, and notes 3 and 4 to that document.

7At this place on his draft manuscript, Wolcott wrote and then struck out a passage that reads: “Your Exceelency’s Goodness will suffiecently prompt you to afford Protection to every Post so farr as is consistent with the Genl Safety—But as it is necessary for me that I may know how to Dischar⟨ge⟩ the Duty which I owe to the State, to be informed what Troops your Exceellency will be pleased to Post in this Qua⟨r⟩ter, I shall be glad to have such a Knowledge of your Exceellencys Determination on this Head.”

8For the ordering of Brig. Gen. John Glover to march his brigade from Rhode Island to the Highlands by a route close to Long Island Sound to support Connecticut militia responding to British raids on that state, see GW to Glover, 8 July; see also GW to Horatio Gates, 30 June, and Gates to GW, 7 July. For the movements of Glover’s brigade in Connecticut, see Trumbull to GW, 7 July, and n.3 to that document, and GW to Trumbull, 9 July, and n.4 to that document. GW halted Glover’s brigade in Connecticut in a letter to that officer of 9–10 July. For subsequent orders moving this brigade to the vicinity of Ridgefield, see GW to Heath, 16 (both letters) and 19 July, and to Glover, 17 July.

9Wolcott is referring to Mamaroneck, N.Y., and probably Jabez Fitch, Jr. (c.1738–1812). Fitch served as a private in the Lexington Alarm of April 1775, became a lieutenant in the 8th Connecticut Regiment that July, and transferred to the 17th Continental Regiment in January 1776. Captured on 27 Aug. during the battle of Long Island, he remained a prisoner for eighteen months. Fitch returned to active duty as a captain in a Connecticut state regiment during spring 1780 and subsequently commanded an independent company of volunteers raised for the defense of Connecticut’s western posts in 1782 and 1783.

10Wolcott’s draft manuscript reads “within the enemys Lines” at this place.

11Wolcott’s draft manuscript at this place reads: “That he could get no Information where Sir Harry Clinton was.”

12For British movements over the previous few days near Whitestone, N.Y., and around the western portion of Long Island Sound, see Samuel Holden Parsons to GW, 14 July, and notes 2 and 4 to that document. Commodore George Collier departed with a squadron of warships for Penobscot Bay on 3 Aug. (see Samuel Culper, Jr., to John Bolton, 29 July [printed as an enclosure to Benjamin Tallmadge to GW, 28–30 July], and n.5 to that document). For the substantial British force that moved up the Hudson River between 17 and 19 July and reoccupied Stony Point, N.Y., see Lydenberg, Robertson Diaries, description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends 199–200; see also Richard Butler to GW, 19 July, and n.2 to that document.

13A tear in the LS at this place may have obliterated a word or two.

14Wolcott is referring to a letter of this date from Heath to Brig. Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons (see Heath to GW, this date, and n.2 to that document; see also Heath to Wolcott, this date, MHi: Heath Papers).

15Wolcott elaborated his thoughts in a letter of 18 July to Heath that in part reads: “Your Situation Sir enables you to judge of what Necessity there may be of farther Aid to this Qua⟨r⟩ter—Before I had known of your last Order to Genl Parsons to remove from hence with the Regular Troops, I had Wrote to Genl Washington requesting that such Regular Forces might be Stationed here for the Defence of the State as he judged might consist with the Genl Safety—But as the Genl judged it Necessary to Order the Troops off, I cheerfully Submit to his Determination, As I never will Wish that any Disposition Shall be made in favour of this State inconsistent with the Genl Safety—Altho Our sufferings have been great—As in general there is no Other Way of carrying on a War against our Enemy but such as is similar to that which they adopt, I trust before long they will be convinced that London and Bristol are as capable of being burnt as Fairfield and Norwalk—A Nation capable of such Conduct as the People of G. Britain deserve to be exterminated, and I solemly declare if the Enemy go on in Burning whatever small Degree of Influence which I can have on publick Measures shall be exerted to produce a Conflagration in G. Britain which shall burn from the Orkney’s to the Land’s End.

“I shall Maintain this Post with the few Militia which I have here consisting at present of about 5 or 600 men not more than 700 may be expected from any orders which have issued” (MHi: Heath Papers).

Heath’s reply to Wolcott, from Mandeville’s, N.Y., on 19 July reads: “I am Just honored with your obliging favor of yesterday I can assure you Sir that nothing would give me more pleasure than to afford you the most ample Succour that you can wish if it were in my Power and Consistant with the General Safety, His Excellency General Washington has much approved of the Manoeuvres which I made with the Division which I led towards you the last week, As General Clintons army must be our grand Object and the defeating of it the Sure means to obtain peace & Safety for all our Towns every Manoeuvre has to be ⟨di⟩rected to effect I know the Inhabitants must be distressed and wish the army to Cover them but you my Dear Sir will easily See the utter impossibility of it I have ordered the light Dragoons to Patrole between this place and your vicinty and shall or⟨d⟩er a Detachment of Infantry to Support the Horse …

“The late wanton and Savage conduct of the Enemy must be execrated by every Person who is actuated by Principals of Humanity.

“The Enemy have moved towards Kings ferry in Force” (MHi: Heath Papers).

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