George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Horatio Gates, 6 September 1779

From Major General Horatio Gates

providence 6th September 1779.


I have the Honour to acknowledge the Receipt of your Excellency’s Letters of the 17th and 24th of last Month. It is not in my power to give Your Excellency any Official Information respecting the penobscot Expedition, having never been Concern’d in, nor even consulted upon, that Unfortunate Undertaking—I hear from persons who were there, and have returned to this Town, one of whom was an Officer on board the Warren Frigate; that Our Soldiers, & Seamen are all come back, Except a Few of the Sailors, perhaps Fifty, most of whom, through the fear of sta[r]ving, Deserted to the Enemy. The Rest of these are supposed to have perished, or be still wandering in the Woods.

The Vessels were all Destroyed, except four, Two of which were taken by the Enemy; the Other Two Escaped to Sea. The Warren Frigate was Burnt by The Commodore’s Order, with the Remainders of The Fleet.1

Such being the Final Event, I thought The Reinforcement Arrived at New York,2 and the Circumstances of Our Affairs this way rendered it proper, that I should Demand of The Council of the Massachusetts Bay a Sufficient Supply of Militia, to replace Col: Jackson’s Regiment, now at Falmouth, having Ordered the Colonel to March his Corps hither, immediately after his receiving the Letter I sent him the 4th Instant.3

On Account of the Alarm Occasion’d by the Arrival of Admiral Arbuthnot and the Intelligence I received from Govr Trumbull, who writes to me that he has communicated to your Excellency Doctor Lee’s Letter,4 this Measure will, I hope, meet with Your Approbation. Besides, when we have only to defend the Frontier nearest to penobscut, Your Excellency knows good Militia, from the Back Counties are much fitter for that Service, than such a Regular, disciplined Regiment as Col: Jackson’s. It will be infinitely more Usefully employed, in opposing the Enemy’s Regular Troops, which will probably be soon ordered this Way, if the Enemy mean to act offensively this Campaign.

I am highly Obliged, & very happy at the Good News Your Excellency has been pleased to send me, The success of Major Lee, & General Sullivan’s Penetrating into the Indian Settlements, reflects Great Honour upon the American Arms.

Baron Steuben left me this morning, I believe he will do me the Justice to Assure Your Excellency that I have in every point fulfilled Your request by Him; and that no Attention has been wanting upon my part to Command respect to His Authority, and render his Stay in providence as agreeable as it was in my power to make it.5

One Frigate, Twelve Briggs, Sixteen Schooners, and Fourteen Sloops arrived at Newport on the 31st Ulto. I cannot Learn they have brought any Troops or indeed any thing but Fire Wood. The moment I receive Intelligence of any Extraordinary movement of the Enemy in this Quarter, I shall despatch an Express to your Excellency.

I have the pleasure to inform Your Excellency, That the Sloop Argo, Commanded by Lieutt Col: Talbot, and fitted out by Order of Congress at this post, has sent a prize into New London, Loaded with 1000 Barrells of Flower, and another, with Ninety Odd Hoggsheads of West India Rum. The Former, being from England, had the inclosed English prints on board, which I send for Your perusal.6

As I was closing this Letter, I learnt that it was reported in Boston, that the Enemy had left Penobscot; and, by a Friend, I am informed they gave out on Board Sir George Collyer’s, tho with some Show of Secrecy, that Arbuthnot’s Re-inforcement was intended for the West Indies. Whether they intended this Intelligence be circulated, to prevent the States of New-England from rousing out of their fatal Lethargy, I cannot determine; but it seems the French Minister ought to be acquainted with it for it may be true. I shall continue to warn the Council of the Massachusetts-Bay of the imminent Danger they are exposed to, from their absolute Neglect of the Preparations for their own Defence.

Your Excellency ought to know that the Express who delivered to me your Letter of the 28th Ulto did not arrive before 3 ‘OClock this Afternoon. I have the Honour to be, Sir, Your Excellency’s Most obedt humble Servt


ADfS, NHi: Gates Papers. The draft is heavily corrected. Gates most likely enclosed an intelligence report from John Proud with this letter (see below).

The copy of this letter received by GW (which has not been found) seems to have included notice of an intelligence report Gates received on this day. On 14 Sept., GW acknowledged receiving letters from Gates dated 5 and 6 Sept. and indicated that the latter had communicated intelligence of a French fleet in the Atlantic bound for North America, which Gates does not mention in this draft letter (see also GW to John Jay, 12 Sept.). Early on the morning of 6 Sept., Gates received an intelligence report on the movements of the powerful French fleet commanded by Vice Admiral d’Estaing. Gates forwarded this information to GW, Massachusetts Council president Jeremiah Dummer Powell, and Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull, Senior. As Gates sent the intelligence to Powell and Trumbull with only short, similarly worded cover letters, it is likely that he included such a cover letter as part of, or enclosed with, this letter to GW.

Gates’s letter to Powell, dated 6 Sept. at Providence, reads: “With Great pleasure I send you The inclosed intelligence, which came to my Hands this morning at Three OClock. I think the Consequences will be the Total Expulsion of Our Enemies from This Continent” (Gregory and Dunnings, “Gates Papers” description begins James Gregory and Thomas Dunnings, eds. “Horatio Gates Papers, 1726–1828.” Sanford, N.C., 1979. Microfilm. description ends ). GW waited for additional corroboration of the intelligence before he forwarded a copy of the report, in the writing of his secretary Robert Hanson Harrison, to Congress on 12 Sept. (see GW to Jay, that date). Harrison added the following note to the report: “Copy of a Letter transmitted Genl Washington by Genl Gates in a letter of the 6th of Septr” (DNA:PCC, item 152).

The intelligence report from John Proud, dated “Sunday [5 Sept.] 2 OClock P.M.,” reads: “Captn Waddle in the Sloop Flying Fish, has just arrived from the Cape. Thirteen days ago this day, he parted with Count D’Estaing’s Fleet consisting of 25 Sail of the Line & 18 Frigates, having on Board 6000 Troops, in the latitude of 25 & Longitude of 70 and steered N.W. Captn Waddle was told his destination was first for Georgia, and then to proceed Northward, he Captn Waddle, left the Cape with the Fleet, his destination while in the Cape, was a profound secret. This Intelligence I suppose to be as true as Holy writ” (DNA:PCC, item 152). For GW’s dating of this intelligence report as being sent on 5 Sept., see GW to Jay, 12 September.

1For the disastrous expedition of the Massachusetts militia to attack the British outpost on Penobscot Bay, Maine, see GW to the Massachusetts Council, 3 Aug., n.3.

2Gates is referring to the 3,800 British army reinforcements that had arrived at New York on 25 Aug. (see GW to Jay, 24–27 Aug., and n.8 to that document); for GW’s defensive preparations, see GW to Jay, 11 Aug., n.5.

3Gates’s orders to Col. Henry Jackson are dated 2 Sept., not 4 Sept. (see Gregory and Dunnings, “Gates Papers” description begins James Gregory and Thomas Dunnings, eds. “Horatio Gates Papers, 1726–1828.” Sanford, N.C., 1979. Microfilm. description ends ).

4See GW to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 10 Aug., and n.4 to that document. For the alarm of the Connecticut authorities over the use of the British reinforcements against the coast of that state, see GW to Trumbull, 3 Sept., and n.1 to that document.

6In a letter dated “On board the Continental Sloop Argo, August 27, 1779,” published in the 2 Sept. “Extraordinary” edition of the Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Philadelphia), Lt. Col. Silas Talbot, captain of the Argo, gave his account of his latest cruise off the Rhode Island coast. The letter reads in part: “On the 24th [August] I took, in company with the sloop Revenge from New-London, the sloop Adventure Thomas Jackson master, from Tobago bound to New-York, she had on board 94 hogsheads of rum. I manned her and ordered her to port. 25th I took, in company with the above-mentioned sloop, the brigantine Eliot from London for New-York, a large vessel mounting 6 six pounders full stowed, her cabin not excepted, with dry goods, flour, butter, cheese and lemmons; I manned her and sent her into port under the convoy of the Revenge. … I parted with the Adventure and Elliot within one day’s sail of New-London with a fair wind to get in.” On 8 Sept., the Connecticut Journal (New Haven) printed a report from New London dated 1 Sept.: “Wednesday [25 Aug.] arrived a Brig in about 8 weeks from London, bound to New-York, but captured by the sloop Argo, Capt. Talbot, and Revenge Capt Post. She has on board 1000 barrels of flour, and about 500 l. sterling of dry goods. Sunday [29 Aug.] arrived the Sloop Adventure, Thomas Jackson, late Master, from Tobago, with 92 Hogsheads of Rum. Prize to the Privateers Argo and Revenge.”

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