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To George Washington from Major General Philip Schuyler, 19–20 June 1776

From Major General Philip Schuyler

Albany June 19[–20]th 1776.

Dear Sir

Whilst I was in Conference with the Oneida Indians who returned from Canada, I received a Letter from General Arnold and another from Dr Stringer Copy of one and Extract of the Other I do myself the Honor to inclose Your Excellency, and congratulate You on the Success of our Arms as Communicated by Dr Stringer.1 I could wish he had been more Explicit, That we have had the Advantage I believe admits of no Doubt as Capt. Livingston my Aid de Camp who is at Fort George informs me that a Mr Hide was arrived who gives much the same Account. But adds that General Thompson had been on the Point of loosing his Batteaus, as a Party of the Enemy had been sent to seize them.

As soon as we had finished the Conference with the Indians I returned home intending immediately to have dispatched an Express with the Intelligence communicated as above, But I was so violently attacked by the Fever (and have been for three Days successively) that I could neither write nor dictate, nor hardly read Your Excellency’s Favor of the 16th which was then delivered Me.

The Return alluded to in mine of the 12th I had inclosed in that of the 11th & 12th of which I only sent You a Copy, General Wooster having taken Charge of the Original & which I hope is come to Hand.2

Mr Deane whom I sent with the Message to invite the Indians to a Conference, is returned from Oneida from whence the Message & Belt were carryed on to the Other Tribes by a trusty Oneida.

The Batteaumen of three Batteaus who got off when the Others were stopped some Time ago upon the Mohawk River by the Committee of Tryon County, are returned they were not permitted to go further than Niagara. The Intelligence they bring is, That as soon as It was known there That Sir John Johnson was gone off, a Vessel With twenty five Barrels of Pork as much Flour, Some Sugar and Rum was dispatched to Oswegatchie; That the Commanding Officer declared that there were One Thousand Indians there, Chiefly of the Western Nations; That It was given out that Butler intended to hold a Conference at Oswego, & that they had Plenty of Provisions.

As these Batteaumen, if not Tories, were under the Influence of a Mr Ellis who is greatly suspected of being our Enemy,3 I do not give full Credit to what they say, Especially as to the Article of Provisions and the Number of Indians, for the Oneidas informed Mr Deane that all the six Nations were at Home Except a small Part of the Senecas.

I had already anticipated Your Excellencys Wish that I should purchase all the Goods I Could get at this Place and Its Vicinity, having Employed proper Persons the very Day I returned from Fort George. But the Difficulty we Labour under is want of hard Money for some of the Merchants especially a Mr Blake, whom I have mentioned before4 would not sell a Good Assortment he had, Altho’ his Price was not disputed, And Altho, I had caused him to be informed that I had entreated Your Excellency to give order for the Payment of his Bill in hard Money If It could be got.

The Disorder I labour under greatly distresses me & has brought me very low, But my Presence is Judged both by my Colleagues & the Oneidas so Absolutely Necessary at the Ensuing Treaty, that I am resolved to be there And will go in a Close Carriage if I cannot Otherwise.

June 20th 8 oClock A.M. I could not proceed with my Letter of last Night as my Fever after an Absence of two Hours returned and has Continued until half an Hour ago, Since which I have received a Letter from Colo: Wynkoop inclosing Copy of One from Colo: Poor to him, Dated the 15th at St Johns, and advises that “Our Army are now on their Retreat out of Canada and as there is not Batteaus enough here to transport our Men & Baggage over the Lake, You will immediately send all the Boats that can be procured to St Johns, Pray Sir don’t fail, as a safe Retreat may depend upon It. You will likewise order the Shipping down and let them stop Nigh the Middle of Isle of Motte It being best for them to stop there, as the Navigation this Way of It is very Difficult.”5

I have ordered all the Batteaus in Lake George to be Carryed to Tyonderoga that they might be ready to go to Skenesborough to take in the Militia of the Massachusetts Bay & Connecticut, whom I have desired to march to that Place, those of New Hampshire to Crown Point or Onion River, as should be deemed most Convenient for them. Those from this Colony I propose sending by Lake George. I find Myself under a Great Dilemma, If I send on the Batteaus the Militia Cannot move, but I do not conceive the Necessity of moving the Militia farther than Tyonderoga, If our Army is obliged to retreat, I shall therefore order the Batteaus to be forwarded unless General Sullivan advises otherwise whose Express left Fort George before Mr Lansing who brought me the above Letter and informs Me (as what he had from the Express) That General Thompson & Colo: Irvine are certainly taken Prisoners & that our People were obliged to retreat with the Loss of about One hundred & twenty Men The Enemy being Considerably reinforced the Evening before the Attack.6

Your Excellency will see by the inclosed Return that the Men at Fort George are inadequate in Point of Numbers to keep the Garrison in Case of an Attack, & Man the Batteaus of which there are some times twenty & upwards with five Men in Each at Once on the Lake Either going to or Coming from Tyonderoga,7 I shall therefore at all Events detain a Body of Militia there and at Tyonderoga, Altho’ the Order of Congress is, that they are to go into Canada, But as on the Preservation of these Posts the Safety of the Army in Canada does absolutely and immediately depend, I think I shall be justifyed in the Measure both with Your Excellency & the Congress.

Yesterday Mr Trumbull the Deputy Paymaster General received to the Amount of six thousand Dollars in Specie from the Colony of Connecticut, I have ordered It to be immediately forwarded to General Sullivan.

I thank Your Excellency for the Account of the Prize taken to the Eastward, and for the Account that It is possible some more are taken, I am ever happy to receive Such Accounts, as I make the most of them to keep up the Spirits of the People here which are really lowered much by the repeated misfortunes in Canada.

I have this Moment sent to the Committee to request that the Proportion of the Militia of this County which is four hundred and twenty five, may be immediately Collected, that I may send them to reinforce the Garrisons of Fort George and Tionderoga.8

Colo: Wynkoop writes Me that he has sent on only three Companies of Van Schaicks to Canada Not being able by any Means to spare the Other.

Since my last Accounts from Fort George a Considerable Quantity of Provisions has been sent forward, I have desired Mr Livingston to write fully to Mr Trumbull on the Subject of Supplying the Army. No fat Cattle are Yet to be had, But if they were, we Cannot get them as We have not any money, And without immediate Payment none will sell Either in this or the adjacent Colonies.

Your Excellency will perceive by General Arnolds Letter that he had seized the Effects of the Tories in Montreal, this was in Consequence of a Querie of mine to the Commanding Officer in Canada Whether such a Measure would not be necessary, giving at the same Time my Opinion that It was, & that these Persons ought to be secured & sent down here, Mr Lansing says that he has been informed that many of these Goods were sent to Sorrel where our Soldiers seized them as Plunder.9

June 20th at Eleven o’Clock, This Moment the Officer whom General Sullivan sent Express has delivered Me the inclosed.10 Taking the whole together of what he & General Arnold write, I do not by any Means think the formers Resolution to keep post at Sorel a very E[l]igable One Especially when he is “Every Moment informed of the vast Number of the Enemy which have arrived” And altho’ he does not believe “that Great Numbers have arrived from England and all the Troops from Halifax” Yet “he apprehends their Numbers are very great” And as he has only 2533 Rank & File to oppose them & “Most of the Officers seem discouraged and of Course their Men.”11 But If Your Excellency should be in sentiment with Me that he ought to quit Sorel for a Place from whence there is a greater Prospect of securing a Retreat to such Part of Lake Champlain where the Enemy cannot follow, Yet I fear Your Orders will come too late. I should however conceive Myself inexcusable If I did not advise It: For the Safety of the Colonies depends in a Great Measure on the Safety of that Army & however disagreeable the Consequences may be of Evacuating Canada, they cannot ever be Equal to the Loss of our Army and with It the whole Country. General Sullivan in his Letter to me Confirms me that I am right in the Opinion I have given above, for he says “By the inclosed You will see our Situation, Our Enemies multiply upon our Hands and we have few to oppose them, I believe the whole Force intended for Canada is arrived with Burgoyne at their Head, I now think only of a Glorious Death or a Victory Obtained against Superior Numbers.”12

Altho’ our Affairs are in such a disagreeable Situation, I do not by any Means despond And do believe that if our Army can retreat into Lake Champlain, That It will be impossible for the Enemy to reach as far South as Crown Point at least Not this Campaign and that they will never be able to penetrate into the Country. But if our Army is lost they will go where they please, in Spite of our Naval Force on the Lake which is by No Means an Object of Much Importance, nor will be unless greatly encreased, which I shall do with all the Dispatch I am Capable of in My Low State of Health. I am Dr General Your Most Obedient Humble servant

Ph: Schuyler

Inclose the Substance of the Conference with the Indians returned from Canada.13

P.S. Agreeable to Genl Schuyler’s Desire, who is now sick a Bed, I inclose Your Excellency Copy of his Letter of this Date to Genl Sullivan.14 from Your Excellency’s Most Obedt Humble servt

Richd Varick

Albany June 20. 1776

LS, DLC:GW; LB, NN: Schuyler Papers; copy, enclosed in GW to Hancock, 23 June 1776, DNA:PCC, item 153. A draft of Varick’s postscript to this letter is in the Varick Papers at NHi. That draft also includes the following note from Varick to GW: “Pardon me Sir for Suggesting to Your Excellency before You Open this Letter that the Account Contained in It as given by Dr Stringer is not true.”

1Dr. Samuel Stringer’s letter to Schuyler, which was written on 12 June at St. Jean, conveys an erroneous report brought from Sorel by William McCarty that “Genl Thomson with 2,200 men had Attacked last Fryday [7 June] the Enemy Consisting of about 4000 . . . and by the Vast havock our fire made, Which was reserved until we got almost within Bayonet reach of the enemy, They must have Lost not less, in three Different Attacks, then 300 men, our loss not exceeding 20. . . . one of the Chaplains that stood By and Viewed the whole Scenes, says he never Beheld such slaughter as our people made when they fired, resembling much the Bunkers hill affair” (DLC:GW).

Arnold’s letter to Schuyler, written on 10 June at Montreal, reports only that Thompson had left Sorel three days earlier to attack Trois Rivières. Much of Arnold’s letter concerns his meeting with the Oneidas and other Indians at Montreal on 7 June, when the St. Francis, Caughnawaga, and Canadasaga Indians, at the urging of the Oneidas, pledged to their neutrality. The Oswegatchie Indians, however, “pretended that they had no Authority for doing it,” Arnold reports, and he told them that “we were ready to receive them as friends, but if they prefered war to Peace, we were ready to meet them as Enemys” (DLC:GW; see also note 13).

2This return from Gen. David Wooster has not been identified.

3Alexander Ellice, a merchant in Schenectady, went to Canada with his partner James Phyn soon after the Revolutionary War began and eventually moved to London where he and Phyn reestablished their business.

5Isle La Motte lies at the northern end of Lake Champlain about ten miles south of the border between the United States and Canada.

6For a fuller account of Thompson’s defeat at Trois Rivières on 8 June, see Sullivan to GW, 8–12 June 1776.

7John Lansing’s return of the garrison at Fort George, dated 27 May 1776, shows a total of 118 officers and men in the garrison (DLC:GW).

8On 21 June the Albany committee of correspondence authorized the drafting of 450 men from the county militia for Canadian service and ordered them to assemble at Stillwater on 26 June (Minutes of the Albany and Schenectady Committees description begins Minutes of the Albany Committee of Correspondence, 1775–1778. 2 vols. Albany, 1923–25. description ends , 1:463–65).

9“I have received your Instructions respecting the Tories and their Effects,” Arnold wrote Schuyler on 10 June, “most of the Former had Absconded, Great part of the Latter is Seecured, I have sent to St Johns a Quantity of goods for the use of the Army some Bought and some Seized” (DLC:GW). For an account of the plundering of those goods, see Arnold’s first letter to Schuyler of 13 June, a copy of which Schuyler also enclosed for GW (DLC:GW).

10The officer brought Sullivan’s letter to GW of 8–12 June, Sullivan’s letter to Schuyler of 12 June, and two letters from Arnold to Schuyler of 13 June. Arnold’s first letter to Schuyler of that date, written at St. Jean, includes a brief report of Thompson’s defeat at Trois Rivières and a discouraging assessment of the military situation in Canada: “Near one half of our army are sick, mostly with the small pox[.] If the Enemy have a Force of six or eight and some say ten thousand Men, we shall not be able to oppose them, sick[,] divided, ragged[,] undisciplined & unofficered as we are—If we are not soon reinforced I tremble for the Event” (DLC:GW).

In his second letter to Schuyler of 13 June, written at Chambly at ten o’clock at night, Arnold gives a few more details about Thompson’s defeat and reports that “by the best Accounts ten thousand [enemy] Troops are arrived in Quebec—The whole Force we can muster does not exceed four thousand Effectives when they are all collected—I have wrote General Sullivan my opinion very freely which is to collect our whole Force at St John’s immediately and secure our Retreat—I am told his Intention is to remain at Sorrel until attacked by the Enemy—I believe there will be little Danger of it. I make no Doubt the Enemy will pass Sorrel and as soon as in possession of Montreal march immediately for St John’s and endeavor to cut off our Retreat In which Case, if we save our Army, the Cannon and heavy Baggage must fall into the Hands of the Enemy. All the Craft on your Side the Lake in my opinion ought immediately to be sent to St John’s and a Number of Gundaloes built as soon as possible to guard the Lake—You may expect soon to hear of our evacuating Canada, or being prisoners” (DLC:GW).

11Schuyler is quoting from the last paragraph in the main body of Sullivan’s letter to GW, 8–12 June.

12See Sullivan to Schuyler, 12 June, in Hammond, Sullivan Papers description begins Otis G. Hammond, ed. Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan, Continental Army. 3 vols. Concord, 1930-39. In Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society, vols. 13–15. description ends , 1:234.

13The minutes of the conference that Schuyler and his fellow Indian commissioner Volckert P. Douw held on 19 June at Samuel Thompson’s house in Albany with “thirteen oneida Indians upon their return from Canada” is in DLC:GW. This party of Oneidas, who had recently gone to Montreal to persuade Canadian Indians to remain neutral, reported that three of the four other Indian nations who met them at Montreal buried “the Bloody Ax which Guy Johnson gave them Last year,” but they complained that Arnold treated them with suspicion and gave them few presents (see note 1). Schuyler apologized for any mistreatment that the Oneidas might have received in Canada and gave them a wagon load of ammunition as proof of the “unlimited confidence” that the Americans had in them.

14“Altho’ I applaud your magnanimous Spirit,” Schuyler wrote to Sullivan on 20 June, “yet I cannot by any Means approve that you should ‘think only of a glorious Death or a victory obtained against superior Numbers’ These Sentiments should take place, when every other Resource is cut off, and when a Defeat may not be attended with decisive Consequences against us—The Evacuation of Canada will certainly be attended with many disagreeable ones, but will not the total Destruction of our Army and a consequent Loss of the Country be attended with those infinitely more fatal, surely it will—I only mention that the Enemy will in that Case be able to penetrate into the Colonies by the way of the Lakes; not so if our Army retreats in Safety, every Effort of theirs to accomplish it at least for this Campaign will prove ineffectual: but should they even be able to advance, to the most Southern Extreme of the Lakes, our Army with Reinforcements from Militia will there stop their progress. I am therefore of Opinion, if it should be still in your power, when you receive this, that you ought not to remain any longer at Sorrell, than you have a prospect of retreating with Safety, and that the better to secure your Retreat. Every Batteau . . . which you can possibly spare, ought to be sent without the least Delay to St Johns, I think I am fully Authorized to give this Opinion from What You say of the Strength of the Enemy in Your Letter to his Excellency Genl Washington and Me And I have informed his Excellency, that I would give You the above Advice” (DLC:GW).

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