George Washington Papers
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From George Washington to Major General Horatio Gates, 22 October 1779

To Major General Horatio Gates

Head Quarters West point 22d October 1779.


I was, in due time, favd with yours of the 15th I very much approve of your intention of marching immediately to Har[t]ford, with the Continental and State troops under your command, should the evacuation of Rhode Island take place.1

I will not undertake to decide upon the propriety of throwing a Garrison of Militia into Newport, because, it in a great measure depends upon the pleasure of the State, but, in my private opinion, there is a considerable risque attending it. The enemy are undoubtedly concentering their force, upon a presumption, that there is imminent danger of an attack by the united Arms of France and America. Now, should the lateness of the Season—engagements of another nature in the West Indies—or any unforeseen accident call off the Count D’Estaing,2 after operating to the Southward—the Enemy, releived from their fears, would very probably think of repossessing Rhode Island, which they have undoubtedly found of great use and convenience to them for Quarters, and as a safe port. How easily they could effect this, with a superiority by Sea, your own judgment and experience will readily convince you—I should think, if the State has no objection, that all the Works, except a few upon the water side to prevent the insults of privateers or small ships of War, should instantly, upon an evacuation, be demolished, and that no more men or stores should be kept upon the Island, than would be necessary for the purpose just mentioned, and who, from the smallness of their numbers, might be withdrawn at any time, on the shortest notice.

Inclosed you will find a Resolve of Congress of the 9th explanatory of their Act of the 18th Augt respecting subsistence.3

I am sorry that it is not in my power to do more than I have done for the releif of Major Harnage and Capt. Hawker. It lays with Sir Henry Clinton to accept of either a parole or final exchange for them.4 Neither can I permit Major Gardiner to go into New York to sollicit his exchange.5

I have not yet recd any official accounts from the southward, which is most amazing. The inclosed came the day before yesterday from Philadelphia. The Gentleman who transmits it, and Colo. Patton, who brought it from North Carolina, are both so worthy of credibility, that we may, at least, flatter ourselves, it will prove substantially true.6

The enemy yesterday set fire to and abandonned their Works upon Stoney and Verplanks points.7 I am Sir Your most obt and humble Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, NHi: Gates Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

The American Journal, and General Advertiser (Providence) for 28 Oct. printed a notice that GW’s express to Gates had “passed through town” on 25 October. Also on 25 Oct., Gates wrote Brig. Gen. John Stark from Bristol, R.I., acknowledging receipt of GW’s letter that morning (see Stark, Memoir of John Stark, description begins Caleb Stark. Memoir and Official Correspondence of Gen. John Stark, with Notices of Several Other Officers of the Revolution . . .. 1860. Reprint. Boston, 1972. description ends 196).

1For the British evacuation of Rhode Island on 25 Oct., see GW to Duportail and Alexander Hamilton, 30 Oct., and notes 1 and 2 to that document.

2GW is alluding to his intention to attack the British in and around New York City after rendezvousing with a French fleet under Vice Admiral d’Estaing. For an overview of his preparations and ideas, which never were fully executed because of d’Estaing’s decision not to sail north after being defeated at Savannah, see Planning for an Allied Attack on New York, c.3–7 Oct., editorial note.

3The resolution that Congress approved on 9 Oct. explicitly excluded militia from receiving new subsistence sums established in a resolution passed on 18 Aug. for Continental army officers and soldiers (see GW to Samuel Huntington, 2 Oct., and n.3 to that document; see also JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 14:978, 15:1156). The enclosure actually sent Gates has not been identified.

4Maj. Henry Harnage and Capt. Erle Hawker, Convention Army prisoners, frequently sought special consideration and finally secured an exchange in spring 1780. For their initial appeal, see Harnage to GW, 27 March 1779.

5For another intervention on behalf of Maj. James Valentine Gardner, see William Phillips to GW, 29 December.

6The enclosure has not been identified, but it surely read similarly to an “Extract of a letter from Philadelphia, dated October 16,” printed in The Connecticut Journal (New Haven) for 27 Oct.: “Col. Patten of the North-Carolina brigade, arrived just now in a whale-boat, from North-Carolina, to the head of Elk, in ten days to this city, brings a confirmation that the Count D’Estaing had stormed the enemy’s works on Beaufort, on the 16th of September, and carried them after three hours conflict, in which our generous allies suffered a good deal; the enemy lost about 100 killed, 700 regulars and 200 tories prisoners; 20 transports, one 50 gun ship, and some frigates are captur’d. The Count proceeded to Savannah, all the shipping there fell into his hands without opposition, and such measures were taken, that it is supposed all the British force in Georgia are made prisoners of war. Gen. Lincoln having blocked up the avenues from thence to Pensecola.”

Col. John Patten’s news proved entirely erroneous. American and French operations against Savannah, begun in early September, ended following a disastrous repulse on 9 October. Official notice of this defeat and the allied withdrawal came to GW in a letter of 10 Nov. from Samuel Huntington.

7See GW to Huntington, 21 Oct., source note; the second letter from GW to Anthony Wayne, same date, n.2; and Wayne to GW, this date. The British had occupied and fortified both Stony Point and Verplanck Point, N.Y., to use as a base. Gen. Henry Clinton wrote Lord George Germain from New York on 26 Oct., explaining that “I should probably quit Stony Point the moment I lost all prospect of acting against the rebels in Jersey or New York governments. I have now to inform you that I abandoned that post on the 23rd. Mr Washington a few weeks ago affected in some degree to invest it, but I never believed his demonstrations serious or that he would hazard a general action on the terms upon which I could there have met him” (Davies, Documents of the American Revolution, description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends 17:236).

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