George Washington Papers

From George Washington to George Read, 19 December 1777

To George Read

Head Quarters Gulf Mill [Pa.] 19th Decemr 1777


I have recd information, which I have great reason to beleive is true, that the Enemy mean to establish a post at Wilmington for the purpose of countenancing the disaffected in the Delaware State, drawing supplies from that Country and the lower parts of Chester County, and securing a post upon Delaware River during the Winter.1 As the advantages resulting to the Enemy from such a position are most obvious I have determined, and shall accordingly, this day, send off Genl Smallwood with a respectable continental Force to take post at Wilmington before them.2 If General Howe thinks the place of that importance to him, which I conceive it is, he will probably attempt to dispossess us of it, and as the Force which I can at present spare, is not adequate to making it perfectly secure, I expect that you will call out as many Militia as you possibly can, to rendezvous without loss of time at Wilmington, and put themselves under the command of Genl Smallwood. I shall hope that the people will turn out cheerfully, when they consider that they are called upon to remain within and defend their own State.3

In a letter which I had the honor of receiving from you some little time past; you express a wish that some mode may be fallen upon to procure the exchange of Govr McKinley.4 As this Gentleman will be considered in the Civil line, I have not any prisoner of War proper to be proposed for him.

The application would go more properly to Congress who have a number of State prisoners under their direction, for some of whom Sir William Howe would probably exchange the Governor. I have the honor to be Sir Your most obt Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. let the Militia march to Wilmington by Companies or even parts of Companies and from their Battalions there. Because if the Enemy move it will be quickly.

LS, DeHi; Df, DLC:GW; copy (extract), De-Ar; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW also signed the cover of the LS, which contains two dockets. The first docket reads in part “received the 21st—Answered.” The second docket reads “great want of Lead in the Co: of Kent.” For Read’s reply, see his letter to GW of 5 Feb. 1778.

1Although the source of GW’s intelligence on this subject has not been identified, rumors to the effect that “the British army is to go to Wilmington” had been circulating in Philadelphia as early as 8 Dec. (“Morton Diary,” description begins “The Diary of Robert Morton, Kept in Philadelphia While That City Was Occupied by the British Army in 1777.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 1 (1877): 1–39. description ends 36).

3For efforts to call out the Delaware militia, see Smallwood’s letters to GW of 25 and 27 Dec. 1777 and Read’s message to the Delaware general assembly of 21 Feb. 1778, in Delaware Archives description begins Delaware Archives. 5 vols. 1911–19. Reprint. New York, 1974. description ends , 2:827–28.

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