George Washington Papers
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To George Washington from Major General Robert Howe, 6 November 1779

From Major General Robert Howe

North Castle [N.Y.] 6th Novr 1779

Dear sir

The taking of —— agent1 has been an ugly accident, and to liberate him without Exciting suspicion requires management he is fearful that the stale trick of letting him Escape will not answer, Especially as he is so lately out of the small Pox and is so very Weak that he can not well be suppos’d to be possessed of agility Enough to make a hasty retreat and the least doubtful circumstance would lose him the Enemies Confidence, and perhaps involve —— with him. He thinks he had better be detain’d until they send out and offer an Exchange for him, which he doubts not will soon happen. I have consulted —— as to going down with a Flag, he thinks no Errand I have propos’d will answer the purpose, and persists in going to Governor Clinton who has a pretext so plausible, (as he says) that it can not but Answer. he is Set out for that purpose, and is the more desirous of going down since his agent has been taken.2 I have sent Emissaries down to learn the Exact number and situation in that Quarter Your Excellency mention’d when last I saw you, and I flatter my self I shall receive A satisfactory acct. I came here the day before yesterday as I wrote you I should do,3 since I came some things have very necessarily detain’d me and will I believe until Tomorrow I need not I flatter my self assure you that nothing but circumstances of Duty have kept me, and that matters in this quarter requird my Presence or I should by no means have staid. I sent Colo. White down with a Party last night, the object was to get intelligence, and to take if possible a party of the Enemy which Information led us to think was practicable.4 I momentarily Expect to hear of him, Tho’ as when he left me I had no intention of staying, his dispatches may possibly go to my Quarters, if so they will I doubt not be immediatly Transmitted to your Excellency should they contain any thing worthy of your Attention—I have just now heard that the Enemy were forraging in East:chester with a Tolerable Party. An Express is gone to inform White of it tho’ I doubt not he knows it. with the greatest Respect I am Dear Sir your Excellency’s most Obt Servt

R. Howe


1Howe identified this detained agent as “Lt R——t” in his first letter to GW of 14 December.

2Probably in relation to the detained agent, New York governor George Clinton wrote Howe from Fishkill on 9 Nov.: “I am favoured with your Letter of the 6th Instant. Capt. [Elijah] Hunter will inform you of the Measures I have ordered in Consequence of it which I trust will be agreable. It will (unavoidably) be some Days before Matters can be accomplished for Reasons he will explain to you. This Delay I hope will not be attended with any bad Consequences” (Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers, description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends 5:351–52). Howe’s letter to Clinton of 6 Nov. has not been identified.

4The Connecticut Courant, and the Weekly Intelligencer (Hartford) for 7 Dec. printed a report under “FISH-KILL, Dec. 2,” on this foray of Lt. Col. Anthony Walton White’s command: “On the 8th ult. Lieut. Col. White, with 300 infantry and 150 horse, marched down to [George] Tippet’s Neck, one mile from Kingsbridge, with orders to give the Yagers, under the command of Col. Worm [Wurmb], battle, if they could be drawn from their works; but the old Hessian, very prudently, declined the invitation; though warmly pressed, on our side, by every means that could be thought of. Apprehensive that a visit, of a more serious nature might be paid them, they moved the same day over Kingsbridge; where for a while we must leave them, to reflect on the great honor they have gained, as an advanced corps to the Royal Army.

“N.B. It is well known that Col. Worm has had, from time to time, under his command 1500 infantry, and 300 horse, this campaign; and it is also as well known, that Col. White, who commanded the outpost of the Continental army, never had more than 300 infantry and 150 horse under his command; and that with less than half this number, he has frequently laid under the very nose of Col. Worm—unmolested.”

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