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From George Washington to Major Benjamin Tallmadge, 24 September 1779

To Major Benjamin Tallmadge

Head Quarters West-point 24th Sepr 1779.


I this morning received your letter of the 22d with its several inclosures.1

It is not my opinion that Culper Junr should be advised to give up his present employment. I would imagine that with a little industry he will be able to carry on his intelligence with greater security to himself, and greater advantages to us—under cover of his usual business, than if he were to dedicate himself wholly to the giving of information. It may afford him opportunities of collecting intelligence, that he could not derive so well in any other manner. It prevents also those suspicians which would become natural should he throw himself out of the line of his present employment. He may rest assured of every proper attention being paid to his services.

One thing appears to me deserving of his particular consideration; as it will not only render his communication less exposed to detection, but relieve the fears of such persons as may be entrusted with its conveyance to the second link in the chain—and of course very much facilitate the object we have in view. I mean that he should occasionally write his information on the blank leaves of a pamphlet—on the first second &c. pages of a common pocket book—on the blank leaves at each end of registers for the year—almanacks, or any new publication—or book of small value. He should be determined in the choice of these books, principally by the goodness of the blank paper as the ink is not easily legible unless it is on paper of a good quality. Having settled a plan of this kind with his friend, he may forward them without risque of search, or the scrutiny of the enemy—as this is chiefly directed against paper made up in the form of letters.2

I would add a further hint on this subject. Even letters may be made more subservient to his communications, than has been yet practiced. He may write a familiar letter on domestic affairs, or on some little matters of business to his friend at Satuket or elsewhere, interlining with the stain his secret intelligence, or writing it on the opposite blank side of the letter. But that his friend may know how to distinguish these from letters addressed solely to himself—he may always leave such as contain secret information without a date or place (dating it with the stain); or fold them up in a particular manner, which may be concerted between the parties. This last appears to be the best mark of the two, and may be the signal for their being designed for me.

The first mentioned mode however, or that of the books, appears to me the one least liable to detection. I am sir Your most obedient and humble servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing, NSbSU; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. A note under the docket of the LS, in a different hand, reads “Recd 26th [Sept.].”

1This letter has not been found, but Tallmadge apparently enclosed Abraham Woodhull’s (“Samuel Culper”) letters of 12 Sept. (No. 23) and 19 Sept., as well as Robert Townsend’s (“Samuel Culper, Jr.”) letters of 11 Sept. and 18 September. For the growing importance of the Culper intelligence reports in GW’s spy network, see Culper Spy Ring Intelligence, 6-17 August.

Samuel Culper, Jr.’s letter to “John Bolton” (Tallmadge), his letter “Nr 7” dated 11 Sept. from “Long-Island,” reads: “Your Nr 11 & 12 have came to hand, the contents I duly note. I am very sorry that Nr 5 was distroyed, tho’ I can’t say that it contained any intelegence that wou’d have been of material consequence—The bearer thought himself in danger. I believe it was merely imaginary. From timidity and the situation of affairs at that time, he did not choose to come to N: Yk, I therefore met him at a place quite out of danger on Long-Island. I then made an appointment for Nr 6, at wch time he came, I wrote it, and took it over the Ferry that he might run no hazard from the Inspector of Letters there. However, he was so much intimidated that it shared the same fate as Nr 5.

“I have now the pleasure of seeing our mutual friend Saml Culper, Senior who will run every hazard to forward this.

“I had inform’d you in Nr 6. of the arrival of the Brittish Fleet consisting of about 70 sail, under Convoy of Adml Arbuthnot in the Europa of 64 Guns & Russel of 74 Guns—The number of the Troops from the best information I can collect does not exceed 3000. They are all new Troops, and in bad health, and are now encamped in and about Bedford; three miles from Brooklin Ferry. The 44th and 3 Hessian Rigts embarked a few days ago, and are to sail this day—Their distination said to be for Quebec—This is generally believed—Sir James Wallace in the Experiment sails sametime for Georgia, with one Store Ship, and two or three other Vessels, but no Troops. No prospect of any other movement farther then some Vessels are fitting for Horses. The general opinion is that there will be no Campaign opened from N: York. The most knowing and judicious of the Torys think that some troops must be sent to the West Indies. They have now given ov⟨er⟩ all hopes of the second division so much talked of, as they think they will be wanted at home. Their spirits in general was much dejected with the accounts of a Spanish War, and Lord Norths decleration that he had formed no alliances, nor had any prospect of forming any. Their spirits are now in some measure elevated with the accounts of the distruction of the American Fleet at Ponobscot—I hope it will be but a temporary elevation. It certainly is a bad stroke, and I think it cou’d not be owing to want of intilegence of Sir Geo: Colliers sailing. A Vessel arrived a few days ago from St Kitts, but nothing transpires farther than that the French had embarked 6000 Troops, with an intent, as is supposed, to take Antegua. The most judicious of the Torys think that the Spaniards have by this invaded Jamaica, and make no doubt but they will succeed. A Fleet of 12 sail of Victualers arrived yesterday from Cork—Another Fleet was to sail in about four weeks after them, but they are not expected soon, as its thought that the Spanish War will occassion a general embargo for sometime, for the purpose of manning their fleet.

“The Guards, 54th, and two Hessian Regts do duty in and about N: York—The Guards are in the City, 54th Encamped at Greenwich, one Hessian Regt near Jones’s, on Delanceys land, and the other near the Water Works. The number on Staten Island I do not know—On Long Island the new troops as mentioned, a Regt of Horse about Flushing, a Guard of about 30 Men of the 3d Battallian of Delanceys Brigade, with a party of the Militia Horse are at Jamaica, as a guard for the General. He might have been taken off with much ease sometime ago, but it would now be very dificult, as the Queens Rangers are at Oyster-Bay—Their number is about 450, near 100 of which are mounted. The 3d Batallian of Delanceys Brigade are at Lloyeds Neck. From the vicinity of the Queens Rangers, who can be there by means of an alarm Gun in two hours, I think it would by no means be advisable to attact them—They w[e]re alarm’d on Thursday night last, and was there in one & a half hour after the alarm. My being unwell for a week past, and my engagement in business has prevented my obtaining a more particular account of the situation of the enimy. I intended to have disingaged myself from business agreeable to the solicitations of my friend Samuel Culper, Senior, but find it will be attended with more dificulty than I expected, owing to my having a partner, as I can make no excuse to do it. Untill I can, will continue to write as usual, and shall be less expensive.

“The Europa, Russel, Renown and four or five Frigates are now in port. It is thought by many that all the large Ships on this station will be order’d to the West Indies to re-inforce Byron. The works at the Battery goes on very slow—The Hessians are repairing the Fort on Bunker⟨s⟩ hill with some alterations. A very large Fort is building at Brooklin on the West side of the road, and about 80 Rods due north from Cobble Hill. A large number of the Militia of Kings & Queens County are at work upon it—The Militia of Suffolk have not as yet complyed ⟨with⟩ the orders, a copy of which you will have forwarded. I fear if they do not comply that devastation will attend that Loyal County. No late accounts from Georgia, the last were that their lines was m⟨uch⟩ contracted. It is the general opinion that nothing m⟨ore⟩ can be done there ’till they have a reinforcement, which it is thought will be sent about the begining of October. You may rest assur’d that I will use every endeavour to comply with your requests. I have made some overtures to a person to convey Letters by a shorter route, and flatter myself that I shall s⟨mutilated⟩” (DLC:GW). Townsend signed the letter “723,” which in the Culper spy ring’s code stood for “Samuel Culper, Jr.,” and addressed it to “721,” which stood for “John Bolton,” Tallmadge’s alias. Copies, in Woodhull’s writing, of orders from Francis Rawdon and John Waller regarding the drafting of militia from Long Island to work on the fort at Brooklyn—which Townsend had promised to send—are in DLC:GW with the 27 Aug. documents. Tallmadge quoted the Rawdon document in his letter to Nathanael Greene of 24 Sept. (see Greene Papers, description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends 4:412-13). Hessian major Carl Leopold Baurmeister wrote in his dispatch of 22 Sept. that “Provision ships are still coming in from Cork. On the 10th of this month another seven ships arrived from there” (Baurmeister, Revolution in America, description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends 303).

Culper’s letter to Bolton, his “No. 23,” of 12 Sept. from Setaucket, Long Island, N.Y., which Woodhull mistakenly dated August, reads: “Your Several Nos 13. 14. & 15 are before me, The contents [I] have duly observ⟨ed⟩ And communicated them to Culper Jur And he hath in general replyed, That have only to add, That your fears of the Queens Rangers, Crossing the Sound, I think, in part must be groundless; I think the main reason of their being Stationed thers to Succor Coll Ludloes Regt on Loyds Neck if Need Should require; And to recruit their Horses and Men, that are much worne down with Service—Agreeable to your request, Shall endevour to gain every Intelligence from that and every other Quarter and Communicate Your Observations concerning the bad tendency that might follow the Capture of certain Persons mentioned heretofore, is worthy of due consideration, And Perhaps it will be best to let them fill up the Measure of their Sins, And ripen for greater ruin—If it had bene done, instantly after the Capture of Some persons here—I Should have feard no danger, that might have risen from Such a Step, You could have Stoped Plundering here nevertheless—To have taken two for one Then, Matter not wheather Whig or Tory, would have bene Pollitick in you, And a glorious Barrier in favour of our County, and Nutrallity, For as they are continually Pressing us to be active, And dayly cursing of us for not complying, And laying at your mercy and unprotected by them, And Suffering for So Small an affair, Perhaps would induce them to think more favourable of us, And consider our Situation, And treat us with more compassion—I Say if ever Such an opportunity Should Present again—I Shall beg that it may be imbraced, And would be highly favourable to this unhappy County, Now universally throughout attended with the greatest Sickness And frequent Deaths that ever was remembred, by the Oldest Man now liveing, And dayly threaten’d by that Judas Tryon. Devastation an[d] banishment for not complying with their exorbitant demand inclosed when Striped of Items, and out of our Power to fulfill—dont let the inclosed be published in News Paper—your desire that no time may be lost—After dispaches arive, hath ever bene complyed with, at appointed times, I always attended—When he comes, unexpectedly it hath bene unavoidably attended with some loss of time, once in particular, Owing to a certain Persons Family being Sick, And attendance there which debard him from makeing himself known. A Step on Purpose to acquaint me & I received a Message from a Person (that I intimated in my last was an acquaintance of Hamiltons) Three days ago, that 4: or 5 Regt were imbarking, Generaly Said for Qubeck had taken altogather Thick Clothing. yet nevertheless, He thought most likely for Georgia, And beleived they all had but a Short time to Stay here—I have had much discourse with Culper Jur, Contrary to his intimation and my expectation, He continues in buisiness, That ingroseth Some Part of his time, And interfeareth, with the important buisiness he hath undertaken, I do assure you he is a Sincere freind and Capible of rendering Servicce to our Country—And as Such a one I have again most earnestly endevoured, and beged him to disengage himself from all Concerns that may interfeare, with the Publick buisines⟨s⟩ he hath undertook, His reply in Substance was this, th⟨at⟩ he feard his Inability. He was willing to do all he Could to Serve his Country, And not Leave himself intirely out of the line of buisiness, And be destitutee of a Support hereafter and imployment. When his Services may not be required, As hes not of an independent fortune—I do not conceive his vews are altogather mercinary yet thinks he Should have Some compensation, but his Cheif aim is to have Such a recommendation at the Close of this war as may intitle him to Some imployment as a compensation for the disadvantage and resquee he Runs—I Shall on⟨ly say⟩ thus much th⟨at⟩ hes of a very respectable Family, Capable of transacting the buisiness well, and have Said all I Could to remove these Obsticles out of the way & Signified that all the encouragedment that I had received Should be confered on him—And you must answer him as you Please. But I think it much to be lamented, that Such high Notions are Springing up and flaiming through the infant States of Amarica, That & the want of Virtue will Procure greater calamities than the Present, Our nearest Freinds are as well, as Usual.” Woodhull added a note reading: “Culper Jur appointed the next time for 725 [Caleb Brewster] to come on the 19th Instant” (DLC:GW). In Tallmadge’s “numerical dictionary,” a code devised for the Culper spy ring (see Tallmadge to GW, 25 July, n.2), “725” stood for “Caleb Brewster,” the spy ring’s courier between Long Island and Connecticut. Woodhull addressed the letter from “729” for “Setauket,” signed the letter “722” for “Samuel Culper,” and addressed it to “721” for “John Bolton.” The enclosure has not been identified.

Culper, Jr.’s 18 Sept. letter, his “No. 8,” was written from New York City, apparently to Tallmadge. A “Copy from the original wrote with the stain,” in Tench Tilghman’s writing, reads: “In my last I informed you that a number of Vessels were fitting up to take Horses. There then appeared no other prospect of any other movement. I have now to inform you that the 54th 77th Irish Volunteers. Queens Rangers—the Legion—all the Grenadiers and Light Infantry—the greater part of the Horse are now under orders for embarkation. It is generally beleived they are bound to the Southward and that Charlestown will be the great object this Campaign. The Battery is now nearly repaired and is to have 40 twenty four pounders mounted on it—every 6th Man in King and Queens County is now at work on the Fort at Brooklyn, and the Militia of Suffolk have now peremptory orders to send their Quota immediately. The Gorge at Fort Washington is strongly fortified. An Express arrived on Wednesday from Rhode Island with some accounts concerning Count D’Estaing, they are very vague and not worth relating. Old Prescot I beleive has got frightened, and expects D’Estaing is coming to pay him a Visit—For other arrivals I refer you to the paper I send you, which I beleive you will find nearly right. This conveyance coming one day sooner than expected, p[r]events my being so particular as I intended” (DLC:GW). A note at the top of the copy indicates that it was Culper, Jr.’s “No. 3” to Tallmadge, but his previous letter to Tallmadge, dated 11 Sept., was marked “No. 7,” suggesting that GW’s aide Tench Tilghman, who copied the letter, may have mistakenly transcribed “8” as “3.” The “stain” was a type of invisible ink. Woodhull, as Samuel Culper, probably enclosed this letter with his 19 Sept. letter to Tallmadge.

Culper’s second letter to Bolton, dated 19 Sept. at Setauket, reads: “Agreeable to the few lines in the inclosure of the Several dats of the 11 & 12, I parted with [Brewster], and expected his immediate returne to you, But next day understood he was waiting for the inclosed dispatche replying his boat must have a repair before he could come again—Perhaps it is best, as the former dispaches hath bene So long detained, I Judge they have nearly lost their Value, if any. The inclosed written with the Stain, I am ready to beleive contains Something of importance, By the report of [Nathan Woodhull], who hath just returned from [new york], he tells me theirs a Counsel of War holding of all the General Officers and every thing appears to be much confused on Account of an Express from Genl Prescot that a Sloop arrived at R. Island Saild two days in Sight of a large French fleet Stearing North West Course in lattitude 25, or 35 he cannot remember certain which, That a large Number of Troops were imbarking, Transports Prepard to receive one Thousand Horse on board—he was one of the Petitioners but got nothing but hard words, That infernal Tryon Saying we would never raise any Men for Goverment, And now the Spanish and French had combined against them and in difficulty would grant them no assistance, It would be no matter he Said if we were all Laid waist—and those that were Sick he would Put in their Hospitals, I hope a foreighn fleet is at hand, and that Something may interfear to our advantage—I have just heard from Oysterbay that Coll Simcoe is a going to leave that Place. they are Selling their horses that is their own Private Property and are Loading all their Baggage his destination unknown but beleive they will all leave us Soon—I yesterday was waiting for the Express with the Inclosed dispache at Stony Brook when about one Oclock—Warning was given out from Capt. Woodhull for his Company to mitt Pursuant to an Order from Coll Floyd to the Several Capts of this Township to Pursue and lay wait for Ebenezar Dayton and his Companions, that last Night Plunderd two houses at ⟨Syosset⟩, I Imediately took a confidental freind and went in Search of [C. Brewster] and after Passing by one boat hid in the woods found his, and him and advised him the necessary Steeps for his Safety, I then repaird to the Place of rendevouze, And found the Millitia Just in Motion to drive Maunt misery to Prevent which I was Oblidged to open myself to the Several Capts And had the good fortune to Order matters to my Mind These things you will readily conceive lays me Open; And I desire you to take Such Measures to Prevent the like again, Plundering Makes as much dificulty with us as Perhaps takeing of Some Persons. Daytons excursion heretofore, was the Sole Cause of the loss of Cper No. 5. the refugees and Some Troops were filling the roads that the express was to Pass. Culpr Jur hath apointed no time I therefore appoint the 30 Instant for [C. Brewster] to Cross.” Woodhull added the following note after his closing: “N.B. if you think well of it Send Several fials of that Stain and I will Place it in two or threne Confidential Persons hands in New york that will do their endevour” (DLC:GW). The letter is written partially in code, using the Tallmadge “numerical dictionary” code. The words in square brackets were written above the line by GW’s assistant secretary James McHenry as translations of the codes Woodhull used in the letter at these locations. The enclosed letter was most likely Culper, Jr., to Tallmadge, 18 Sept. 1779. A note on that letter indicates that it was written “with the stain.” Nathan Woodhull, who sometimes assisted the Culper Spy Ring, was Abraham Woodhull’s uncle (see Rose, Washington’s Spies, description begins Alexander Rose. Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring. New York, 2006. description ends 173-174).

2The “second link in the chain” and “his friend” both refer to Abraham Woodhull, who resided in Setauket and in the “chain,” or system of conveyance for Townsend’s reports, relayed Townsend’s letters to Brewster who then carried them across Long Island Sound to Tallmadge (see GW to Tallmadge, 21 March, n.2).

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