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To George Washington from Timothy Pickering, 5 October 1779

From Timothy Pickering

Philaa Octr 5. 1779.


Yesterday afternoon arrived here the armed Cutter Royal George of 14 guns, prize to the Pickering of Salem. Coming addressed to me, a number of private letters found on board fell into my hands. Some of them contained intelligence which seemed of importance sufficient to be communicated to your Excellency. I have therefore made in haste the inclosed extracts.1 The private sentiments & anecdotes interspersed I thought would not be disagreeable. I have the honour to be, very respectfully, your Excellency’s most obedient servant

Tim: Pickering

ALS, DLC:GW; copy, MHi: Pickering Papers. This letter is docketed 6 October.

GW replied to Pickering from West Point on 12 Oct.: “Yesterday evening I received your favor of the 5th and am exceedingly obliged for the extracts it inclosed. The intelligence they contain is both interesting and pleasing. It fixes some points with much greater precision with respect to the enemy than was before known, and also shews that there is not the most perfect harmony prevailing among them” (ALS, MHi: Pickering Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW). GW signed the cover of the ALS.

1The enclosed “Extracts from letters taken in the armed cutter Royal George which sailed from New York the 28th ult. in the Morning, bound to the West Indies, but taken, & brought into Philadelphia, where she arrived the 4th of Octr 1779” contained extracts taken from eight letters. The first extract, taken from “Edwd Brisbane to Robert Burton at St Kitts dated Augt 28. 1779 at N. York,” reads: “My plan of the campaign would be this—Destroy without reserve every seaport town between this and the extremity of the New England provinces, & the shipping &c. in the harbours—proceed to Charlestown, & after reducing that important place embark the army for the West Indies, and make the campaign there during the winter. My plan will probably be adopted in part: Transports to embark 8000 men are in readiness, & every kind of military stores necessary for such an army is afloat. The troops now arrived will be left to garrison the posts in this neighbourhood, which are fortifying in the strongest manner. The battery is repairing, & to mount 42 pounders. Another is erecting at the Light House, to command the channel. It is proposed to mount 40 guns of the same bore on it. Works of a similar kind are constructing at the narrows, and a very regular fort at Brooklyn. The troops beyond Kingsbridge are to be drawn in, and to occupy regular works constructed in the best manner, and which wholly command the approach to fort Knyphausen. In a word, every appearance indicates an intention to leave nothing more than a strong garrison here, and to act with vigor in other quarters with the bulk of the army.”

The second extract, taken from “Stephen Kemble, N. York Septr 7. 1779 to Major of Brigade Smith at St Christophers,” reads: “Now for news on my side. Let me tell you in the first place, and nearest concerned, that Ld Rawdon has resigned, the occasion that bro’t it about, the dissolution of Emerick’s corps. That being resolved on, a day was fixed by the C. in C——f, but a representation coming from King’s-bridge that they were going off to the Rebels, in numbers, his Lordship & Colo. Innes thought for the above reason best to bring the affair on a day or two sooner. Semcoe, who was to have some of the men, happening to dine at the C. in C.’s & hearing accidentally of it, expressed his surprize & displeasure intimating that he had no officer to attend, & an innuendo that it would prevent him from getting so many as he otherwise would have done. This entre nous. The Commdr in C——f not pleased with any one at the time, took it in dudgeon, that the day fixed on shd be altered without his knowledge, and spoke so harshly to Ld R——don that he could not brook it. Innes had his share upon this occasion. This happened a week ago. My Ld & the Genl have never seen one another since. The 44th between six & seven hundred strong, and two Hessian regts are sailed for Quebec[.] The fleet under Admiral Arbuthnot arrived the 25th August. In his fleet came the 76th & 80th regts 4 comp[an]ies 82d, & upwards of 1300 recruits, making in the whole near 4000, in general unhealthy, as are our old troops, owing it is thought to a remarkable wet season. I hear of embarkations, and that near six thousand are to be employed, supposed to the southward, The C. in C. & Lord Cornwallis are said to go with this embarkation. Ld Rawdon intends joining his corps, and if I am not mistaken will have the rank of Brigr on the provincial establishment. Having had no late news of our fleet or that of the French, we begin to suspect the latter mean to pay us a visit, and if their fleet is all powerful, what may they not do with Rhode Island, or in Georgia, our detachments are not equal to the troops they can bring, especially when joined by the Americans. Genl Garth going immediately to Georgia—Prevost to go home—Leslie intended for Georgia, but ill health prevents him. Paterson late Adjt Genl a Brigr and commands on Staten Island. Ld Cathcart in orders to act as Qr Mr Genl a talk that Sr Harry has wrote for Dalrymple 14th to fill that office. Leland Guards talked of as Adjt Genl. I wish I was quit, with a thousand in my pocket. George Hutchinson wishing to sell his company, but cannot get leave, don’t say a word of this, he’s almost as tired as myself. The 26th regt drafted, & to go home. P.S. Drummond & Sr Hy have quarrelled most violently, the latter said he sold him when in England, indeed I don’t know any body that is pleased.”

The third extract, taken from “Dr J. Mallet to Dr Bruce, Physician to his Majesty’s hospitals St Kitts—N.Y. Septr 8,” reads: “A strange fatality has attended all your manoeuvres, & little better success has been obtained from ⟨ours.⟩ I shall leave it to Judy tell you the particulars of our situation, as the arrival of the reinforcements from England has thrown near 700 sick upon my hands to be provided for which scarcely leaves me time to eat or sleep. The extreme wetness of the summer has made intermitting fevers very general in our camps, but by no means fatal, nor I hope will they be of long duration.”

The fourth extract, taken from “A. Cuyler to Capt. Fisher 55th regt St Kitts—dated N. York 15th Septr,” reads: “Am obliged to you for the detail of disasters in the West Indies, altho disagreeable in its nature its a satisfaction to know the particulars. I could wish to have it in my power to give you more pleasing accounts from this, but as its all of a piece, a continuance of errors, I shall desist of particulars, and in general terms say, nothing has been done in this quarter (since your departure) that is worth mentioning.”

The fifth extract, taken from “A. Cuyler to Lt Colo. Cuyler 55th regt St Kitts N. York Septr 16,” reads: “The 26th regt is drafted: a few days past about 2000 troops embarked for Quebec, among which is Lt Colo. Hope of the 44th.”

The sixth extract, taken from “Wm Cliffe to Brigr Genl Prescott commanding his majestys forces at St Christophers—dated Staten-Island Septr 15. 1779,” reads: “I suppose you will have heard before you receive this of the unfortunate event at Stoney point, under the command of Coll Johnson, he with the 17th regt are still prisoners; we have not yet seen him, nor do I imagine he will wish to come in till exchanged. A short time after that Powler’s Hook under the command of Major Sutherland was surprized, & part of the garrison carried off. He was brought to a general court martial & honourably acquitted. Ld Cornwallis is again come to America, and its expected a detachment of the army will be sent to the southward, under his command. The 44th regt and two regts of Hessians sailed a few days ago, the former for Canada, but whether the Hessians are destined for Quebec or Georgia, is kept a secret. Colo. Hope did not go with his regt but remains with the grenadiers. Colo. Duncan sold out, and capt. Lumm of the 38th got the majority. The 26th regt was drafted about a week ago, the officers expect to sail for Europe in a few days, except Colo. Stewart, who remains here, whether in any capacity or as a spectator is not known.”

The seventh extract, taken from “Wm Girard to Messrs Moore & Johnston merchants at St Kitts—dated N. York Septr 22. 1779,” reads: “During the summer we have had no campaign, however am in hopes it will now soon open, as there’s about 7000 troops under orders to embark at a moments notice, & the transports all ready to receive them on board. It’s conjectured this expedition is intended for Charlestown, and in consequence of which every article in the grocery way is rising fast at this market, owing to the number of speculators intends going with the army.”

The eighth extract, taken from “Edwd Bribane to Robert Burton merchant St Kitts—dated N. York Septr 23d 1779,” reads: “A large embarkation has commenced—the destination a profound secret—Six British regts—all the light infantry & grenadiers of the line—four Hessian battalions—the Volunteers of Ireland the Queens rangers—a battalion of Jagers, & the British Legion—the whole amounting to seventeen battalions, compose this formidable force. Ld Cornwallis’s baggage & horses are embarked—It is believed Sr Heny goes himself. Some have got it that two expeditions are meant—but I will not pester you with the conjectures of our Quidnuncs. I still for my own part adhere to my plan for the operations of the campaign. There is full time to chastise the rascals to the Northward, & afterwards to reduce Carolina, & then hey for the Carribbees. The Compte is certainly at Hispaniola. A vessel from Jamaica which sailed 10th Augt brings accounts that the people in that Island expect a visit and are in readiness to receive it properly. Martial law had taken place. Sir Peter parker had called in all his heavy ships and had arranged them in port Royal harbour. A frigate had arrived from Byron with advice of D’Estaings having gone from Windward, and that he should follow him as soon as he learned the rout he had taken.” An ending note reads: “Capt. parker who commanded the Cutter, says he left N. York last Tuesday (28th ulto) in the morning—that while there it was said between 9 & 10,000 men were going to embark in three divisions—that the first of 25 sail (among them one 74 & two 50 gun ships, & some of less force) went out of the Hook, where they anchored—afterwards came in again; and last Tuesday Morning went up to town. He had not heard of D’Estaings being expected on this coast; and supposes now that the 25 sail returned in consequence of information thereof. There had been frequent presses at N. York—a very hot one not long since, when in one day they picked up 700 men” (DLC:GW).

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