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From George Washington to Brigadier General Duportail and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, 30 October 1779

To Brigadier General Duportail and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton

West point October the 30th 1779

Gentn

I inclose You an Extract of a Letter of the 26th which General Greene has just received from Mr Bowen D.Q.M. Genl, dated in New port, announcing the evacuation of Rhode Island by the Enemy on Monday night last.1 The intelligence is not to be doubted,2 although by some means or another it has happened, that I have not received any advices from Genl Gates upon the subject, or a Letter from him since One of the 15th of which I transmitted You a Copy on the 21st.3

By a private Letter which Mr Laurens the late president was so obliging as to write me on the 24th he gave me the intelligence you will find in the Inclosure No. 2, which is meant principally for your own satisfaction.4 I have the Honor to be with great regard Gentn Yr Most Obed. st

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC: Alexander Hamilton Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW sent the LS via Maj. Henry Lee, Jr. (see GW to Duportail and Hamilton, 1 Nov.).

1The enclosed letter from Col. Ephraim Bowen, Jr., to Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, written at Newport, R.I., on Tuesday, 26 Oct., reads: “I have the pleasure to acquaint you of the evacuation of this Island by the British Army on Monday night last.

“They left the Town with much honor to themselves, as they were not permitted to plunder or insult any Inhabitant.

“General Gates landed with the Troops under his command on Tuesday Morning and marched to Town with great regularity and good order.

“The Enemy have left about fourteen hundred tons of excellent Hay; Sixty or Seventy Tons of Straw; upwards of three hundred Cords of wood; four or five hundred loads of Peat or Fuze, and a little Seacoal: No other Stores are left of any kind” (DLC: Alexander Hamilton Papers). Bowen’s directions written on the cover of the ALS sent to Greene urged the expresses to ride continuously (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 4:498–99).

2The Providence Gazette; and Country Journal for 30 Oct. reported the British evacuation from Rhode Island: “On the Evening of the 25th, the invincible Troops of Britain having evacuated Newport, embarked on board Transports which lay ready to receive them; and the same Night the whole Fleet set Sail, it is said, for New York, to assist in defending that last Asylum of British Tyranny in the Thirteen United States. Our Troops took Possession of the Town next Morning. …

“The Enemy left at Rhode-Island a large Quantity of Forage and Fuel, with a Number of Horses, &c. The Barracks at Brenton’s Point (where they embarked) were burnt; but the others, with some Works in and near the Town, were left in good Order. The Inhabitants had been ordered to remain in their Houses three Days previous to the Evacuation.”

Pvt. Johann Conrad Döhla of the Anspach Regiment, then in Newport, described the British evacuation in his diary entry for 25 Oct.: “I went on the main watch in the city as lance corporal. At one o’clock in the afternoon we were withdrawn from the watch. All troops were hastily embarked. Newport and all of Rhode Island, including Conanicut, was completely vacated. … Everything was embarked that it was possible to bring away. …

“We had hardly embarked when there were already rebels to be seen on Rhode Island. We had spent one year and three months on the island of Rhode Island, had withstood many hardships, and had much duty on watch and at the defenses. At ten o’clock in the evening we sailed with a good wind. Our fleet consisted of 102 sails, including two warships and three frigates as escorts” (Döhla, Hessian Diary, description begins Johann Conrad Döhla. A Hessian Diary of the American Revolution. Translated and edited by Bruce E. Burgoyne. Norman, Okla., and London, 1990. description ends 113; see also Prechtel, Diary, description begins Johann Ernst Prechtel. A Hessian Officer’s Diary of the American Revolution. Translated and edited by Bruce E. Burgoyne. Bowie, Md., 1994. description ends 38–39).

Col. Israel Angell monitored the movements of the British evacuation fleet in his diary entries beginning on 11 Oct. (see Field, Angell Diary, description begins Edward Field, ed. Diary of Colonel Israel Angell, Commanding the Second Rhode Island Continental Regiment during the American Revolution, 1778–1781. Providence, 1899. description ends 78–86). Angell’s diary entry for 25 Oct. reads: “A fine Plesant Morning … the Britans was busy in Imbarking all the afternoon by Sunset was all on board, and the fleet Set Sail just after Sunset before Eleven oClock in the evening was all without the light hous and we making preparation to take posession of the town” (Field, Angell Diary, description begins Edward Field, ed. Diary of Colonel Israel Angell, Commanding the Second Rhode Island Continental Regiment during the American Revolution, 1778–1781. Providence, 1899. description ends 86). In his diary entry for 26 Oct., Angell wrote that he “arrivd in Newport harbour half past Eight oClock in the morning” and arranged for his regiment to ferry from Conanicut Island: “all Got Safe into the town before Night; the Shops was all Shut. and ordered to be kept So after the General [Gates] Come in” (Field, Angell Diary, description begins Edward Field, ed. Diary of Colonel Israel Angell, Commanding the Second Rhode Island Continental Regiment during the American Revolution, 1778–1781. Providence, 1899. description ends 86–87). For another American account of the evacuation, see Greenman, Diary, description begins Robert C. Bray and Paul E. Bushnell, eds. Diary of a Common Soldier in the American Revolution, 1775-1783: An Annotated Edition of the Military Journal of Jeremiah Greenman. DeKalb, Ill., 1978. description ends 141–43.

Gen. Henry Clinton explained his decision to evacuate Rhode Island in a letter to Lord George Germain written at New York on 26 Oct.: “My Lord, in consequence of a joint opinion with the Admiral [Marriot Arbuthnot] that whilst we remained inferior at sea Rhode Island was incapable of making a defence of eight and forty hours against such a force as Count d’Estaing could in conjunction with the rebels bring before it, and thinking that the troops in garrison there might be more usefully employed defensively at this instant and offensively in future, on the 7th of October I ordered the evacuation of that place” (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). In a letter written from New York on 28 Oct., Clinton informed Germain “that the troops from Rhode Island arrived here yesterday, the evacuation of the place having been completed without sacrifice on our part or molestation from the enemy” (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 17:237; see also Willcox, American Rebellion, description begins William B. Willcox, ed. The American Rebellion: Sir Henry Clinton’s Narrative of His Campaigns, 1775–1782, with an Appendix of Original Documents. New Haven, 1954. description ends 145–47).

Hessian major Carl Leopold Baurmeister reported miscarried orders that would have stopped the evacuation in a dispatch from New York City dated 8 Nov.: “On the 27th General Prescott with the entire garrison from Rhode Island arrived in the Sound under a press of sail. To be sure, he had conditional orders to evacuate Rhode Island rather than expose himself to the French fleet. Perhaps his report mentions that this fleet is nearby. Moreover, an order was dispatched five days before, revoking these conditional orders; but the ship missed Prescott’s fleet. He left behind over a thousand tons of hay, but the works were all completely demolished” (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 313; see also Lydenberg, Robertson Diaries, description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends 204).

3For GW’s direct inquiry to Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates about an official report on the British evacuation of Rhode Island, see his letter to Gates of 1 November. A letter that has not been found, Gates to GW, 27 Oct., presumably contained such a report (see GW to Gates, 2 Nov.; see also Gates to GW, 31 Oct.).

GW also reported the British departure from Rhode Island to Maj. Henry Lee, Jr., in a letter written at West Point on this date: “By a letter which Genl Greene received from Mr Bowen a D.Q.M.G. dated New-port the 26th instant, it appears, that on monday night last the enemy evacuated Rhode-Island, and that Genl Gates took possession of the place on Tuesday morning. I have no doubt as to the truth of the event, altho’ by some accident or other, I have not received the advice from Gen: Gates” (LS, in James McHenry’s writing, PWacD: Sol Feinstone Collection, on deposit at PPAmP; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW).

4The enclosed, undated two-page extract from Henry Laurens to GW, 24 Oct., contained unconfirmed material on military operations in the South that eventually proved erroneous (DLC: Alexander Hamilton Papers).

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