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To George Washington from Major General Nathanael Greene, 11–12 November 1776

From Major General Nathanael Greene

Fort Lee [N.J.] Nov. 11[-12]-1776

Dear General

By Justice Mercereau of Statten Island I am informed that 10,000 Troops embarked on board of a number of Transports day before yesterday—Lord Dunmore was to command and that they were bound for South Caroline—A large number of Transports were getting ready to sail for England for Stores—Mercereau says that he saw a man from York yesterday that informed him he had been employ’d in constructing a number of Gondoloes to carry one Eighteen pounder—the Gundaloes are to be employd in fetching Hay from the Newark Meadows—The light Horse he says are perishing for want of Hay—Mercereau further informs me by the way of General Williamson that our Prisoners in the City are Perishing for want of sustinance—having only half allowance of bread and Water—They are reduced to the necessity to beg and instead of receiveing any Charity are called damn Rebbels and told their fare is good enough & that they had no business to burn the Grain on Long Island.1

This moment came to hand a large Number of Letters from the Prisoners of Newyork—several to your Excellency—they came out by the way of Mount Washington.2 the Enemy remains quiet there this afternoon—I am dear General your most obedient and very humble Servt

Nath. Greene

ALS, DLC:GW. Although the last paragraph of this letter is not dated specifically, its context indicates that it was written on 12 Nov. (see note 2).

The cover of the letter, which is addressed “to His Excelly General Washington at White Plains,” includes a note written and signed by Gen. Charles Lee’s aide-de-camp John Skey Eustace that reads: “Hd Qrs Nov. 13th 1776—This lettr was opened by Genl Lee.” Lee, who was then in the vicinity of White Plains, apparently forwarded the letter to GW in New Jersey. It is docketed in GW’s writing: “From Majr Genl Greene 11th Novr 1776.”

1Joshua Mersereau (Mercereau; 1728–1804), whom Greene describes in his letter to Hancock of 12 Nov. as “a very good friend to the cause and a Sensible man,” represented Richmond County in the New York assembly from 1777 to 1786 and served for much of the war as a deputy commissary of prisoners, an office that he apparently used as a cover to conduct extensive intelligence operations for the Americans. Other members of Joshua Mersereau’s family, including his brother John Mercereau and his son John LaGrange Mersereau, also rendered the American cause invaluable service as intelligence agents during the war (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 , 1:348–49; see also Bakeless, Turncoats, Traitors, and Heroes description begins John Bakeless. Turncoats, Traitors and Heroes. Philadelphia, 1959. description ends , 123, 177–81, 194–95, 364).

British officer Frederick Mackenzie says in his diary entry for 8 Nov. that orders were issued that morning for the British 3d and 5th brigades “to prepare for immediate Embarkation. We are entirely ingnorant of our destination. It is said that 2500 men (which is about the numbers the above mentioned brigades can take into the field) are to embark in 11 transports, and go up the N[orth] River, to land on the Jersey side. Tis said that 10,000 men are destined for some other service (supposed to go to the Delaware or farther to the Southward) under the Command of General Clinton” (Mackenzie, Diary description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 1:100). The two British brigades boarded the ships on 24 November. The grenadiers, light infantry, and two Hessian brigades embarked the following day, and on 1 Dec. this force sailed to Rhode Island under the command of Gen. Henry Clinton (ibid., 101, 104, 113–17; see also GW to Hancock, 6 Nov., and note 4). Lord Dunmore sailed to England on this date aboard the frigate Fowey which with the warship Active escorted a convoy of nearly two hundred transports to England (see ibid., 94, 102, and Tatum, Serle’s Journal description begins Edward H. Tatum, Jr., ed. The American Journal of Ambrose Serle: Secretary to Lord Howe, 1776–1778. San Marino, Calif., 1940. description ends , 138).

2These letters, which came out of the British lines on 12 Nov., included Samuel John Atlee’s letter to GW of 9 Nov., Samuel Miles’s letter to GW of 10 Nov., and Miles’s and Atlee’s joint undated letter to GW of c.12 Nov. (see GW to Atlee, 21 Nov., n.1, GW to Miles, 25 Nov., n.1, and GW to Hancock, 19–21 Nov., n.6). Mackenzie says in his diary entry for 12 Nov.: “A flag of truce went out this day from McGowan’s, by permission of Lord Percy, with letters from Colonel Miles, the Senior officer of the Rebel Prisoners confined at New York, to Genl Washington, representing in strong terms the distressed state of the prisoners for want of clothing and other necessaries, and desiring he will order clothing to be sent to them, or endeavor to get them exchanged. He also complains of the great sickness and mortality among the prisoners, and of their scantly allowance of provisions.

“With respect to their provisions they have no real cause of complaint, as they are served with the same kind of provisions issued to The King’s troops, at two third allowance, which is the same as given to the The King’s troops when on board Transports. They certainly are very Sickly, owing to their want of Clothing and necessaries, salt provisions, confinement, foul air, & little exercise. They are confined principally in the Churches, Sugar houses, and other large buildings, and have the liberty of walking in the yards. But they are such low spirited creatures, particularly the Americans, that if once they are taken sick they seldom recover.

“Their situation is really dreadful, and their dirty, unhealthy, and desponding appearance enough to shock one. If they do not send them Clothing and necessaries soon, they must suffer greatly from the severity of the weather” (Mackenzie, Diary description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 1:103–4).

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