From Thomas McKean
Head-Quarters at Perth-Amboy August 9th: 1776
Yesterday I received a Letter from General Washington1 respecting the Baron de Calbiac,2 wherein he wishes to know whether any promotion in the military line is intended for him by Congress, and begs that the Letters and Credentials belonging to this Gentleman may be immediately forwarded to him, that he may restore them to the Baron, who complains loudly of their long detention from him.
These letters and credentials came to my hands as one of the Committee of Qualifications,3 and upon the establishment of the war-office were delivered to Mr. Secretary Peters. If you recollect, I frequently mentioned the desire of the Baron to have them again to you, Mr. Wilson &c. If the credentials are not with the letters, Mr. Samuel Adams must have them. Be so good as to send all the papers to General Washington, and endeavour to get an answer from Congress respecting the Baron. He seemed to expect the Rank of a Lieutenant Colonel, and I suppose the pay too. He did not appear to me to understand any thing of the business of an Engineer, having been a Captain in a marching Regiment in France.
You have no doubt heard, that General Clinton and his whole army are arrived at Staaten-Island; that he had upwards of three hundred killed and many wounded in the attack on Sullivan’s Island, and that Sir Peter Parker is reported to have died of his wounds.4
Some of our Militia give us a great deal of trouble on account of their being detained longer here than they expected, and will return unless prevented by force, which will be used, as we expect an attack on New-York daily, and the moment it is made I hope we shall take possession of Staaten-Island. A fellow deserted from Col. Miles’s Battalion yesterday about noon; he was one of the prisoners taken at St. John’s; several shots were fired at him as he swam across and I believe one hit him, tho’ at 400 yards distance: With difficulty two english soldiers helped him on shore and carried him up to an house.
A re-inforcement of three Battalions are ordered from hence for New York tomorrow. The men of war all drew up in a line yesterday in the front of the rest of the fleet. What they mean by this I cannot guess, unless to prepare for an Attack of the city.
I am perfectly satisfied, that there are now upwards of sixteen thousand of the Enemy arrived. They think we have on Long-Island, at New-York and along the sound here about thirty thousand; which is near the truth.5 The inferior officers and the soldiers, we are told, are assured of success, and have already fixed upon their houses and farms, but the two Brothers, who command, are said to look very demure.
About 30 privates of my Battalion have, I am just now told, set out for Philadelphia, besides several others from different Battalions. If they should get to Philadelphia I hope they will be secured; they are of the very lowest sort: However, I trust, they will be taken up before they go many miles. An army can never be governed but by the strictest laws and discipline.
Please to present my compliments to Messrs. Rodney and Read6 and all other enquiring friends, and believe me to be with great esteem, Sir, Your most obedient humble servant
RC (Adams Papers); docketed: “Coll Mckean Aut 9. 1776.”
1. Of 6 Aug. (Washington, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick description begins The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick, Washington, 1931–1944; 39 vols. description ends , 5:375).
2. Baron de Calbiac was a French volunteer from Guadeloupe (same description begins The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick, Washington, 1931–1944; 39 vols. description ends , p. 328, note 94).
3. McKean, representing Delaware, had been chosen on 16 Jan. to take the place of Caesar Rodney on the committee, which examined the qualifications of those applying for positions (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 4:61).
4. Although Parker was wounded, he took his fleet north to join the British forces at Staten Island. The British losses were heavy, but the figure of 300 killed is a considerable exaggeration; fewer than 100 lost their lives (Willard M. Wallace, Appeal to Arms, N.Y., 1951, p. 95; Christopher Ward, The War of the Revolution, 2 vols., N.Y., 1952, 1:209).
5. A modern estimate is that the Americans had a paper strength of 28,500 men, of whom only about 19,000 were fit for fighting. They were confronted by approximately 32,000 British professional soldiers and 10,000 seamen (Ward, War of the Revolution, 1:207, 209).
6. George Read, delegate from Delaware (Burnett, ed., Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, Washington, 1921–1936; 8 vols. description ends , 2:xli).
7. There were three Scottish regiments among the British forces at this time—the 26th, the 42d, and the 71st. The last, called the Highlanders, had had a good part of its men captured by the Americans from transports at sea and apparently did not take part in the Battle of Long Island, although members of it were on Staten Island (Henry Belcher, The First American Civil War, 2 vols., London, 1911, 1:339–344; Josiah Quincy to JA, 13 June, note 9, above; George Otto Trevelyan, The American Revolution, Part II, 2 vols., N.Y., 1903, 1:238). Apparently the mutiny of a Scottish regiment was an unfounded rumor.
8. JA answered McKean on 15 Aug., urging a continuance of correspondence and thanking McKean for the information he had sent regarding reinforcement of British and American forces (LbC, Adams Papers, not printed here).