Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to Gouverneur Morris, 1 September 1777

To Gouverneur Morris1

Head Quarters Wilmington [Delaware]
September 1st 1777

Dear Sir,

Agreeable to the intention of the Council2 I have delivered their inclosed letter3 to His Excellency who after perusing it has sealed and forwarded it to Mr. Hancock.4

The relieving Fort Schuyler5 is a very happy and important event, and will concur with the two happy strokes given by Harkemar and Stark to reverse the face of affairs and turn the scale against Mr Burgoigne. I hope Capt Montgomery’s6 suggestions may be right as to his being obliged to advance; but I fancy if he once thinks it unsafe he will not be bound by such an empty punctilio to risk the destruction of his army. As General Howe is now fairly sat down to the Southward, the Eastern states, no longer under any apprehensions from him, ⟨will⟩7 be disposed, I am in hopes, to exert their whole force, and if they do, I shall wonder at it if Mr. Burgoigne advances with impunity.

Before this reaches you, you will have heard of General Howes ⟨com⟩ing into Chesapeak bay; where he has landed his whole army within about four miles from the head of Elk; a day or two, after his landing, he marched from his first position and extended his van as far as Grey ⟨’s⟩-Hill. He still lies there in a state of inactivity; in a great measure I believe from the want of horses, to transport his baggage and stores. It seems he sailed with only about three weeks provendor and was six at sea. This has occasioned the death of a great number of his horses, and has made skeletons of the rest. He will be obliged to collect a supply from the neighbouring country before he can move, unless he should be disposed to make a more hazardous movement, than he would ever be able to justify, unless by a degree of success he has no right to expect.

The main body of our army is incamped on the heights of Wilmington so as to cover the town; we have strong parties of light troops and militia advanced towards the enemy who have ⟨frequent⟩ skirmishes with them, of little consequence, and often ⟨pick up a few⟩ prisoners. We have taken ⟨at least⟩ 70 since they landed & have had 30 deserters. This Country does not abound in good posts. It is intersected by such an infinity of roads, and is so little mountainous that it is impossible to find a spot not liable to capital defects. The one we now have is all things considered the best we could find, but there is no great depindence to be put upon it. The enemy will have Philadelphia, if they dare make a bold push for it, unless we fight them a pretty general action. I opine we ought to do it, and that we shall beat them soundly if we do. The Militia seem pretty generally stirring. Our army is in high health & spirits. We shall I hope have twice the enemy’s numbers. I would not only fight them, but I would attack them; for I hold it an established maxim, that there is three to one in favour of the party attacking.

I am in haste   Dr Sir   Your most Obed servant

A Hamilton

ALS, New-York Historical Society, New York City.

1This letter was addressed to Morris in his capacity as a member of the New York Committee of Correspondence.

2I.e., the New York Council of Safety. Although New York had adopted a new constitution in the spring of 1777, and George Clinton had taken the oath as governor in July of the same year, the Council of Safety continued to function as a state governing body until January, 1778.

3The letter from the New York Committee of Correspondence to H has not been found.

4The enclosure was Council of Safety to John Hancock, August 26, 1777 (Journals of the Provincial Congress of the State of New-York description begins Journals of the Provincial Congress, Provincial Convention, Committee of Safety and Council of Safety of the State of New-York. 1775–1776–1777 (Albany, 1842). description ends , I, 1048–1049).

5Following the Battle of Oriskany, Brigadier General Nicholas Herkimer retreated eastward. Major General Philip Schuyler then sent a force of 1,000 men under Major General Benedict Arnold to relieve the Americans in Fort Schuyler (Stanwix), which was being besieged by a British force of Loyalists and Indians under Colonel Barry St. Leger. The Indians were scared off by a ruse; St. Leger abandoned the siege; and Fort Schuyler was relieved on August 22–23, 1777.

6Captain William Montgomery, Fortieth Foot, British army.

7All material within broken brackets is taken from transcript of this letter in Bancroft Transcripts, MS Division, New York Public Library.

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