Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to Colonel Stephen Moylan, 3 April 1778

To Colonel Stephen Moylan

Head Quarters [Valley Forge] April
3d. 1778


By command of His Excellency, I am to desire, you will send a corporal and six dragoons, with a Trumpeter to Head Quarters, without loss of time. They are wanted to escort the Commissioners on our part who are to meet on the subject of a general Cartel.1 You need not be told they must be picked men and horses—must make the best possible appearance—must be very trusty and very intelligent. They should also be of the same regiment.

The General reminds you again of the necessity of keeping your officers close to their quarters and duty; and of letting no attention be wanting to put the cavalry, under your command, on the best footing you can, both with respect to condition and discipline.

There is a certain Mr Bankson, late of the Continental marines, who has a family at Princeton. We suspect him to be a spy to Mr Howe, though he offers himself as one to us.2 We wish to find out his true history. He left this camp the 24th of March, on pretence of making a visit to his family, and is now returned with renewed offers of service. It is doubted whether he has not, in the mean time, been at Philadelphia. The General wrote some days since to Governor Livingston, requesting he would take measures to explore Mr Banksons conduct and views. He directs you immediately to see the Governor and learn from him, if he has been able to make any discovery, and to take cautious methods to ascertain whether Bankson has been at home, since he left camp—how long—and when he left home—in short any thing that may throw light upon his designs.

Let him hear from you as soon as possible on the subject. Manage the business with caution and address.

Yrs. Affecty


ADfS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.

2On June 1, 1778, Washington wrote to Governor William Livingston of New Jersey: “The Christian name of Bankson, who I begged the favor of you to keep an eye upon, is Jacob, but as I am now satisfied concerning him, you need not trouble yourself further in the matter” (George Washington Papers, Library of Congress).

John Bakeless describes this incident as follows: “Another of General Washington’s personal spies was the ex-marine captain, Jacob Bankson, whose first offer to enter Philadelphia as a secret agent led to strong suspicion that he was a British spy. The ex-marine had always been able to go in and out of British-occupied Philadelphia in some mysterious way of his own. This uncanny ability or something else made General Washington so suspicious that, in the spring of 1778, he asked Governor William Livingston, of New Jersey, to have the captain watched. Four days later, Livingston put a counter-intelligence agent on the suspect’s trail, which on that very day led—straight to General Washington’s headquarters! Still unconvinced, the general had Alexander Hamilton check the man’s background in Princeton. Fully cleared of all suspicion in a few more days, Bankson was twice paid $100 for secret service, April 11 and May 1, 1778, though what he did remains unknown” (Bakeless, Turncoats, Traitors and Heroes description begins John Bakeless, Turncoats, Traitors and Heroes (Philadelphia, 1959). description ends , 207).

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