George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 13 March 1776

To John Hancock

Cambridge March 13. 1776


In my Letter of the 7 & 9 Instant which I had the honor of addressing you, I mentioned the Intelligence I had received respecting the embarkation of the Troops from Boston & fully expected before this, that the Town wou’d have been entirely evacuated—Altho I have been deceived and was rather premature in the opinion I had then formed, I have little reason to doubt but the event will take place in a very short time, as other accounts which have come to hand since, the sailing of a great number of Transports from the Harbour to Nantasket Road and many circumstances corresponding therewith seem to confirm and render It unquestionable. Whether the Town will be destroyed is a matter of much uncertainty, but It wou’d seem from the destruction they are making of sundry peices of Furniture, of many of their Waggons, Carts &c. which they cannot take with ’em, as It is said, that It will not, for If they Intended It, the whole might be involved in one general ruin.

Holding It of the last importance in the present contest that we shou’d secure New York and prevent the Enemy from possessing It, and conjecturing they have views of that sort and their embarkation to be for that purpose, I judged it necessary under the situation of things here, to call a Council of General Officers to consult of such measures as might be expedient to be taken at this interesting conjuncture of Affairs—A copy of the proceedings, I have the honor to Inclose you.1

Agreable to the opinion of the Council I shall detach the Rifle Regiment to morrow under the command of Brigadr Genl Sullivan with orders to repair to New York with all possible expedition, and which will be succeeded the day after by the other five in one Brigade, they being all that It was thought advisable to send from hence, ’till the Enemy shall have quitted the Town—Immediately upon their departure, I shall send forward Major General Putnam, and follow myself with the remainder of the Army as soon as I have it in my power, leaving here such a Number of men as circumstances may seem to require.2

As the badness of the Roads at this Season will greatly retard the March of our men, I have by advice of the General Officers wrote to Governor Trumbull by this Express, to use his utmost exertions for throwing a Reinforcemt of Two Thousand men into New York from the Western parts of Connecticut, and to the commanding Officer there, to apply to the Provincial convention or Committee of Safety of New Jersey for a Thousand more for the same purpose, to oppose the Enemy and prevent their getting possession in case they arrive before the Troops from hence can get there, of which ther’s a probability, unless they are Impeded by contrary winds3—This measure, tho It may be attended with considerable expence, I flatter myself will meet with the approbation of Congress—Past experience and the lines in Boston & on Boston Neck point out the propriety and suggest the necessity of keeping our Enemies from gaining possession and making a Lodgement.

Should their destination be further Southward or for Hallifax (as reported in Boston) for the purpose of going into Canada, the march, of our Troops to New York will place them nearer the Scene of Action and more convenient for affording succours.

We have not taken post on Nuke Hill and fortified It, as mentioned that we should in my last—On hearing that the Enemy were about to retreat and leave the Town, It was thought imprudent and unadvisable to force ’em with too much precip[it]ation, that we might gain a little time & prepare for a March—To morrow evening we shall take possession unless they are gone.4

As New York is of such Importance, prudence and policy require, that every precaution that can be devised, shou’d be adopted to frustrate the designs which the Enemy have of possessing It—To this end I have ordered Vessels to be provided and held ready at Norwich for the embarkation and transportation of our Troops thither—This I have done with a view, not only of greatly expediting their arrival, as It will save several days marching, but also that they may be fresh and fit for Intrenching and throwing up works of defence as soon as they get there, If they do not meet the Enemy to contend with; for neither of which, would they be in a proper condition after a long and fatiguing March in bad roads—If Wallace with his Ships should be apprized of the measure and attempt to prevent It by stopping up the Harbour of New London, they can but pursue their march by Land.

You will please to observe that It is the opinion of the General Officers, If the Enemy abandon the Town that It will be unnecessary to employ or keep any part of this Army for Its defence, and that I have mentiond on that events happening, I shall immediately repair to New York with the Remainder of the Army not now detached, leaving only such a number of men here as circumstances may seem to require—what I partly allude to is, that as It will take a considerable time for the removal of such a body of men, and the divisions must precede each other in such order, as to allow intermediate time sufficient for ’em to be covered & provided for,5 and many things done previous to the march of the whole for Securing and forwarding such necessaries as cannot be immediately carried, and others which It may be proper to keep here, that directions might be received from congress respecting the same, and as many men ordered to remain for that and other purposes as they may judge proper;6 I cou’d wish to have their commands upon the subject and in time, as I may be under some degree of embarrasment as to their views.7

Congress having been pleased to appoint Colo. Thompson a Brigadier General, There’s a vacancy for a Colonel in the Regiment he commanded, to which I wou’d beg leave to recommend the Lieut. Colo. Hand—I shall also take the liberty of recommending Captn Hugh Stephenson of the Virginia Riflemen to succeed Colo. Hand & to be appointed in his place, as Lieut. Colo. (there being no Major to the Regiment since the promotion of Major Magaw to be Lieut. Colo. of one of the Pensylvania Batallions & who is gone from hence)8—He is in my opinion the fittest person in this Army for It, as well as the oldest Captain in the service, having distinguished himself at the head of a Rifle Company all the last War and highly merited the approbation of his superior Officers.9

Col. Mifflin Informed me to day of his having received Tent Cloths from Mr Barrell of Philadelphia to the amount of 7,500£ Pensylvania Currency and applied for a Warrant for Payment of It, But as our Fund is low and many necessary demands against It which must be satisfied and our calls for money are & will be exceedingly great, I cou’d not grant It, Thinking It might be convenient for payment to be made in Philadelphia by your order on the Treasury there.10 I have the Honor to be with much respect Sir Your Most H. Sevt

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; LB (incomplete), DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 22 Mar. (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 4:225).

2For the march of the army to New York, see Council of War, this date, n.2. Gen. John Sullivan did not command the riflemen on their march. On 23 Mar. he was given command of a marching brigade of six regiments that departed on 29 Mar. (see the General Orders for 23, 28 Mar. 1776).

4For the fortification of Nook’s Hill on the night of 16 Mar., see GW to Hancock and GW to Joseph Reed, both 19 Mar. 1776.

5The letter-book copy and the Varick transcript include here the words “on the route.”

6The Varick transcript reads “& forwarding such necessaries, as cannot be carried Immediately, (if proper to be carried at all) that some directions might be received from Congress, as to the number which they may judge necessary to be kept here for these or any other purposes.” This portion of the letter-book copy is illegible for the most part.

7On 14 May 1776 Congress resolved “that the five batallions, now in Massachusetts bay, be recruited to their full complements, and that three additional batallions be raised in the eastern department, for the service of the continent” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 4:355, 360; see also Samuel Adams to GW, 15 May, and the Massachusetts Delegates to GW, 16 May 1776). For the five regiments left in Massachusetts, see Council of War, this date, n.4.

8The Varick transcript reads “(there being no Major, Magaw the late one being appointed Lt Col: of one of the Pennsylvania Battalions & gone from hence).” This portion of the letter is missing in the letter-book copy.

9On 7 Mar. Congress promoted Edward Hand to colonel of the 1st Continental Regiment and made James Chambers its lieutenant colonel (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 4:188; see also Hancock to GW, 11 Mar. 1776). Hugh Stephenson was promoted to colonel on 27 June 1776 when Congress resolved to form a new rifle regiment by adding six companies to the three companies of Virginia and Maryland riflemen that Stephenson then commanded (ibid., 5:486). Stephenson died sometime later this summer apparently while recruiting his regiment in Virginia (see GW to Hancock, 28 Sept. 1776, and GW to Samuel Washington, 5 Oct. 1776, PHi: Gratz Collection). Robert Magaw (d. 1790) of Carlisle became colonel of the 5th Pennsylvania Regiment on 3 Jan. 1776 and was captured with his regiment at Fort Washington in November 1776.

10Congress authorized the payment of this sum to William Barrell on 28 Mar. 1776 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 4:238).

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