George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel Isaac Nicoll, 19 April 1776

From Colonel Isaac Nicoll

Fort Constitution [N.Y.] April 19th 1776


The Inclosed Letter was Intercepted about Ten Days ago, and as it contains something that may Lead to a farther Discovery have sent it down to you for your Direction how to Act in Regard to the Major Colden mentioned in it, in the fourth and Sixth Line the Cypherd word is Governor, and in the Seventeenth, Boston—the name of the Signature Robert Hamilton a person Known, but not now in this Province, the Person it is Directed to lives in Newburgh Precinct, your Returning the Letter with your Orders will be of service up here.1 I Am Your Excellencys Most Humble Servant

Isaac Nicoll Com. Ofcr.

ALS, PHi: Gratz Collection; Sprague transcript, DLC:GW.

Isaac Nicoll (1741–1804) of Goshen, N.Y., raised a regiment of Orange County minutemen in the fall of 1775 to garrison Fort Constitution in the Hudson Highlands, and on 16 Jan. 1776 the New York committee of safety made him commander of that fort and nearby Fort Montgomery until a proper Continental officer arrived. Although GW directed Lt. Col. Henry Beekman Livingston to take command of the Highland forts on 4 May, Nicoll refused to step aside for more than a month afterwards (see GW to Livingston, 4 May, Livingston to GW, 14 May, and Stirling to GW, 1 June 1776). During the summer of 1776 Nicoll commanded an Orange County militia regiment posted first at Haverstraw, N.Y., and then at King’s Bridge. He later became sheriff of Orange County.

1Robert Hanson Harrison replied to Nicoll on 25 April: “Inclosed you have a copy of the Intercepted Letter you sent his Excellency, the Original he will keep himself for some time & wishes you to make such inquiries respecting It that you may think necessary & prudent & tend to a discovery of the design & give him the earliest notice of the same” (DLC:GW).

Robert Hamilton’s letter, which he signed with reverse spelling “Trebor Notlimah,” is dated “York 16th Janr. 1775–6” and addressed to a brother “James Hamilton Schoolmaster nigh Newburgh.” The writer informs his brother that “we have been where we intended Two days & one Night and thence we Came and Spoke w[i]t[h] the Hpwfopt [governor] and I desire that Hugh & John [w]ould Stay where they are for the Space of 60 days and in that time there will be word from the Hpwfopt to me at Major Couldins Tell Moses Knap to make all the Speed he can in what he knows as he shall have all he asks & more but not to send off Untill I Come or Send[.] Michael is going I beleve either to Hybernia or Slutingburgh as for my own part I neither know what to do or where to go. . . . Any person that Choses may do very well to go where we went if they Chose to go to Cptupo [Boston] the first opurtunity which perhaps will not be is 2 months You either will see me or here from me Soon I expect So no more” (DLC:GW).

Cadwallader Colden II (1722–1797), a son of New York’s former lieutenant governor Cadwallader Colden I (1688–1776), lived at Coldengham in Ulster County about eight miles southwest of Newburgh, New York. Colden was named a colonel in the county militia in 1774, but declined to serve and was generally known as “major” from his militia rank during the French and Indian War. Colden was arrested in June 1776 and accused of Loyalist sympathies. Imprisoned and paroled several times during the following months, he was ultimately banished to New York City in August 1778. After the war, he returned to Coldengham and spent his last years there.

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