George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Fairfield Committee of Inspection, 14 May 1776

From the Fairfield Committee of Inspection

Fairfield [Conn.], May 14, 1776.

SIR:

A letter has lately been received from Captain Harding, commander of the brig Defence, one of our Colony armed vessels, that he hath taken a small sloop in the Sound with ten Tories on board, who, on examination, confessed they were bound to Long-Island, in order to join the Ministerial troops.1 They are in custody, and expected in town soon. At the time they were taken some of the party gave the Captain information that there was a large number at Reading, a town adjoining this, who were in the combination. Upon the receipt of Captain Harding’s letter, a party was despatched immediately to Reading, who have brought in ten of the persons named as being in the plot, and more are expected from other places. The circumstances attending this affair are not yet fully known, as those who have already been brought in have not had an examination; but we think we know enough to convince us that a horrid plot is laid by the Tories to destroy the people of the country, to co-operate with our enemies in every measure to reduce us, and that Long-Island is appointed for headquarters. We have thought it our duty to give this information, and beg leave to propose to your Excellency whether a body of the Army under your command, sent on to the Island, to spread over the whole, and break up the gang, would not be of publick service. Should your Excellency think proper to adopt this, or a like measure, our people would readily join to assist; and, upon notice of the time when, and the place where, they should land on the Island, to prevent their escape eastward, would land one hundred or more men, and also place guards on our shore at different places. We are alarmed, and engaged to do everything necessary, but submit the whole to your wise conduct;2 and are, with great truth and regard, your Excellency’s most humble servants.

Signed by the desire and in behalf of a number of the Committee of Inspection and other gentlemen, per

JONATHAN STURGES.

Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 4th ser., 6:455.

Jonathan Sturges (1740–1819) practiced law in Fairfield and in 1775 became judge of the probate court for the Fairfield district. He also represented the town in the Connecticut general assembly 1773–84 and 1786, served in the Continental Congress in 1786, and was a U.S. congressman 1789–93.

1Seth Harding (1734–1814), an experienced sea captain who had lived in Connecticut and Nova Scotia, took command of the Connecticut armed brig Defence on 24 Feb. 1776. While cruising in Long Island Sound on 12 May, he “espied a small sloop attempting to cross the sound” and, coming alongside, “found eight persons on board who pretended they were going to New York for shad—, but on more strict enquiry,” Harding told Governor Trumbull he found that “they were tories from the town of Redding in Fairfield County bound to Long Island to Join Peter Fairchild, a noted tory, who had fled to the Island before” (Harding to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 15 May 1776, in Clark and Morgan, Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964—. description ends , 5:104–5). With its letter of this date to GW, the Fairfield committee enclosed a list of thirteen Loyalists from Fairfield and Redding, including Fairchild, who had gone to Long Island (Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 4th ser., 6:455). On 15 May seven more Loyalists named by one of the prisoners aboard the captured sloop were arrested in the vicinity of Fairfield, and Harding sent Lt. Samuel Smedley and forty men to Long Island with orders to seize Fairchild (Harding to Trumbull, 15 May 1776, in Clark and Morgan, Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964—. description ends , 5:104–5). They apparently failed in their attempt. During the next several months Harding succeeded in capturing several British vessels. In April 1777 he took command of the Connecticut ship Oliver Cromwell, and in September 1778 he was commissioned captain of the Continental frigate Confederacy. Captured by the British in 1781, Harding was soon released, but was again captured the following year while commanding a privateer. Freed a second time, Harding served as Capt. John Barry’s second in command aboard the Alliance during the last year of the war and was wounded in an indecisive engagement with three British ships off Florida.

2For GW’s reply to the committee, see his letter to Sturges of 16 May.

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