George Washington Papers

Orders to Major General Israel Putnam, 21 May 1776

Orders to Major General Israel Putnam

[New York, 21 May 1776]


I have reason to believe that the Provencial Congress of this Colony have in contemplation a scheme for Siezing the principal Tories, & disaffected Person’s on Long Island, in this City, & the Country round about;1 and that to carry the Scheme into Execution, they will be obliged to have recourse to the Military power for assistance.

If this should be the case, you are hereby required, during my absence to afford every aid which the said Congress or their secret Comee shall apply for.2

I need not recommend secrecy to you, as the success you must be assured will depd ab[solute]ly upon precaution, and the dispatch with which the measure, when once adopted, is executed—Genl Green will, thô not in person perhaps, have a principal share in ordering the detachments from his Brigade on Long Island of course will be a proper Person to let into the whole Plan. I wd therefore when application is made by Congress have you & him concert Measures with such Gentlemen as that body shall please to appoint and order the execution with as much secrecy & dispatch as possible3 & at the sametime with the utmost decency & good order. Given under my hand at Head Quarters in the City of New York this 21st day of May 1776.

ADf, DLC:GW; copy, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, enclosed in GW to the New York Provincial Congress, 21 May 1776, N: New York Provincial Congress Revolutionary Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1In his draft GW struck out “in the most obnoxious parts of the Government” and inserted above the line “on Long Island, in this City, & the County round about.”

2GW struck out here in his draft the words: “(consistent with the general Plan of defence now going on) to carry these measures into execution provided it does not interfere too much with our General Plan of defence in weakening this place by.”

At GW’s request the New York provincial congress, on 18 May, appointed a secret committee to confer with him “on the dangers to which this Colony is exposed from its intestine enemies.” The following day Gouverneur Morris reported for the secret committee “that sundry matters of great importance had been conferred on with the General; that the General wished for the advice and assistance of this Congress to carry into execution his own powers, if not also the assistance of the powers of this Congress; that the matters conferred on are of such importance that in order to preserve secrecy it is necessary that each particular member be sworn not to reveal to any person out of the Congress the matters to be mentioned, or the subjects of this day’s debate.” After the members were so sworn, Morris and John Morin Scott were sent to GW to obtain the relevant papers. They returned that same day with GW’s letters from the King’s District Committee of Correspondence, 13 May, and the Fairfield Committee of Inspection, 14 May, both of which were read and discussed. The discussions continued until 24 May when the provincial congress approved a report recommending that the alleged Loyalist conspirators be apprehended with the assistance of Continental troops and that the general committees of the counties arrest all persons holding civil or military offices under the king and all other influential persons suspected of being inimical to the American cause. On 25 May a committee was appointed to carry that plan into effect, and on 5 June it submitted a long report naming persons to be arrested and examined (N.Y. Prov. Congress Journals 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. 2 vols. Albany, 1842. (Microfilm Collection of Early State Records). description ends , 1:450, 453–61, 476–78).

3The first version in GW’s draft reads: “concert Measures for Execution with such Gentlemen as the Congress shall appoint and carry them into execution with the utmost scecrecy & dispatch.”

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