George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Hancock, 10 July 1776

From John Hancock

Philadelphia July 10th 1776.


The enclosed Letter from Mr Ephraim Anderson, I am directed to transmit by Order of Congress.1

As Mr Anderson appears to be an ingenious Man, and proposes to destroy the British Fleet at New York, the Congress are willing to give him an Opportunity of trying the Experiment, and have therefore thought proper to refer him to you.

The Event only can shew, whether his Scheme is visionary, or practicable. Should it be attended with Success, (and the very Chance of it is sufficient to justify the Attempt) the infinite Service to the American States arising therefrom, cannot be described. Or should it fail, our Situation will be, in every Respect, the same as before. Many Things seem highly probable in Speculation, which however cannot be reduced to Practice. And on the other Hand, Experiment has shewn, that many Things are extremely practicable, which our most accurate Reasonings had taught us to believe were impossible. I have the Honour to be Sir, with the greatest Respect your most obed. & very hble Servt

John Hancock Presidt

LS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, item 12A.

1Ephraim Anderson (d. 1777), adjutant of the 2d New Jersey Regiment, wrote Congress on 9 July about employing fire ships in New York Harbor: “Being Anxiously desirous of being Serviceable to my Country, (in an Eminent degree) at this time of Publick Calamity—I am ready Immediately; to undertake the destruction of the British Fleet now at New York. If I may be Honour’d with Such directions from this Congress, my Plan of opperation I will Communicate to Any of the Members of the House, for their Approbation, Convinced of the Proba[bi]lity of Success, and the Infinite Service Such an Enterprize wou’d be to those States Particularly at this time, Shall be glad to Executute it at the Hazard of my Life. An Enterprize of the Same kind I undertook at Quebeck and Shou’d undoubtedly have Succeeded had not the Enemy had Intelligence and Stretched a Cable aCross the Mouth of their Harbour; and myself by Accident much Burnt, but thank God am recovered perfectly again and ready to make the like Attempt—this Or any other Appointment I may be Honoured with Shall be thankfully Rec’d, As men Well acquainted with Military Di[s]cipline are much wanting in our Armies—I wou’d offer myself to the Congress for an appointment in that department—having Served in the British Army last War, have had greater oppertunitys of being Acquainted with the Military Art than most of our Officers are[.] I shall wait the Order of the Congress at the Conestogoe Wagon in Market Street” (DLC:GW). For Congress’s resolution of this date referring Anderson to GW, see 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 , 5:531.

Anderson, who had been a major in the Hunterdon County, N.J., militia at the beginning of the war, became a second lieutenant in the 2d New Jersey Regiment during the fall of 1775 and served as regimental adjutant during the ensuing Canadian campaign. At Quebec in early May 1776, Isaac Senter says in his journal: “A plot was formed to burn the [British] shipping in the harbour. A fire ship was completed in charge of Adjutant Anderson, a very brave officer, but proved abortive, by reason of the tide ebbing before he could get up to the shipping. The combustibles took fire before he intended, by which accident he was much burnt” (Roberts, March to Quebec description begins Kenneth Roberts, ed. March to Quebec: Journals of the Members of Arnold’s Expedition. New York, 1938. description ends , 238). Anderson’s plan for burning the British ships at New York also failed (see GW to Hancock, 14, 27 July). In November 1776 Anderson was appointed a captain in the 2d New Jersey Regiment, and on 26 June 1777 he was killed in action at Short Hills, New Jersey.

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