George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 12 July 1776

To John Hancock

New York July 12th 1776

Sir

The design of this is to inform Congress, that at about half after three oClock this Evening Two of the Enemies Ships of War, one of Forty and the other of Twenty Guns with three Tenders weighed Anchor in the bay opposite Staten Island and availing themselves of a brisk & favourable breeze with a flowing Tide run past our Batteries up the North river without receiving any certain damage that I could perceive notwithstanding a heavy and Incessant Canonade was kept up from our several Batteries here as well as from that at paulus Hook. they on their part returnd and continued the fire as they run by. I dispatched an Express to Brigadr Genl Mifflin at our Encampment towards the upper end of the Island, but have not heard whether they have got by or received any damage.1 The Account transmitted by this mornings post respecting the Arrival of one of the Fleet seems to be confirmed2—Several Ships have come in to day, among them, one this Evening with a St Georges Flag at her Fore topmast head which we conclude to be Admiral Howe from the circumstance of the Flag, and the several and General Salutes that were paid.3 It is probable they will all arrive in a day or two and immediately begin their operations.

As It will be extremely necessary that the Flying Camp should be well provided with powder and Ball, and It may be impracticable to send supplies from hence on account of our hurry and engagements, besides the communication may be incertain. I must beg the attention of Congress to this matter, and request that they will forward with all possible expedition such a Quantity of Muskett powder and Lead If Balls of different sizes cannot be had, as will be sufficient for the Militia to compose that Camp.4 By an Express this minute arrived from Genl Mifflin the Ships have past his Works. I am in haste with sentimts of great regard Sir Yr Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

¼ past 8. P.M.

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; LB, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The LS is docketed: “Rec’d by Express July 13th 1776 Read in Congress on Sunday July 14th.” See also 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 , 5:558.

1“At 12 oClock, this day,” Samuel Blachley Webb wrote in his journal, “we discovered two of the Enemies ships, with three tenders, standing up for the Town—with the tide at flood and a very strong Breeze of wind in their favour—As soon as abreast of Red-Hook, our Battery from that, opened upon them, and all our Batteries for three Miles on end, till they got entirely past. They keep a Warm fire the whole of the time on us—tho with no effect—a number of our shots hulled them. In this fray, we lost six Men by our Guns carelessly. When abreast of Mount Washington, 12 miles above the Town, Genl. Mifflin gave them a Warm Reception—but did them no great damage. Their view, probably, is to cut of our Communication wth. Albany and the Northern Army” (Ford, Webb Correspondence and Journals description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed. Correspondence and Journals of Samuel Blachley Webb. 3 vols. New York, 1893–94. description ends , 1:154).

The British vessels that passed up the Hudson were the warships Phoenix and Rose, the schooner Tryal, and the tenders Shuldham and Charlotta. The Rose’s journal says that it weighed anchor at 2:30 P.M. on this date and the Americans began firing at 3:15 P.M. The Phoenix’s journal says that it weighed anchor at 3:00 P.M. and the battery at Red Hook opened fire at 3:45 P.M. Both journals concur that the warships passed the last battery at 5:30 P.M. and anchored in the Tappan Zee that evening. The Americans, the Rose’s journal reports, “shot away our Starbd fore Shroud, Fore Tackle Pendant, Fore Lift, fore topsail Clewlines, Spritsail & Main Top Sail Braces, one 18 Pound Shot in the Head of our fore Mast one through the Pinnace, several through the Sails and some in the Hull” (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 , 5:1037–38). At the American “Grand Battery” in New York City, Ens. Caleb Clap says “their was five Men Killed, with our own Cannon, by Neglect of Swabing, and three Men Wounded, but not Mortal, supposed” (Clap, “Diary,” 247; see also Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 58–59).

2See GW’s letter to Hancock of 11 July which apparently was dispatched on the morning of this date.

3Lord Howe’s flagship, the Eagle, anchored off the east side of Staten Island at 6:30 P.M. on this date (see 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 , 5:1043). Ambrose Serle, who accompanied the admiral, says in his journal that “nothing could exceed the Joy, that appeared throughout the Fleet and Army upon our Arrival. We were saluted by all the Ships of War in the Harbour, by the Cheers of the Sailors all along the Ships, and by those of the Soldiers on the Shore. A finer Scene could not be exhibited, both of Country, Ships, and men, all heightened by one of the brightest Days that can be imagined” (Tatum, Serle’s Journal description begins Edward H. Tatum, Jr., ed. The American Journal of Ambrose Serle: Secretary to Lord Howe, 1776–1778. San Marino, Calif., 1940. description ends , 28, 30).

4In response to this letter, Congress resolved on 14 July that the New Jersey provincial congress be asked “to supply all the lead they possibly can for the flying camp and militia” and that the Pennsylvania committee of safety be requested “to supply the flying camp, and militia, in the Jerseys, with as many musket cartridges, well balled, as they can possibly spare.” In addition, Congress resolved on that date to send an express rider “to overtake the powder wagons going to Virginia, with a letter to Colonel Fielding Lewis, to send in the return wagons, all the lead he can collect at Fredericksburg” and that the Virginia committee of safety be asked to send by the same wagons “as much of the lead they now have at Williamsburgh, as they can spare, and to order from the mines 15 or 20 tons more of lead to Philadelphia, as soon as possible” (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 , 5:558–59; see also Hancock to GW, 15 July).

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