George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 14 August 1776

To John Hancock

New York August 14th 1776


Since I had the honor of addressing you on Monday1 Nothing of Importance has Occurred here, Except that the Enemy have received an Augmentation to their Fleet of Ninety Six Ships—some Reports make them more: In a Letter I wrote you Yesterday by Lieutt Colo. Reed, I advised you of this, but presuming It may not reach you so soon as this will, I have thought proper to mention the Intelligence again.

Inclosed I have the honor to transmit a Copy of the examination of a Deserter, sent me this morning by Genl Mercer, to which I beg leave to refer Congress for the latest accounts I have from the Enemy. Whether the Intelligence he has given is litterally true, I cannot determine, but as to the Attack we daily expect It.2

Your favor of the 10th with Its Inclosures was duly received, and I have Instructed the Several Officers who were promoted, to Act in their Stations as you requested, though their Commissions were not sent.3

As we are in extreme want of Tents and Covering for this Army—A Great part of them at Out posts, having nothing to Schelter them—nor Houses to go in, I submit It to Congress, Whether It may not be prudent to remand those that were sent to Boston lately where there are no Troops at present, and If there were, the Necessity for them would not be great, as the Town and Barracks at Several of the posts would be sufficient to receive them.4

The Inclosed Letter from Lieutt Colo. Henshaw will discover to Congress his Views and wishes, of which they will consider and determine on, in what ever way they think right and conducive to the public Good—meaning only to lay his Letter before them.5

I take the liberty of mentioning that Colo. Varnum of Rhode Island has been with me this Morning to resign his Commission, conceiving himself to be greatly Injured in not having been Noticed in the late Arrangement, & promotions, of Genl Officers. I remonstrated against the Impropriety of the measure at this Time and he has consented to stay till Affairs wear a different Aspect than what they do at present.6

11 OClock By a Report Just come to hand from Genl Greene, Twenty Ships more are coming in. I have the Honor to be with Sentiments of the highest respect Sir Yr Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; LB, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 15 Aug. and the next day referred it to the Board of War (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 , 5:659, 661).

1See GW to Hancock, 12 August (first and second letters).

2Thomas Givens, “a Private of the 64 Regt who deserted from Staten Island by Swimming over to Amboy. August 13th 76 at 9 OClock,” says in the enclosed document “that all the Troops expected are arrived, That about five hundred Hessians and Six marching Regts arrived yesterday, which having been refreshed at Hallifax are not to be landed at Staten Island but to continue on Board till the Attack be made—That tis supposed the whole force consists of about 26,000 Men—That he heard of no Intention of Attacking Amboy—but that They expected soon to Attack Long Island & New York That three Brigades are to stay on the Island, when the Attack at New York and Long Island be made, [(]Viz.) one opposite Amboy, another at the narrows—and the third at Elizb. Town point—That the Soldiers are healthy but have no fresh provisions That there were about 9000 effective Men when they left Boston and that 3000 unfit for duty were left behind at Halifax. . . . That Genl Clinton and the Troops from Corolina had arrived & that the 50th Regt were almost cut off at Sullivans Island—That it is in the orders of this day (13th) that the Men be immediately furnished with three days provision ready Cooked and be ready at a Moments warning—That they have Gondlos [that] carry two Guns and 30 Oars each and are designed to Cover the Men when they Land” (DNA:PCC, item 152; see also the slightly different version of Givens’s examination in DLC:GW).

GW soon received similar intelligence from another British soldier, John Hammond of the 27th Regiment, who deserted from Staten Island at 8:00 P.M. on 13 August. Hammond says in his examination of this date that he “left the Army preparing to leave the Island—the Battalion Men are all on Board only the Grenadiers & Light Infantry left on the Island The Ships are to be sent up against the Town—thinks all the troops will be landed on Long Island—that they hope to cut us off from the Woods—their Number supposed 25000—ours they think 3 to one—that they mean to land their Men under Cover of Gondolas which have 6 Pounders in them & are built high to cover the Landing—Troops in pretty good Health—no fresh Meat—Hessians are ordinary Troops old & small. They had Orders on Monday [12 Aug.] to cook Provisin for 3 Days on Board the Ships” (DLC:GW).

3These commissions were enclosed with Hancock’s letter to GW of 17 August.

4For Congress’s orders directing the sending of these tents to Massachusetts, see Hancock to GW, 25 June, and GW to Hancock, 27 June (first letter), and note 5.

5See William Henshaw to GW, 6 July. Congress did not grant Henshaw’s wish to be promoted to colonel.

6Varnum again threatened to resign on 25 Aug. when he wrote GW: “Ever since I waited upon your Excellency; the Expectotion of a Battle hath continued me in my present Command. New Difficulties arising, I can derive no Satisfaction from that Quarter. A Letter from Mr [William] Ellery, enclosed, convinces me that Promotions in the Army are not designed for those, whose Principles are disinterested enough to serve the Continent without. My Disgrace is unalterable fix’d, by confering the ‘Detur Digniori’ upon those of inferior Standing, without the least Competition of superior Merit. Was Promotion in the Army a Favor, my Tongue and my Pen should be silent: But it is the Just Reward of Merit and Rank. I do not esteem myself obligated to the Public for the Commission I hold, nor for the Greatness of the Pay annexed to it. They can challenge no farther Services from me, whose every Efforts to deserve their good Opinion have been discountenanced. My Continuance here can be of no possible Advantage. The Variety of Incidents that may happen in an Engagement will possible demand my Submission to the Orders of a Brigadier General whose standing ’till lately, hath been subordinate to mine. Disobedience, at a Critical Moment, may loose a Victory which is courting our Embrace. My Pride, is too great ever to bend to Reasons of Policy to the wounding of my Honor. How cruel the Alternative, to be obliged either to submit to my own Infamy; or, by refusing, incur the Penalties of Death!” (LS, DLC:GW). Ellery’s letter has not been identified. Varnum became a brigadier general in February 1777 and remained in the army until March 1779. For additional information about Varnum’s rank, see Daniel Hitchcock to GW, 19 Aug. 1776, in CD-ROM:GW.

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