From Abraham Yates, Jr.
In Convention of the Representatives of the
State of New York Harlem August 17th 1776
Mr Denning hath made the Convintion Acquainted with your Excellenceys Sentiments upon obstructing the Navigation of the East River between the Grand Battery and Governor’s Island. we now take the Liberty of inclosing the Copy of our Resolution for that purpose, which together with this Letter will be handed to your Excellency by the Gentleman of the Committee to whom we make no doubt Sir that you will afford every Assistance in your Power.1 I have the Honor to be Your most Obedient Humble Servt
Abm Yates Junr President
LS, DLC:GW. The draft of this letter that the convention approved on this date is nearly identical in wording to the LS (see 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 , 1:577).
1. William Denning (1740–1819), a New York City merchant who served in the provincial congress and convention from 1776 to 1777, informed the convention on 16 Aug. that William Fundran, who was one of the best pilots in the city, had told him “that the navigation of the East river may be very easily obstructed between the Battery and Nutten [Governor’s] island ... that the depth of water at a particular place which he could point out, did not exceed 5 fathoms; and that the navigation could be obstructed in 4 hours after proper vessels are prepared for that purpose.” The convention directed Denning to give this information to GW and to inform him that the convention was willing for the East River to be obstructed if GW thought “it advantageous for the defence of this State” (ibid., 575).
GW’s favorable reply, communicated through Denning, prompted the convention to pass the enclosed resolutions of this date: “Whereas it is of the utmost Consequence to the Safety of the City of New York, and the Security of the continental Army now on long Island, that the Communication betwixt that City and the said Island should not be obstructed by the enemies Ships. Resolved, that Captain Anthony Rutgers, Mr William Denning and Mr Patrick Dennis be and they hereby are empowered by this Convention to stop up the Channel betwixt the grand Battery and Nutten Island in case they shall deem the same practicable and that this Convention will defray all the Charges incident to the execution of this Design. Resolved, that General [Lewis] Morris be empowered to purchase a Sloop belonging to Jesse Hunt at New Rochelle and to Order the same to be delivered immediately to the above named Gentlemen at New York loaded with Stone” (DLC:GW; see also 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 , 1:577). For evidence that this plan was executed, see General Orders, 24 August.
Denning subsequently became much involved in Continental financial affairs. On 19 July 1776 Congress appointed him one of three commissioners for settling the accounts of New York, and on 30 Mar. 1778 it named him a commissioner of accounts at the Board of Treasury (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 , 5:593; 10:293). Denning was a member of the Board of Treasury from July 1780 to September 1781, and in July 1782 Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris appointed Denning a commissioner for settling the accounts of the quartermaster department (ibid., 16:397; 22:425). Denning served in the New York legislature from 1784 to 1787 and from 1798 to 1808, and he was a member of the U.S. Congress in 1809–10.