George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 20 August 1776

To John Hancock

New York Augt 20th 1776


I was yesterday Morning favoured with yours of the 17th, accompanied by Several Resolutions of Congress, and Commissions for Officers appointed to the late Vacancies in this Army.

I wrote some days ago to Genl Schuyler, to propose to Genls Carleton & Burgoyne an Exchange of prisoners in consequence of a former Resolve of Congress authorizing their Commanders in each Department to negociate One.1 That of Major Meigs for Major French, and Captain Dearborn for any Officer of equal rank, I submitted to Genl How’s consideration by Letter on the 17th, understanding their paroles had been sent him by Genl Carleton, but have not yet received his Answer upon the Subject.

In respect to the Exchange of the prisoners in Canada, If a proposition on that head has not been already made, and I believe It has not, the Inclosed Copy of Genl Carleton’s Orders transmitted me under Seal by Major Bigelow, who was sent with a Flag to Genl Burgoyne from Tyconderoga with the proceedings of Congress on the breach of Capitulation at the Cedars & the Inhuman treatment of our people afterwards, will shew It is unnecessary, as he has determined to send them to their own provinces there to remain as prisoners, Interdicting at the same time All kind of Intercourse between us & his Army, except such as may be for the purpose of Imploring the Kings Mercy. The Assassination he mentions of Brigadr Genl Gordon is a fact entirely new to me, and what I never heard of before. I shall not trouble Congress with my Strictures upon this Indecent, Illiberal and Scurrilous performance so highly unbecoming the Character of a Soldier and a Gentleman, Only observing that Its design is somewhat artfull, and that each Boatman with Major Bigelow was furnished with a Copy.2

I have also transmitted Congress a Copy of the Majors Journal, to which I beg leave to refer them for the Intelligence reported by him on his return from the Truce.3

By a Letter from Genl Greene Yesterday Evening he informed me, he had received an Express from Hog Island Inlet advising that 5 of the Enemy’s Small Vessells had appeared at the Mouth of the Creek with some Troops on board—also That he had heard Two pettiaugers were off Oister Bay, the whole supposed to be after live Stock and to prevent their getting It, he had detached a party of Horse & Two Hundred & Twenty men among them, Twenty Rifle men.4 I have not received further Intelligence upon the Subject.

I am also advised by the Examination of Captn Britton, Master of a Vessel that had been taken, transmitted me by Genl Mercer, that the Genl Report among the Enemy’s Troops was when he came off, that they were to Attack Long Island and to secure Our Works there If possible at the same time that Another part of their Army was to land above this City5—This Information is corroborated by many other Accounts and is probably true—Nor will It be possible to prevent them landing on the Island, As Its great Extent affords a variety of places favourable for that purpose, and the Whole of our Works on It are at the end opposite to the City. However we shall attempt to harrass them as much as possible which will be all that we can do. I have the Honor to be with Sentiments of the greatest esteem Sir Yr Most Obed. 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 22 Aug. and 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 , 5:695).

2For Guy Carleton’s order of 7 Aug., see Schuyler to GW, 16 Aug., n.1. The copy of the order enclosed with this letter is incorrectly dated 4 Aug. (DNA:PCC, item 152). Patrick Gordon, lieutenant colonel of the 29th Regiment, was appointed an acting brigadier general in Canada by Carleton in June 1776. On 25 July Gordon was ambushed and fatally wounded near Chambly by Lt. Benjamin Whitcomb’s scouting party (see Whitcomb’s journal, 14 July–6 Aug. 1776, DLC:GW). Carleton’s order, Matthias Ogden wrote Aaron Burr on 11 Aug., is “truly ridiculous. . . . But there is one part of it in which I think they in some measure accuse us justly: I mean that of assassinating, as they term it with too much truth, Brigadier-General Gordon. He was shot by the Whitcomb I mentioned in my last, who had been sent there as a spy. The act, though villa[i]nous, was brave, and a peculiar kind of bravery that I believe Whitcomb alone is possessed of. He shot Gordon near by their advanced sentinel; and, notwithstanding a most diligent search was made, he avoided them by mere dint of skulking” (Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 1:901; see also extract of a letter from Albany, 12 Aug. 1776, ibid., 923).

3John Bigelow (1739–1780) of the Connecticut independent artillery company was at the British outpost on Île aux Noix from 28 July to 8 August. “I observed during my Stay there,” he says in his journal, “that they paraded, at different times, their officers in an ostentatious Manner, and with the manifest Intent to lead me into the Belief of their being very numerous, but I do not think that I saw above forty of them during the whole time, and more than sixteen together. They displayed the very same Pageantry, respecting five or six Batteaus, appearing exceedingly busy in carrying some Timber to the Isle, merely to shew themselves, and give their preparations a formidable Appearance. They have been employed about building a very large Bake House & perhaps for the same Reason. All the new Batteau’s I cou’d see about the Island amounted to no more than Twelve. They talk much of Hessians and Hanoverians, but I saw none” (Bigelow’s Journal, 23 July–10 Aug. 1776, DNA:PCC, item 152; see also the copy in DLC:GW).

Bigelow, who was a native of Hartford, Conn., served as a volunteer under Arnold at Ticonderoga in May 1775, and in January 1776 he raised his independent artillery company in Connecticut. During the fall of 1776 Bigelow commanded the artillery on Mount Independence near Ticonderoga (see Gates’s general orders, 15 Oct. 1776, in Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 3:528). Bigelow declined appointment as major of Col. Samuel Wyllys’s 3d Connecticut Regiment in February 1777 (see Hinman, Historical Collection description begins Don R. Gerlach. Proud Patriot: Philip Schuyler and the War of Independence, 1775–1783. Syracuse, N.Y., 1987. description ends , 408), and during the ensuing months he apparently served in the militia. In March 1778 Governor Trumbull appointed Bigelow to superintend the making of clothing for Continental troops, and the council of safety directed him to procure clothing for the state’s Continental officers (ibid., 527–28, 533).

4This letter has not been found. Hog Island (now called Centre Island) is at the mouth of Oyster Bay on the north side of Long Island.

5For Captain Britton’s intelligence of 18 Aug., see Hugh Mercer to GW, 19 Aug., n.2.

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