George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General William Livingston, 21 August 1776

From Brigadier General William Livingston

Elizabeth Town [N.J.]
Augt 21st 1776

May it please Your Excy

In the utmost Haste, I must inform you that very providentially, I sent a Spy last Night on Staten Island to obtain Intelligence of the movements of the Enemy, as many Things apparently new was seen from our Lines—He has this Moment returned in safety—The Substance of his Information I must give you in short—He went on the Island about Midnight and got undiscovered to the House of the Person to whom he was sent, who informed him—That the whole Force of the Enemy of every kind was 35000 Men, 15000 of whom were left on the Island, but all the rest Embarqued.

That they expected to attack every Hour, he thinks this Night at farthest—It was to be on Long Island, & up the North River—That the 15000 Men were to land & attack at Bergen Point, Elizabeth Town Point and at Amboy.1

He has heard the Orders read & heard the Generals talk of it—The Waggons are all laid out & ready—That they appear very determined & will put all to the Sword—They are in great want of Provision—Pork tolerably good but flour exceedingly bad—They have eat up all the Cattle and are now killing & barrelling up all the Horses they meet with.

All the field Pieces are taken on Board except two—The Informant may be depended on, being employed by the General and carries his Baggage—He has been employed in purchasing Cattle—He has given £10 for a Cow and 10 Dollars for a Sheep—That the Tories on the Island are very illy treated lately, so that the Inhabitants who at first were so pleased, would now be willing to poison them all—They take from them every Thing they choose, and no one has any Thing they can call their own.2 I am with great respect Your Excellencies Most Hble Servt

Wil: Livingston

LS, DLC:GW; copy, enclosed in GW to Hancock, 22 Aug. 1776, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, MHi: Heath Papers; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169. The addressed cover of the LS includes a note signed by Livingston that reads: “The Bearer is to pass all Ferries & Posts and to be hastened with all speed.”

1In a postscript to a short letter that GW wrote to Livingston on 22 Aug., he says: “I believe the Attempt, if any, upon the Jerseys by the Foreigners will be nothing more than a diversion to withdraw your Aid from this place” (ALS, MHi: Livingston Papers).

2An anonymous American correspondent at New York wrote on 22 Aug.: “The night before last, a lad went over to Staten-Island, supped there with a friend, and got safe back again undiscovered; soon after he went to General Washington, and upon good authority reported, that the English Army, amounting to fifteen or twenty thousand, had embarked, and were in readiness for an engagement; that seven ships of the line, and a number of other vessels of war, were to surround this city, and cover their landing; that the Hessians, being fifteen thousand, were to remain on the Island, and attack Perth-Amboy, Elizabeth-Town Point, and Bergen, while the main body were doing their best here; that the Highlanders expected America was already conquered, and that they were only to come over and settle on our lands, for which reason they had brought their churns, ploughs, &c.; being deceived, they had refused fighting, upon which account General Howe had shot one, hung five or six, and flogged many.

“Last evening, in a violent thunder-storm, Mr. [ ] (a very intelligent person) ventured over. He brings much the same account as the above lad, with this addition, that all the horses on the Island were, by Howe’s orders, killed, barrelled up, and put on board, the wretches thinking that they could get no landing here, and of consequence be soon out of provision. That the Tories were used cruelly, and with the Highlanders were compelled to go on board the ships to fight in the character of common soldiers against us. The British Army are prodigiously incensed against the Tories, and curse them as the instruments of the war now raging” (Extract of a Letter from New-York, Dated August 22, 1776, in Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 1:1111–12).

Index Entries