George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 22 August 1776

To John Hancock

New York Augt 22d 1776


I do myself the Honor to transmit Congress, a Copy of a Letter I received yesterday Evening by Express from Genl Livingston—Also Copies of three Reports from Colo. Hand.1

Though the Intelligence reported by the Spy on his return to Genl Livingston, has not been confirmed by the Event he mentions, an Attack last night, there is every reason to beleive that One is shortly designed. The falling down of Several Ships Yesterday Evening to the Narrows crouded with men—Those succeeded by Many more2 this morning, And a great number of Boats parading around them as I was just now Informed, with Troops—are all circumstances Indicating an Attack, and It is not Improbable It will be made to day. It could not have happened last night, by reason of a Most violent Gust.3

We are making every preparation to receive ’em, and I trust, under the Smiles of providence with our own exertions, That my next, If they do attack, will transmit an Account that will be pleasing to every Friend of America and to the rights of Humanity. I have the Honor to be with all possible respect Sir Your 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 26 Aug. (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 , 5:700).

1GW enclosed copies of William Livingston’s letter to him of 21 Aug. and three short letters that Col. Edward Hand, who was at the Narrows, wrote to Col. John Nixon on that date (all in DNA:PCC, item 152). In his first letter to Nixon, Hand reports that “twelve small Vessels and two Men of War came in from Sea late yesterday Evening. The small Craft and one of the Men of War joined the Fleet at the watering place[.] Some of the Blue Coated Gentry embarked yesterday Afternoon below the Narrows and then moved up. The Admiral had a large Company on Board in the Evening, his Ship was ornamented by displaying a Variety of Colours on the Occasion.” In the second letter, written at 9:00 A.M., Hand says: “Since I reported this Morning 19 Transports have been filled with Men and they still continue to embark.” Hand’s third letter, written at 5:00 P.M., reads: “There are at least 14 Sail of Transports, some of them crouded with Men, now under sail, and more from the Noise are hoisting Anchor. These under sail move down as fast as they get from among the Fleet.”

Ambrose Serle, who was aboard Lord Howe’s flagship the Eagle, says in his journal that on 20 Aug., “all the Captains in the Fleet, belonging to the Men of War, met on board the Eagle, and had long Consultation with the Admiral [Howe]. Every thing now begins to look extremely serious.” On the evening of 21 Aug. the captains returned to the Eagle to receive orders for landing troops on Long Island the following day (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 , 70–71).

2The LB reads “Several more.”

3An anonymous American correspondent at New York wrote on this date: “The thunder-storm of last evening was one of the most dreadful I ever heard; it lasted from seven to ten o’clock. Several claps struck in and about the city; many houses damaged; several lives lost” (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; see also 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 , 71; Albion and Dodson, Fithian’s Journal description begins Robert Greenhalgh Albion and Leonidas Dodson, eds. Philip Vickers Fithian: Journal, 1775–1776, Written on the Virginia-Pennsylvania Frontier and in the Army around New York. Princeton, N.J., 1934. description ends , 1775–1776, 214–16; and Shewkirk, “Moravian Diary,” description begins [Oswald G. Shewkirk]. “Occupation of New York City by the British, 1776. Extracts from the Diary of the Moravian Congregation.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 1 (1877): 133–48, 250–62, 467–68. description ends 145–46).

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