George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Charles Lee, 12 November 1776

From Major General Charles Lee

Camp at Philipsburg [N.Y.]
Nov’r the 12th 9 oclock P.M.

Dr General

This instant came express from Colonel Tupper (station’d opposite to Dob’s Ferry) one David Keech—the substance of his intelligence is as follows—that The Enemy began their march at 9 this morning down the River with their baggage Artillery &ca—that the Man of War and two Store Ships had just set sail and were making down—I mean those which came up last—that Three Ships still lye off Terrytown and Singsing two at the former one at the latter—Keech says the whole Army have quitted Dobbs Ferry and imagines the Rear have by this time reach’d Kings Bridge[.]1 I am far from being satisfyd with the Conduct of our Scouts; I do not think They venture far enough for They in general bring back very lame imperfect accounts—but I have projected a plan for breaking in at least upon Rogers’s Party and believe I shall succeed2—the sentence on Austin is that He shoud be reprimanded—but I have orderd a new Court Martial with a charge of wanton barbarous conduct unbecoming not only an Officer but a human Creature3—General Lincoln and the Massachusets Committee are using their Efforts to detain the Militia—Whether They will succeed, Heaven only knows—Hitchcock and Varnum do not recollect the recommendation of General Green—but I have orderd’em to give me a list of those whom They think ought to be recommended—for it is now too late to refer to Green, as the Commissioners are expected every hour—I wish to God You were here as I am in, a manner, a Stranger to their respective Merits—when the list is made out I shall inform myself as well as I can, if their recommendation is impartial and proceed accordingly. I am, Dr General, Yours most sincerely

Charles Lee

am in hopes to remove part of the Stores today.


1Howe’s army this morning marched south toward King’s Bridge in two columns, and after camping overnight in the vicinity of the Philipse manor house and Valentine’s Hill at Mile Square, it resumed its march the following day and formed a defensive line running south from Fort Independence near King’s Bridge to De Lancey’s mill on the lower Bronx River (see Lydenberg, Robertson Diaries description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends , 108; Kemble Papers description begins [Stephen Kemble]. The Kemble Papers. 2 vols. New York, 1884-85. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 16–17. description ends , 1:99, 405–7; Baurmeister, Revolution in America description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends , 68–69; and William Howe to Lord George Germain, 30 Nov., in Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 12:258–64).

2Sgt. John Smith of Col. Christopher Lippitt’s Rhode Island regiment says in his diary that at 3:00 A.M. on 16 Nov. his company turned out and joined “the Detatchment that was a going in Quest of Major Rogers & his Party that was a Rainging at East Chester & theirabouts[.] the Detatchmt March’d about Day Light & went Down But saw Nothing of the Enemy hering that they Departed the Day Befor” (Rau, “John Smith’s Diary,” description begins Louise Rau, ed. “Sergeant John Smith’s Diary of 1776.” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 20 (1933-34): 247–70. description ends 261).

3After hearing testimony at Philipsburg on this and the next day, this court-martial found Maj. Jonathan William Austin guilty of the new charge against him and sentenced him to be dismissed from the army. The first witness at the trial was a Mrs. Adams, who testified that on the night of 5 Nov. “there Came a party of men into her house on White plains and Immediately set the house on fire. . . . some of the men began to Carry things out of the house, when she asked them why they took those things. then Majr Austin spake & told her he should carry them to the General’s and alledged Genl Sullivan’s orders for it. . . . her Sister took Majr Austin by the Arm Crying. & he said to her what the Devil do you take me by the Arm for, because said She you are an Officer & can prevent such treatment. then her Mother told Majr Austin she hoped he would not burn her house too, on which he told her there was another house above that she might go into, after which Majr Austin told his men to go and set the other houses on fire as Quick as they Could.” When Mrs. Adams “asked Majr Austin why he Could not save her house & burn the Others, he Reply’d because you are all Damn’d Tories, and there was a Damn’d Tory taken out of your house this Night.”

The court subsequently asked Austin if he had orders to burn the houses, and “he Confessed he had no Orders for it, but alledged as an Excuse, his being in Company with some of the General Officers Just before the first houses were burnt on the plains, and heard Genl Putnam say, he thought it would be best to burn all the houses &c., and finding there was houses burnt on the plains soon after, he thought it his Duty, to burn Sd houses as he did” (Austin’s court-martial proceedings, 12–13 Nov., DLC:GW).

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