From John Hancock
Philada Novr 14th 1776.
The enclosed Letter from Mr Searle, a Gentleman of Honour & a Friend to the Cause of America, I am commanded by Congress to forward to you with the utmost Expedition.1 The uncertain Destination of the Fleet therein mentioned, makes it absolutely necessary that you should be informed of the Intelligence as soon as possible, that you may make such Dispositions of the Troops under your Command as you shall judge proper. I have the Honour to be, with every Sentiment of Esteem & Respect, Sir your most obed. & very hble Servt
John Hancock Presidt
LS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, item 12A. The address on the LB indicates that this letter was a circular that was sent to GW, William Livingston, and the commanding officer in New Jersey (probably Nathanael Greene). Hancock on this date also wrote a circular letter to the legislatures of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas, enclosing an extract of Searle’s letter and urging that appropriate preparations be made for defense (see Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 5:483–84, and Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 3:669).
1. Searle’s letter, which he wrote to an unidentified correspondent on 13 Nov. from Long Branch, N.J., was read by Congress on this date. At noon Searle wrote: “About 10. oClock this morning appear’d round the Point of Sandy-Hook a number of Vessells outward bound, they are still comg out in great numbers, as I have unfortunately no Glass I cannot as yet distinguish their motions.” An hour later he wrote: “The Ships come out but slowly, at present abot 100 Sail appear round the Hook & appear to be standing to the Southward, wind at N. West, I observe one or two that appear to be very large” (DLC:GW). Searle arrived at Philadelphia on 15 Nov. “and acquainted Congress that he saw the Fleet bear away, after he had wrote, and sail Eastward until they sunk below his Horizon; That they were headed by Two Frigates and their Rear was guarded by a large Ship” (William Ellery to Nicholas Cooke, 16 Nov., in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 5:494–96). Searle’s intelligence and the intelligence received from Nathanael Greene on the same date convinced Congress that the British fleet was headed to England and posed no threat to Philadelphia (see ibid., and Greene to Hancock, 12 Nov., in Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 1:348–49). For the departure from New York on 11 Nov. of a convoy of 200 British transports bound to England, see Greene to GW, 11–12 Nov., and note 1. For the Board of War’s revocation on 15 Nov. of its call of the previous day for militia to defend the city, see its letter to the Pennsylvania council of safety of 15 Nov. in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 5:487; see also the Board of War to GW, this date). James Searle (1730–1797), a prominent Philadelphia merchant whom Congress appointed as a manager of the U.S. lottery on 20 Nov., served as a member of the Continental Navy Board in 1778, a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1778 to 1780, and a Pennsylvania commissioner to negotiate a state loan with France and Holland from 1780 to 1782.