George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 1 December 1776

To John Hancock

Brunswic [N.J.] Decr 1st 1776


I yesterday had the Honor of writing you and to advise of our arrival here. I am now to inform you that the Enemy are still advancing and that their Vanguard had proceeded as far as Bonum, a small Town about four miles this side of Woodbridge according to my last intelligence.1 As to their number reports are various. Some say they were joined yesterday by a considerable reinforcement from Staten Island, how far this fact may be true, I cannot determine, but from every information before, they were between Six and Seven Thousand strong. I have for some time past supposed Philadelphia to be the Object of their movement, and have every reason to beleive my Opinion well founded, the advices of sundry persons who have had an Opportunity of mixing & conversing with them on the march agreeing that such is the report2. I have wrote to Govr Livingston upon the Subject requesting his utmost exertions to forward on every succour in his power.3 The same I trust will be attended to in Pensylvania. Without a sufficient number of Men & Arms, their progress can not be checked; At present our force is totally inadequate to any attempt.

Several Officers belonging to the Enemy who were Prisoners, have obtained permission to return. I have not yet sent in the names of those belonging to us, that are to be exchanged for ’em.4 By a Virginia Paper I perceive that Captn Morgan & Lieutt Heath who were taken Prisoners at Quebec & now on Parole are promoted in the late arrangement of Officers in that State; the former to a Regiment, the latter to a Majority:5 It would be well if they were released,6 but being Virginians and not knowing that any Gentlemen who were taken at the same time are so circumstanced, I have declined claiming their return without the Opinion of Congress lest I should incur the charge of partiality.

I have sent forward Colo. Humpton to collect proper boats & Craft at the Ferry for transporting our Troops7 and it will be of Infinite importance to have every other craft, besides what he takes for the above purpose, secured on the West side of Delaware, otherwise they may fall into the Enemy’s hands & facilitate their views. I have the Honor to be Sir Yr Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. ½ after 1. OClock. P.M. The Enemy are fast advancing; some of ’em are now in sight. All the men of the Jersey flying Camp under Genl Herd being applied to, have refused to continue longer in service.8

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, in Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The last paragraph of the main body of the letter and the postscript are not included in the draft or the Varick transcript. Congress read this letter on 2 Dec. 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 , 6:998).

1Bonum is Bonhamtown, New Jersey. On 30 Nov., Archibald Robertson says, “the 1st Battalion Light Infantry and Light Dragoons advanced to Amboy. Donop’s Corps to Woodbridge, and the Reserve and Guards to Elizabeth Town. The 4th Brigade remain’d at Newark” (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 , 114; see also Ewald, Diary description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends , 22–24, and 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 , 73).

2The draft reads “on the march & very lately too, agreeing that such is the report.” Cornwallis was under orders to halt his corps at New Brunswick and not to pursue the Americans any father, because Howe’s initial intention in invading New Jersey simply was to occupy the eastern part of the state in order to provide forage and fresh provisions for his army. It was not until 6 Dec. that Howe, having been persuaded of “the advantages that might be gained by pushing on to the Delaware and the possibility of getting to Philadelphia,” arrived at New Brunswick and ordered the advance toward Pennsylvania that began the following day (Howe to George Germain, 20 Dec., 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 , 12:266–28; see also Howe to Germain, 30 Nov., ibid., 264–66; Clinton, American Rebellion description begins William B. Willcox, ed. The American Rebellion: Sir Henry Clinton’s Narrative of His Campaigns, 1775–1782, with an Appendix of Original Documents. New Haven, 1954. description ends , 55–56; and Ewald, Diary description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends , 24–25).

5News of the Virginia general assembly’s choice on 12 Nov. of Daniel Morgan as colonel of one of the state’s new Continental regiments and William Heth as major of another one of those regiments appears in Dixon and Hunter’s edition of the Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg] for 15 Nov. and Purdie’s edition of that newspaper for the same date (see also Va. House of Delegates Journal description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia. Anno Domini, 1776. Williamsburg, Va., [1776]. description ends , Oct.–Dec. 1776 sess., 52, 54). William Heth (1750–1807), who had joined Morgan’s Virginia rifle company as a lieutenant in July 1775 and had been captured with Morgan at Quebec on 31 Dec. 1775, was exchanged with him on 14 Jan. 1777 (see Robert Hanson Harrison’s certificate of that date in Dixon and Hunter’s and Purdie’s editions of the Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg], both 7 Feb. 1777). Heth became a lieutenant colonel of the 3d Virginia Regiment on 1 April 1777, and he was promoted to colonel of that regiment on 30 April 1778. Captured with the Virginia line at Charleston, S. C., in May 1780, Heth was paroled subsequently, but he did not return to military service. After the war Heth was a planter in Henrico County, Va., and in August 1789 GW appointed him collector of customs at Bermuda Hundred on the James River.

6The draft reads “could be released.”

8Nathanael Greene wrote Nicholas Cooke on 4 Dec. from Trenton: “We have had another convincing proof of the folly of short enlistments. The time for which the five months men were engagd expird at this critical period. Two Brigades left us at Brunswick notwithstanding the Enemy were within two hours march and coming on. The loss of these troops at this critical time reduced his Excellency [GW] to the necessity to order retreat again” (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 , 1:360–64).

Index Entries