George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 2 December 1776

To John Hancock

Princeton [N.J.] Decr 2d 1776


I arrived here this morning with our Troops between Eight and Nine oClock, when I received the Honor of your Letter of the 1st with its Inclosure.1 When the Enemy first landed on this side the North River, I apprehended that they meant to make a push this way, and knowing that the force which I had, was not sufficient to oppose ’em, I wrote to Genl Lee to cross with the Several Continental Regiments in his Division, and hoped he would have arrived before now; by some means or other he has been delayed; I suppose he has passed the River, as his Letter of the 26th Ulto mentioned that he had marched a Brigade the day before & should follow the next himself. The remainder of the Troops, I conceved necessary to guard the several passes through the Highlands, nor do I think they can be called from thence. their number is very small, being reduced to very few by the departure of the Troops who stood engaged till the 30th Ulto.

I understand there are now at Bristol several Prisoners—As their exchange at this time cannot be effected with Propriety, I think it will be necessary under the present situation of Affairs, to have ’em removed immediately to some more interior Place upon their Paroles. If they remain, they may be of infinite disadvantage.2 I have the Honor to be with great esteem Sir yr Most Obt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169. Congress read this letter on 3 Dec. (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 , 6:1001).

Enclosed with this letter was GW’s signed order authorizing foreign volunteer Nicholas Dietrich, Baron de Ottendorf, “to Inlist a body of able bodied Men, especially Germans . . . for the Term of Three years” (DS, in John Fitzgerald’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152). Ottendorf had been appointed a brevet captain by Congress on 8 Nov., and the next day he had been ordered to go to headquarters and put himself under GW’s command (ibid., 935, 937). On 5 Dec. Congress promoted Ottendorf to the rank of major and directed him to raise an independent corps of one hundred and fifty men, which was to consist of a light infantry company and two companies of hunters (ibid., 1007). Although Ottendorf succeeded in raising his corps during the next few months, he suddenly left the service sometime during the spring of 1777, and on 11 June 1777 GW gave the command of Ottendorf’s corps to Charles Armand-Tuffin, marquis de La Rouërie (see GW to Armand, that date, DLC:GW; see also William Heath to GW, 15 July 1778, DLC:GW; GW to Heath, 14 Aug. 1778, MHi: Heath Papers; Ludowick Weltner to GW, 16 May 1780, DNA:PCC, item 152; 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 , 55, 57).

1Lt. James McMichael says in his diary entry for this date: “Just at dawn the General was beat, when we got ready, marched through Kingston and at 8 A.M. reached Princeton, where we got quarters. It is chiefly inhabited by Tories” ((“McMichael’s Diary,” description begins William P. McMichael. “Diary of Lieutenant James McMichael, of the Pennsylvania Line, 1776–1778.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 16 (1892): 129–59. description ends 139).

2Congress on 3 Dec. passed a resolution directing the Board of War to take this action (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 , 6:1002), and on the cover of the LS, Benjamin Harrison wrote an undated note to Richard Peters, instructing him to “Dispatch an Express immediatly to have the Prisoners at Bristol Removed.” Bristol, Pa., is about ten miles south of Trenton.

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