George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Matthew Cantine, 11 December 1776

From Matthew Cantine

Fishkill [N.Y.] Decr 11th 1776


I am directed by the Convention of the State of New York to transmit to your Excellency the enclosed Resolves, by which it will appear that we have made every exertion in favour of our Sister States which our present Situation will admit.1 But we are extreamly Sorry to find by a Letter received last Night from General Heath, that he is ordered over to the West Shore; by Reasons of which the most important Passes in America will be left unguarded, tho’ within a short Distance of the Enemy.2 Your Excellency must be fully satisfied that tho’ they by marching thro’ the flatt Country may distress the Inhabitants, yet that Measure will be productive of nothing Decisive, whereas the fate of this Country will probably depend upon their occupying the State of New York which is now in a great Measure abandoned to them. We must therefore take the liberty to entreat your Excellency to countermand an Order which in our humble Opinion is putting every thing to the Hazard, and leave the Northeastern Parts of the State of New Jersey to be strengthened in the Way proposed by the within Resolutions. If your Excellency should not be inclined to grant this Request we must beg to be favored with your immediate Answer, that we may not, by suffering our Militia to march[,]3 leave this State entirely Defenceless and thus abandon with ourselves the Cause of America.

Your Excellency will Pardon the freedom with which we write[.] our sanguine Hopes of creating a Divertion by the Means pointed out in the enclosed Resolves without endangering the Safety of this State are by the Order to General Heath entirely vanished. I have the Honor to be with great Respect Your Excellency’s most Obedient Servant

By Order.

Matthew Cantine, ⟨pro t. present⟩

LS, DLC:GW. The New York committee of safety on this date read and approved a draft of this letter that differs slightly in wording from the LS. The committee of safety directed the express rider who carried this letter “to impress horses every ten miles, and to ride night and day, both going and returning.” He was to receive £300 over his regular wages for each day less than six that it took him to complete his round trip (see N.Y. Prov. Congress Journals description begins Journals of the Provincial Congress, Provincial Convention, Committee of Safety, and Council of Safety of the State of New-York, 1775–1776–1777. 2 vols. Albany, 1842. (Microfilm Collection of Early State Records). description ends , 1:748).

In the absence of the president and vice-president, Matthew Cantine (1721–1789) of Marbletown in Ulster County was chosen temporary chairman of the New York committee of safety on 10 Dec., and he served in that capacity until at least 13 Dec. (ibid., 750).

1Although the enclosed copy of these resolutions is dated 10 Dec., they were passed by the committee of safety on 9 December. In them the committee of safety orders the militias of Orange and Ulster counties to march to Chester in Orange County, “there to receive further Orders from General George Clinton for effectually cooperating with Major General Lee & Major General Gates in harrasing and distressing the Enemy who have entered the State of New Jersey.” This force was to be joined by volunteers from Col. William Malcom’s soon to be disbanded regiment of New York militia levies, two companies of rangers raised in Ulster County, and possibly the 10th and 17th Continental regiments stationed on the Ramapo River. Clinton is instructed that in cooperating with Lee and Gates, he should take special care to secure the passes through the Hudson highlands. If he found it inexpedient to join the two generals, he nevertheless was to march into New Jersey as far as he thought “serviceable Consistant with the preservation of the said passes; And . . . exert himself to the utmost in Collecting the Militia of New Jersey and raising their spirits; and in overawing and curbing the disaffected or revolted Subjects of that State, when called upon by the Civil or military Authority thereof” (DLC:GW; see also ibid., 746).

2Heath’s letter to Pierre Van Cortlandt of 10 Dec. containing this news was read by the committee of safety on this date. The committee of safety then resolved “that the safety of this State and the general interest of America, require that the defiles in the Highlands on both sides of Hudson river should be carefully and strongly guarded” and “that a letter be written to his Excellency General Washington, enclosing the resolutions passed on Monday last [9 Dec.], stating the dangers attending the leaving the passes through the Highlands unguarded, and requesting that the order for General Heath’s division to march, may be countermanded” (ibid., 748). Earlier on this date the committee of safety had ordered the Orange and Ulster county militias to march no “further south than Haverstraw, or west than Ringwood, till the further orders of this Convention” (ibid.).

3At this place on the manuscript of the LS, the copyist inadvertently wrote “and.” That word does not appear here in the printed version of the draft (ibid.).

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