George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 12 December 1776

To John Hancock

Trenton Falls Decr the 12th 1776


I last night received the favor of Mr Thompson’s Letter, inclosing the Proceedings of Congress of the 11th Instt. As the publication of their Resolve in my opinion will not lead to any good end, but on the contrary may be attended with some bad consequences, I shall take the liberty to decline inserting it in this days Orders,1 I am persuaded if the Subject is taken up & reconsidered, that Congress will concur with me in Sentiment.2 I doubt not but there are some who have propagated the report, but what if they have? Their remaining in or leaving Philadelphia must be governed by circumstances & events; If their departure should become necessary, it will be right; On the other hand, if there should not be a necessity for it, they will remain,3 & their continuance will shew the report to be the production of Calumny and Falsehood. In a word Sir, I conceive it a matter that may be as well disregarded, and that the removal or staying of Congress, depending entirely upon events should not have been the Subject of a Resolve.4

The intelligence we obtain respecting the movements and situation of the Enemy is far from being so certain and satisfactory as I could wish, tho every probable means in my power and that I can devise are adopted for that purpose. The latest I have received, was from Lord Stirling last night, he says that Two Grenadiers of the Ineskilling Regiment5 who were taken and brought in by some Countrymen, inform that Genls Howe, Cornwallis, Vaughan &c. with about 6000 of the flying Army were at Penny Town waiting for Pontoons to come up with which they mean to pass the River near the blue Mounts or at Corriels Ferry, they believe the latter. That the Two Battallions of Guards were at Brunswick & the Hessian Grenadiers, Chasseurs & a Regiment or Two of British Troops are at Trenton. Captn Miller of Colo. Hands Regiment also informs me, that a body of the Enemy were marching to Burlington on Yesterday morning. he had been sent over with a strong Scouting Party and at day break fell in with their advanced Guards, consisting of about 400 Hessian Troops who fired upon him before they were discovered, but without any loss & obliged him to retreat with his Party & to take boat. The number of the whole he could not ascertain, but they appeared to be considerable. Captn Millers account is partly confirmed by Commodore Seymour who reports, that Four or Five hundred of the Enemy had entered the Town.6 Upon the whole there can be no doubt but that Philadelphia is their object, and that they will pass the Delaware as soon as possible. Happy should I be, if I could see the means of preventing them. At present I confess I do not. All military writers agree that it is a work of great difficulty—nay impracticable where there is any extent of Coast to guard. This is the case with us, and we have to do it, with a force small and inconsiderable and much inferior to that of the Enemy. Perhaps Congress have some hope and prospect of Reinforcements, I have no intelligence of the sort, and wish to be informed on the Subject. Our little handfull is daily decreasing by sickness and Other causes, and without aid, without considerable Succours and exertions on the part of the people, what can we reasonably look for or expect, but an event that will be severely felt by the Common Cause, and that will wound the Heart of every virtuous American, the loss of Philadelphia. The Subject is disagreable, but yet it is true.7 I will leave it, wishing that our situation may become such as to do away the apprehensions which at this time seem to fill the minds of too many & with too much justice.

By a Letter from Genl Heath dated at Pecks Kills, the 8th, I am advised That Lieutt Colo. Vose was then there with Greatons, Bonds & Porters Regiments amounting in the whole to between 5 & 600 Men, who were coming this way, he adds That Genls Gates & Arnold would be at Goshen that night, with Starks, Poors, & Reads Regiments, but for what purpose, he does not mention.

The Inclosed Extract of a Letter which I received last night contains intelligence of an agreable nature[.] I wish to hear its confirmation by the arrival of the Several prizes; That with Cloathing & Arms will be an invaluable acquisition.8

I shall be glad to be advised of the mode I am to observe in paying the Officers, whether they are to be allowed to draw the pay lately established & from what time or how long they are to be paid under the Old establishment. A Pay Roll which was presented Yesterday being made up for the New, has given rise to these Propositions. Upon my objecting to it,9 I was told that Congress or the Board of War had established the Precedent by paying the 6th Regiment of Virga Troops, commanded by Colo. Buckner agreable to the latter as they came through Philadelphia.10 I have the Honor to be with much esteem Sir Yr Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The draft differs from the LS in wording in several places. Significant variations are given in nn. 1–4, 7, 9, and 10. The LS was delivered open to Robert Morris at Philadelphia on 13 Dec. by George Walton. After reading the letter, Morris forwarded it to Hancock at Baltimore (see Morris to Hancock, 13 Dec., 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 , 5:604–5). Congress read the letter in Baltimore on 20 Dec. and referred it to a committee consisting of Richard Henry Lee, James Wilson, Benjamin Harrison, and Samuel Adams (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 , 6:1028–29).

1At this place in the manuscript of the LS, Harrison struck out the words “unless I am requested again to do it.” This phrase is included in the texts of the draft and the Varick transcript.

2The draft reads: “that I shall have their concurrence.”

3The draft reads: “Their remaining in or leaving Philadelphia must be governed by circumstances, if their departure should be founded in Necessity it must be right, and if Necessity should not proclaim the measure prudent they will not depart.”

4The draft reads: “In a Word Sir, I think it is a matter that should depend upon events and One of those points.”

5The Inniskilling Regiment was the 27th Regiment of Foot.

6Ewald says that “on the morning of the 10th [Dec.] Colonel Donop took the jägers and three hundred grenadiers with two fieldpieces and both amusettes to reconnoiter Burlington. . . . Halfway, in the vicinity of Bustleton, we ran into an enemy detachment of about one hundred men, which was attacked and partly killed or captured, through which we learned that the town of Burlington was protected by six row galleys which had command of this detachment. In the afternoon our detachment arrived on this side of the town. The adjutant of the colonel was sent at once to the commodore of the galleys asking him if he would leave the vicinity of the Delaware, failing which the town would be set on fire. The commodore requested two hours’ time to consider. . . . Just as we are impatiently awaiting the reply, a jäger came running with the news that the galleys were approaching the town. . . . instead of the reply, there was a rain of bullets from the topmasts which accompanied us on our way out of the town. Since we had no heavy guns with us to drive off the galleys, we left the town and marched back” (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 , 30–31).

7The words “but yet it is true” do not appear in the draft or the Varick transcript.

8The enclosed “Extract of a Letter from Boston dated Novr 27. 1776” reads: “You may depend upon the following. Got into Dartmouth a Snow with Wine, Cheese &c. being the last of eight Vessels taken by the Columbus & Alfred, in the Gut of Canso, bound to Quebec, for the Army. The Fleet consisted only of eight. The Snow parted with a Ship mounting sixteen Guns, having on board 3000 Stand of Arms, & 10,000 Suits of Cloathes for the Soldiers, ten Days before she got into Dartmouth. The Ship was one of the eight. We are longing to hear of her being safe in.”

9The draft reads: “and upon my objecting to it without having the direction of Congress upon the Subject.”

10The draft reads: “commanded by Colo. Buckner under the New Establisht as they came through Philadelphia.” Mordecai Buckner (1721–c.1787), who had served as an officer in GW’s Virginia Regiment during the French and Indian War, was commissioned colonel of the 6th Virginia Regiment on 13 Feb. 1776. Buckner was court-martialed for cowardice on 8 Feb. 1777 and cashiered (see GW to Hancock, 26 Jan. 1777, DNA:PCC, item 152, and General Orders, 9 Feb. 1777).

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