George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 13 December 1776

To John Hancock

Head Quarters Trenton Falls 13th Decemr 1776


The apparent Designs of the Enemy being to avoid this Ferry, and land their Troops above and below us, have induced me to remove from this place, the greater part of the Troops, and throw them into a different Disposition on the River: whereby, I hope not only to be more able to impede their passage, but also to avoid the Danger of being inclosed in this Angle of the River. And notwithstanding the extended Appearances of the Enemy on the other Side, made at least in part, to divert our Attention from any particular point, as well as to harrass us by Fatigue, I cannot divest myself of the Opinion, that their principal Design is to ford the River somewhere above Trenton; to which Design I have had particular Respect in the new Arrangement, wherein I am so far happy as to have the Concurrence of the General Officers at this place.1

Four Brigades of the Army under Generals Lord Stirling, Mercer, Stephen and D’Fermoy extend from Yardleys up to Coryels Ferry, posted in such a Manner as to guard every suspicious part of the River and to afford Assistance to each other in Case of Attack. Genl Ewing with the Flying Camp of Pennsylvania, and a few Jersey Troops under General Dickinson are posted from Yardleys Ferry down to the Ferry opposite Bordentown. Colo. Cadwallader with the Pennsylvania Militia occupies the Ground above and below the Mouth of Neshaminy River as far down as Dunk’s Ferry, at which place Colonel Nixon is posted with the 3d Battalion of Philadelphia. A proper Quantity of Artillery is appointed to each Brigade, and I have ordered small Redoubts to be thrown up opposite every place where there is a possibility of fording.

I shall remove further up the River to be near the main Body of my small Army, with which every possible Opposition shall be given to any further Approach of the Enemy towards Philadelphia.2

As Genl Armstrong has a good deal of influence in this State and our present force is small & inconsiderable, I think he cannot be better employed than to repair to the Counties where his Interest lies to animate the People, promote the recruiting Service & encourage the Militia to come in. He will also be able to form a proper Judgement of the Places suitable for Magazines of Provision to be collected. I have requested him to wait upon Congress3 on this Subject, and If Genl Smalwood should go to Maryland on the same business, I think it would4 have a happy effect. he is popular and of great influence5 and I am persuaded would contribute greatly to that States furnishing her Quota of Men in a little time. he is now in Philadelphia. I have the Honor to be Sir very respectfully Yr Most Obd. St

Go: Washington

LS in Tench Tilghman’s and Robert Hanson Harrison’s writings, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter at 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).

Tilghman wrote all of the LS except for the last paragraph and closing of the letter, which are in Harrison’s writing. The draft and the Varick transcript both are dated 12 December. In the draft Brig. Gen. John Armstrong wrote initial versions of first two paragraphs, and GW amended that second paragraph in his own writing. The last sentence of the first paragraph and the entire original version of the second paragraph then were struck out of the draft. The deleted text, as written by Armstrong with GW’s additions shown within square brackets, reads: “As I cannot at present farther enter into the various motives to this alteration, I shall only add a Copy of the Arrangement itself.

“Generals Lord Sterling, Mercer, Stevens & La Roch DeFermoys Brigades, are to take Post at & below Corriels & McConkeys Ferrys—Lord Sterlings Brigade to continue at & near where his head Quarters are [at Blue mounts Ferry]—Genl Stevens next below it—Genl Mercer below Stevens—Genl Defermoys above Lord Sterling—The Jerman Battalion to joine Genl Fermoys Brigade—Genl Ewings Brigade to continue at this Post and guard the River from Burdentown up towards Yearlies Ferry Redouts to be Erected at the Ford at Trenton Falls & near Yearlies Ferry—Coll Cadwalladers Brigade to take Post at Bristol & [Guard those parts of the River Including Dunks Ferry and to watch the motions of that part of the Enemy which have moved down towards].”

Following the deleted text in the draft, Tilghman wrote a new version of the second paragraph (the one that was used in the LS) and the third paragraph. The last paragraph is in Harrison’s writing. For other variations in the wording of the draft, see nn.1, and 3–5.

1The draft reads: “of all the General Officers at this place.”

2Later this day or early the following day, GW moved his headquarters to William Keith’s house (see GW to James Ewing et al., 14 Dec., n.1).

3The draft reads: “upon you.”

4The draft reads: “I think his presence would.”

5The draft reads: “and of great interest.”

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