George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 21 December 1776

From Major General William Heath

Paramus [N.J.] Decr 21th 1776

Dear General

I have received the Honor of yours of the 16th & 18th Instant.1

I have the Pleasure to acquaint your Excellency that on the 19th Instant a Detachment of our Troops Consisting Partly of Continental Troops and Partly of the Militia of Orange and Ulster Counties, having marched Down to the English Neighbourhood in the night Deceived the Sentinel and Surprised the Out Guard of Colonel Buskirks Regiment of new raised Troops took a Sarjeant and 17 men Prisoners and 16 new Kings Muskets which have been brought Safely to this Place—after which they repulsed their main Guard—we lost one man and the Enemy are Supposed to have lost four I shall order these Rascally Prisoners under Close Confinement.2

The Same Evening one mr Honeywell of Philipsburgh who was lately Taken Prisoner by the Enemy Came from New York He is a Gentleman of Credit and one of the Committee of the Town,3 He Informs us that General How is lately returned to New York, as are the Hessians who Lately went to Rhode-Island, But that the British Troops are Still there, That there are a great many Troops now in the City That an Embarkation of a Body of them is soon to take Place and that it was Suppos’d that General How was returned on that account That they talked of making a movment to Courtlands Manor, and PeeksKills This Corresponds with a Line which I lately received, which I take the Liberty to Enclose.4

I am very glad that your Excellency has thought fit to order Colonel Vose to remain in the Neighbourhood of Chatham it was highly necessary—a Body of the Enemy are at Aquackanuck Said to be from 250 to 400 with Two Pieces of Cannon.5

I shall march for Peeks-Kill to morrow morning6 General George Clinton with about 1000 of the militia of Orange & Ulster Counties ordered out by the Convention of the State of New York is to Guard for the Present this Post and the Passes of the Highlands on this Side of Hudsons River—The Brigt. which I mentioned in my last to have Sailed from the Dock at Hackensack Came to anchor about Seven Miles below the Town,7 a Party of our men went Down and Boarded her and attempted to bring her up but the wind being fresh it could not be Effected, they then began to unload her into the Boats, Seven firkins of Butter one or two Trunks Some Wine &c. were Brought off and upon return of the Boats a Body of the Enemy Came Down Fired upon & Drove our People off and Took Possession of the Vessel we took three or four Seamen, I had Given orders to the Officer in Case of necessity to Set Her on Fire, but in the Hurry & Confusion He Did not do it, She Had on Board a Great variety of Furniture Hay &c. On opening One of the Trunks we find it to Contain Sundry articles of Plate, Inventory of which is Inclosed,8 It is said to belong to one mr Yates and that He is Friendly, The Same is Said as to the Effects which were on Board the other vessells—But it Seems a Little Extraordinary that our Friends should Convey their Treasure into the Hands of our Enemies—I Did not Encumber myself with the “Furniture” as we Had not waggons to fetch it away, But the Provisions and Liquors I have Secured, and the Sails and Cordage of the vessells, The Plate I shall Deliver into the Hands of the Assistant Q.M.G.,9 I Sollicit your Excellencys Opinion & Direction respecting it I also found of Continental Property Scattered in Divers Houses (and at a Store where it was Deposited as I was Informed for the Enemy) about 160 bbls of Flour, in another Store 21 bbls of Pork, and in another about 30 Hhhds of Rum Gin &c. The Last two articles is Said to be private Property I have Brought off about one Half of it, There are Three or Four Claimers, one of whom we have in Custody, But be the Property whose it may I thought it my Duty to Secure it The remainder I fear will fall into the Hands of the Enemy as we have not Teams to Secure it I have Sent the Flour & Pork to Ramapaugh.

The Colonels of the Regiments Here are uneasy on account of the Pay of their Regiments as the Hazard of geting their abstracts to your Excellency (one of which has been already taken) and the money back from the Paymaster is very great, they request me to lay the matter before your Excellency and Crave Some mode of relief.

upon my arrival at Peeks Kill I shall endeavour to make Such a Disposition of the Troops which I may have the Honor to Command, as may appear most Expedient to answer the Purposes which your Excellency is pleased to Point out, and Hope it will be Such as may be approved by you, I shall Chearfully Consult and Cooperate with General Lincoln in all matters of Importance.

Mr Honywell further Informs That the Talk in New York was that Russia, Hanover, & Portugal would aid Great Britain, But that they were very Doubtfull of France, That they thought they should greatly Distress but never Subdue America—That the Great numbers of Prisoners in the City & their Extreme Sufferings will induce your Excellency to Submit to Terms of accommodation, That Three Rooms in the Old City Hall are fiting up for General Lee with Locks & Barrs &c.10 I have the Honor to be with great respect & Esteem your Excellencys most Humble Servt

W. Heath

ALS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers.

Heath writes in a brief covering letter to GW of this date: “The Bearer hereof mr Sobriski is a most Stanch Friend and has Suffered much, He was the Guide to our Detachment that went to E. Neighbourhood and is well acquainted with all Parts of this Country, and is deserving of notice and respect” (ALS, DLC:GW). Peter Zabriskie (born c.1721), in whose house GW may have lodged during his stay in Hackensack from 18 to 21 Nov., was in May 1775 named a member of the Bergen County committee of correspondence and lieutenant colonel of the county militia. Zabriskie conceived the plan of attacking Col. Abraham Van Buskirk’s battalion of Loyalists at the English Neighborhood and convinced Gen. George Clinton of its practicability. In March 1780 Zabriskie was captured during a British raid on Hackensack, and he was not exchanged until some weeks later.

The Heath Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society include an ADfS of a letter from Heath to GW dated 20 Dec. at Paramus that was written in reply to GW’s letter to Heath of 16 Dec. only. The letter of 20 Dec. apparently was not sent, being superseded by Heath’s letter to GW of this date, which covers many of the same subjects. The 20 Dec. draft does not include the paragraph regarding regimental pay or Heath’s account of the seizure of provisions and other goods from the vessel on the Hackensack River and various houses in the Hackensack area. It does include a more detailed account of the raid on the English Neighborhood (see n.2) and an additional item of intelligence regarding the captivity of Charles Lee (see n.10). For other information found only in the 20 Dec. draft, see nn.1, 3, 5, and 6.

1Heath says in his 20 Dec. draft that he received GW’s letter to him of 16 Dec. on 19 December.

2The account of this raid in Heath’s 20 Dec. draft reads: “Since I wrote your Excellency on the 15th Inst. finding that the new rais’d Levies for General How’s Army had taken post at the lower End of the English Neighbourhood, near Bergen Woods, and that they had just received new Arms—I was determined to attempt to dislodge them—Accordingly, the last night 250 Men from General Parsons’s Brigade, with the General Himself at their Head; & 250 of the Militia of Orange & Ulster Counties, under the Command of General Clinton, marched from this post, just after dark, & having arrived at the place, a little before break of Day this morning—Our Advance Guard came up to the house where their out Guard was posted—Their Sentinel hailed our Guard; who answered Friends, & rushed into the House, took Eighteen Prisoners (one of whom is a Sarjeant) & Sixteen new King’s Arms, which are safely brought here—The Advance Guard then marched on—a Light Horseman soon appeared, coming towards them, upon which one of our Men fired at him—On which he retired—This alarmed their Main Guard, who turned out, formed, & fired upon our Advance Guard, who returned the fire but were obliged to give way to Superior Numbers—We had one Man killed, & the Enemy were supposed to have Four—Our Guard being reinforced again, advanced, and the Enemy made off into the Woods—Our Troops returned to Camp, about one O’Clock, having performed a March of more than 40 Miles.” In a postscript to the 20 Dec. draft, Heath writes: “The Design of our late Expedition was to have routed the Main Body of the Enemy, but it appeared that they were Three miles further down which rendered it impracticable—One of our Parties fell in with a small party of Hessians, & would have taken them, had it not been for the accidental discharge of a Musket.” See also the “List of Prisoners Taken at English Neighbourhood Decr 20th 1776” in MHi: Heath Papers, and Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 113.

3Heath says in his 20 Dec. draft that generals Samuel Holden Parsons and George Clinton met this informant during their march to or from the English Neighborhood. Israel Honeywell, Jr. (1744–1790), served as first lieutenant of the lower Philipsburg company in the 1st Regiment of the Westchester County, N.Y., militia until June 1778 when he became captain of the company. In 1779 Honeywell was named one of Westchester County’s commissioners for confiscating Loyalist property, and in May 1783 he lead a gang of about thirty men who savagely beat several accused Loyalists (see Ranlet, New York Loyalists description begins Philip Ranlet. The New York Loyalists. Knoxville, Tenn., 1986. description ends , 165–66).

4The enclosed letter from Robert Morris to Heath of 17 Dec. reads: “Since I saw you I am informed that a person in New York, who had an opportunity of being acquainted with the motions of the enimy, had advised a friend, to move her effects from Fish Kill to some place of safety, I am not at liberty to mention names, but make no doubt that such message was sent, and that the person sending might be acquainted with their motions—this I understand was before any movement of your Division” (DLC:GW).

5In the 20 Dec. draft Heath recommends that Vose’s three regiments remain “at or near Morris-Town,” and he reports that “Two Hundred & Fifty Highlanders with Two Field Peices, are posted a little below Aquakanack—We wish to dislodge them.”

6Heath writes in his 20 Dec. draft: “I feel anxious for those important posts (the Highlands) & shall move that way as soon as possible. . . . Col. Ford who is with the Militia of the state of New Jersey, at or near Chatham is Solicitous that I should move that way—But the Committee from the State of Massachusetts Bay, having upon their departure from Peeks-kill committed to my Care, their Commissions Beating Orders &c., with a Desire that I would break open all Letters that might come directed to them & carry into Execution whatever might be given to them in Charge, and that I would send to the State a List of Staff Officers for the Several Regiments in the Southern Department—I think my repairing to that place will best promote the public Service, & am happy to find that your Excellency has been pleased so to direct me.”

8The enclosed “Inventory of Sundries Taken at Hackensack in a Large Chest going to New York,” dated 17 Dec., is in DLC:GW.

9At this place on the manuscript of the ALS, Heath struck out the words: “and shall also acquaint the Convention of the State of New York with it, and.”

10The report of this intelligence in Heath’s 20 Dec. draft includes here the additional information: “& that they would hang him for Desertion.”

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