George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General William Heath, 17 January 1777

To Major General William Heath

Head Quarters Morris Town 17th Jany 1777

Dear Sir

Capt. Bell of Philada a very intelligent and credible person, made his Escape from New York about ten days ago. He informs that there were no troops upon Long Island but Delanceys Brigade, and not more than 1000 Men upon York Island, all the rest having joined the Army now in Jersey. And that Transports were gone up the sound to bring back the Troops from Rhode Island, in order to make a Junction of their whole Army, to endeavour to give us a total defeat.1 This I think by no means improbable. Now if you could get any certain information of their Strength within the Island (which I think may be done by sending in persons who have taken protections) and should not find it to exceed what Capt. Bell reports, a Stroke might be struck, before they are reinforced from Rhode Island, that would ruin them.

This is a Matter of such Consequence, that I would have you spare neither pains nor Expence to gain Intelligence—We have heard that they were building Sleds in New York, which I suppose are for drawing Wood this Winter, but it would be well for your Spies to learn what use they are really intended for.

I have directed Genls Spencer and Arnold to follow the Enemy if they leave Rhode Island and fall down the Sound again.2 I am Dear Sir Yr most obt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, MHi: Heath Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1For the escape of Thomas Bell from British captivity on 8 Jan., see the Continental Congress Executive Committee’s second letter to GW of 9 January. Bell’s intelligence report, a copy of which is located in PHarH: Records of Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Governments, 1775–90, is undated but apparently was made shortly after his escape. The report reads: “Captain Bell—Left New York on Wednesday the 8th—Instant—Informs that a Number of Transports went on the 3d Jany from New York to Rhode Island to bring 5,000 Troops as reinforcement to New York—Last Sunday Night [5 Jan.] the Enemy at New York took all the Waggons and Artillery from the New Parade to a place unknown—There is not above 1000 Men in N. York—on Long Island Genl Dealancy & Col. Brown have about 1200 all new raised Troops. Kniphausen is at Fort Washington with Some Highlanders & Hessians and have built there New Barracks saw John Andrew & William Allen at N. York and Jo. Galloway is at Foxcrafts Place—Gilbert Barclay is at New York—Col. Morris and Genl Elijah Lawrence have abt 200 Troops at Middletown in the Jersy—Genl Lee was at Brunswick last Wednesday—Genl Worster is within 30 Miles N. York with 10 or 12000 Troops.”

2For GW’s orders to generals Spencer and Arnold, see GW to Joseph Spencer, this date.

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