George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 27 August 1777

To John Hancock

Wilmington [Del.] August 27th 1777.


I this morning returned from the Head of Elk, which I left last night.1 In respect to the Enemy, I have nothing new to communicate. they remain where they debarked first. I could not find out from inquiry what number is landed—nor form an estimate of It, from the distant view i had of their Encampment, But few Tents were to be seen from Iron Hill and Greys Hill, which are the only eminences about Elk.2 I am happy to inform you, that all the Public stores are removed from thence, except about seven thousand Bushels of Corn. This I urged the Commissary there to get off as soon as possible, and hope it will be effected in the course of the few days3 if the Enemy should not prevent, which their situation gives them but too easy an opportunity of doing; The scarcity of Teams in proportion to the demand will render the removal rather tedious though I have directed the Quarter Master to send some from hence to expedite the measure. A part of the Delaware Militia are stationed there, and about nine hundred more from Pensylvania are now on the March that way4—I also intended to move part of the Army that way to day, but am under the necessity of defering it, till their Arms are put in order and they are furnished with ammunition, both having been greatly injured by the heavy rains that fell yesterday and last Night. I have the honor to be Sir your most Obet Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW franked the addressed cover of the LS. Congress read this letter on 29 Aug. (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 , 8:696).

1On the way to Head of Elk on 26 Aug., GW and his party breakfasted at Christiana, Del., where Alexander Hamilton paid Barnaby Sanigan expenses of £6.6.6 (vouchers and receipted accounts, 1776–80, DLC:GW, ser. 5, vol. 29). Timothy Pickering says in his journal entry for 26 Aug. that GW “went with all the horse, save Sheldon’s, to reconnoitre” (Pickering and Upham, Life of Pickering description begins Octavius Pickering and Charles W. Upham. The Life of Timothy Pickering. 4 vols. Boston, 1867–73. description ends , 1:152). A storm prevented GW from returning to Wilmington that night. “He took shelter in a farmhouse, very close to the enemy,” Lafayette later wrote, “and, because of his unwillingness to change his mind, he remained there with General Greene and M. de Lafayette. But when he departed at dawn, he admitted that a single traitor could have betrayed him” (Lafayette’s Memoir of 1779, Lafayette Papers description begins Stanley J. Idzerda et al., eds. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790. 5 vols. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977-83. description ends , 1:92; see also Lafayette, Mémoires, 1:21–22, and GW to Landon Carter, 27 Oct. 1777). The British were aware of GW’s presence at Head of Elk on 26 Aug., and General Howe’s aide Captain Muenchhausen says in his diary entry for 28 Aug., the day on which Howe arrived at Head of Elk, that “General Washington spent several days in the same house where we are now lodging, and did not leave it until yesterday morning” (Muenchhausen, At General Howe’s Side description begins Friedrich von Muenchhausen. At General Howe’s Side, 1776–1778: The Diary of General William Howe’s Aide de Camp, Captain Friedrich von Muenchhausen. Translated by Ernst Kipping. Annotated by Samuel Smith. Monmouth Beach, N.J., 1974. description ends , 26; see also André, Journal description begins John André. Major André’s Journal: Operations of the British Army under Lieutenant Generals Sir William Howe and Sir Henry Clinton, June 1777 to November 1778. 1930. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends , 38).

2Grays Hill is in Maryland about two miles northeast of Head of Elk. Iron Hill is in Delaware on the south side of the Christina River about five miles northeast of Head of Elk. Howe’s troops landed without tents or baggage, which did not come ashore until a few days later. “The troops,” British chief engineer John Montresor wrote in his diary entry for 25 Aug., “hutted with Rails and Indian Corn Stocks” (Scull, Montresor Journals description begins G. D. Scull, ed. The Montresor Journals. New York, 1882. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vol. 14. description ends , 442; see also Lydenberg, Robertson Diaries description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends , 143; 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 , 75; and Howe’s orders for 18, 27 July and 29 Aug., in Kemble Papers description begins [Stephen Kemble]. The Kemble Papers. 2 vols. New York, 1884-85. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 16–17. description ends , 1:473, 478–81).

3The draft and Varick transcript both read: “a few days.”

4At this place on the LS manuscript, Meade first wrote: “to join them.” He then struck out those words and wrote “that way” above the line. A similar change is made on the draft.

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