George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major John Clark, Jr., 3 November 1777

From Major John Clark, Jr.

Whiteland [Pa.] Novr 3rd 1777 8 oClock P.M.

My dear General

This moment my Spy from Philadelphia came to me he is an exceeding intelligent Fellow, I counterfeited the Quaker for once, & wrote a few lines to Sr Wm informing him the Rebels had plundered me, & that I was determined to risque my all in procuring him intelligence, that the bearer wou’d give him my name; a noted Quaker, who I knew had assisted him. The Letter was concealed curiously & the General smiled when he saw the pains taken with it told the bearer if he wou’d return & inform him of your movements & a state of your Army he shou’d be generously rewarded1—My Friend walked the City saw a very few Troops, only those who kept the Guards, there were in the State House Yard 35 Waggons, loading with Ammunition, the Waggoners told him they were going to the lower Ferry & the Ammunition was intended for an Attack on Fort Island,2 no other Waggons (except what are halling Boards to the Middle Ferry, where they are building a Bridge) are to be seen,3 the Enemy are encamped in front on the high Grounds extending from the upper Ferry towards Mr Dickinsons House4—a Camp of Hessians on the high Ground above the Middle Ferry south of the Centre House;5 on each side the road, is a six Gun Battery, with 6 Brass field pieces in each; pointed towards the Schuylkill, 8 Iron pieces on the Wharf from 4 to 9 pounders at the M. Ferry, 3 Brass Field pieces between the Batteries & the Wharf at the foot of the Hill; an acquaintance of my Friends a refugee, whom I know well, assured him they were preparing 3 Bridges to be of Boats, with Timber laid on them one of which is nearly ready, & that they were building a Floating Batty to carry 36 Guns, to Attack the Forts,6 that they were determined To Attack you, but enquired very particularly about General Potter his situation, & his number; some of the Tories who went in, look very gloomy & have but little to say, the Inhabitants are suffering & expect to draw Rations—My Friend was treated with great politeness by the Officers—he viewed the Delaware shore seen no Boats—he Says a flag came over the River with an Officer a Hessian General who was wounded at red bank & that he is dead of the Wound7—my Friend has a pass from Sr Wm, a Young Nobleman (my Spy says) is very ill, who was wounded at German Town, & ’tis expected won’t recover—the Enemy are Stacking of Hay in abundance on the Common—the common talk is, they will make one grand effort & endeavor to possess red bank, & Fort Mifflin, if they don’t succeed, quit the City & go on board their Shipping—they also report that Clinton & his Troops are at Brunswic, & Burgoyne near N. York, Genl Howe said when he read the Letter he knew the Writer wou’d do him every service in his power, but that he had reced the intelligence of Burgoyne & his Army having surrendered.

I have been at Chester to Day, 80 sail of Men of War & Transports ly opposite, chiefly of the later; 129 Sail came up to the Hook & Chester Yesterday, from below New Castle; chiefly Transports; a Spy from Hook, assures me they are busy building or repairing Boats on board & are continually at work, a few Marine came ashore & gave a Bushel of Salt for a little Corn, the Tory Inhabitants say they believe the Enemy mean to embark at these places, the Shipping ly in one line extending from a little above Chester to the Hook, I am now going down in hopes of executing a little enterprize at dawn of Day with Captn Lee—If your Excellency will please either to make out a State of the Army & your intended movements according to Sr Wms desire, or leave it to me, my Spy will carry it & take a further view Of their Camp &Ca8 I am so fatigued having rode 40 Miles that I can scarcely write you intelligibly & hope you will excuse any omissions—I have 20 Miles to ride to Night before I can meet Lee—Lord Howe in the Eagle lies opposite Chester, while I was there, a Gun fired as a Signal towards New Castle9—I dread Genl Potters situation, & believe the Enemy intend very soon to attempt a surprize,10 I think his rear & left flank exposed, & wish they may not affect it—they are certainly preparing to make a move one way or other—pray give me every instruction you may think necessary & I will endeavor to observe them, & obey your Orders with all the exactitude of a better officer. I am with love to Genl Greene & all Friends your Excellency’s Obedt Servt

Jno. Clark Junr

P.S. I have just heard 800. Prisoners were taken at Rhode Island, wou’d thank one of your Aids for the News at Camp, & a quire of paper by the bearer.11

I requested my Friend to be a little bashful in his enquiries & Conduct, his next tour I hope will be through all their lines as all suspicion will be removed (if they entertain any) by that time.


1Neither Clark’s letter to William Howe nor the “noted Quaker” has been identified.

2The Continental army’s installation at Fort Mifflin was located on Fort Island in the Delaware River. The lower ferry probably is Gray’s Ferry.

3The British on 5 Nov. began construction of a bridge “formed by Logs” to replace the floating bridge washed away by the storm on 28 Oct. (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 , 473).

4The Upper Ferry crossed the Schuylkill River about five-eighths of a mile above the Middle Ferry. John Dickinson’s country house was on the Germantown Road near Fair Hill, a short distance north of Philadelphia. The British burned the house in November 1777 (see GW to Henry Laurens, 23 Nov., and note 9).

5Center House tavern, a popular two-story “Public House of Entertainment” in Philadelphia since the late 1740s, was on the south side of Market Street west of Broad, near the race ground of the city (Pennsylvania Gazette [Philadelphia], 26 July 1764, 14 Sept. 1785).

6The British were building three floating batteries at this time (see Henry Lee, Jr., to GW, this date, James Potter to GW, this date, and note 2, and GW to James Mitchell Varnum, 8 Nov.). British engineer Capt. John Montresor says in his journal entry for 29 Oct. that construction of the batteries had been retarded by the recent heavy rains (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 , 471).

7The Hessian assault on Fort Mercer at Red Bank had been commanded by Col. Carl Emil Kurt von Donop. Donop, who was wounded and captured, died on 29 Oct. and was buried at the fort (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 , 97–104, 399).

9Lord Richard Howe had arrived at his station off Chester on 6 Oct. (see Howe to Philip Stephens, 25 Oct., Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 12 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964–. description ends , 10:288).

10GW passed along Clark’s warning in his letter to James Potter of 5 November. Two days later, GW instructed Potter to have part of his forces rejoin the main army in order to make his detachment a less attractive target to the British.

11GW reported this particular rumor to Henry Laurens in his letter of 1–3 November. For his later doubts about its accuracy, see GW to Clark, 4 November. A similar rumor circulated among the British troops at Philadelphia and was discounted by 7 Nov. (see 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 , 62). Howe included it in his letter to Lord George Germain of 19 Nov.: “The last accounts I have received from Rhode Island, mention a descent which the enemy threatened upon that place about the 30th of October, and of considerable preparations they had made with that design; but the disposition of the Admiral and Major-general Pigot to oppose them, together with the spirited behaviour of the inhabitants, who associated for the defence of Newport, induced them to desist and separate.” The letter was extracted in the 1777–78 issue of the London journal, the Remembrancer description begins The Remembrancer; or, Impartial Repository of Public Events. 17 vols. London, 1775–84. description ends , 5:503–4. For more on the expedition to Rhode Island, see GW to William Heath, 5 Nov., and note 2, Laurens to GW, 30 Nov., and note 7.

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