George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Nathanael Greene, 14 November 1777

From Major General Nathanael Greene

at Mr Morris Nov. 14th 8 oClock P.M. 17771

Dr Sir

We have just returnd from reconnoitering the grounds about Darby, the Islands below and up to the middle ferry—we purpose to go out again in the morning—from the present view Darby appears the only eligible position for the Army for the purpose of their crossing the river—It is the opinion of several of the gentlemen that the enemy may be best dislodged from the Islands by detachment, others are of opinion that it would be dangerous unless the party was coverd, by the Army, but all are of opinion, it is practicable either the one way or the other and considering the good consequences that will result from it, it ought to be attempted—Darby is not the most eligible post I ever saw, but it is not so dangerous as to discourage the attempt to relieve fort Mifflin.

The flag was flying at Fort Mifflin at sunset this evening, there has been a very severe cannonade today—enclosed is a letter from Col. Greene respecting the condition of the fort2—The enimy have got up two or three vessels into the Schuylkill, they were attempting to get up a two and thirty gun frigate, between hog Island and Province Island by the best observation we could make her guns were taken out and follow’d her in a sloop—She did not get up, but what was the reason I know not3—The Comodore should be directed to sink a vessel or two in the new channel as soon as possible, and the fort encouraged to hold out to the last—There is but one bridge over the Schuylkill and that is at the middle ferry—I examined the river myself—from the falls to the mouth.

The enemy have got a chain of redoubts with Abatis between them from one river to the other, part of this is from information and part from my own observation—The Schuylkill is very deep and rapid, too deep for foot to ford it—the bridge at Matteson’s ford is not in so great forwardness as I could wish, the commanding officer sais it will be done in three days, but a bridge of waggons can be thrown over for the foot to pass if that should not be done.4

The enimy are greatly discouraged by the forts holding out so long and it is the general opinion of the best of the citizens that the enemy will evacuate the city if the fort holds out until the middle of next week.

There is plenty of forage in this country especially about Darby—we purpose to examin the ground a little more about Darby tomorrow and if possible return tomorrow evening—From the best accounts we can get there is but five Ships with troops on board in the river. I am [with] great respect your Excellencys most Obedient Servt

Nath. Greene

ALS, DLC:GW.

1Greene’s headquarters was at the house of Anthony Cadwalader Morris (1745–1798), known by the British as the “rebel house,” in Haverford, about seven miles southwest of Philadelphia in the vicinity of Darby. An extract of a letter written at East Bradford in Chester County, Pa., on 12 Dec. gives an account of alleged British atrocities at the house about one month later: “I this day went down to Haverford, and there found the most destructive piece of work I ever saw. Your brother Anthony Morris’s house and place is robbed of every thing the merciless wretches (the English) could take away. They have not even left them or the children any thing of food, neither bed or blanket, or any cloathing except what they had on their backs.—Every thing of his, your’s, and your father’s, they could not take off, they took care to destroy; and what is worse, Anthony is wounded, but I hope not mortally: The English light horse overtook him about a mile from home, with a party of our troop, who were obliged to retreat; they pursued, caught him, and wounded him in fifteen different places. All the fingers of one hand are nearly cut off, and the rest are so bad that Dr. [Jonathan] Morris was obliged to take one off; his upper lip is split, a piece cut out of his nose, both cheeks cut, after which they robbed him of his horse and money. The officer then left the five who had attacked him, and told them to split the damn’d rebel down, and then follow him; after they had given him several wounds on the head, some of which went through his scull, they left him, and he crept down to one Weiss’s, where he now lies, his wife is with him and in great distress, not having any thing to assist him with. I have left them money, but it is of no service, every neighbour being in the same situation with themselves. . . . The devils have gone to Philadelphia” (Pennsylvania Gazette [York], 20 Dec. 1777). Morris’s daughter Debby Morris petitioned GW for a federal office for her father in a letter of 16 Dec. 1792.

2Col. Christopher Greene’s letter to Nathanael Greene has not been identified.

3Royal Artillery officer Francis Downman gives an account of the British attempt to move H.M. armed ship Vigilant and H.M. sloop Fury up the Delaware River, beginning on 12 Nov., to assist in the attack on Fort Mifflin: “Our men-of-war are approaching nearer the chevaux-de-frise. The Vigilant is to come up as soon as the tide will admit her. She is not to come over or through any part of chevaux-de-frise, but up a creek between Province Island and another small isle. Her station is to be on the angle of the rebel grand battery and on the right of our batteries. A sloop, likewise, with three 18–prs. is to follow the Vigilant, and after she is moored the sloop is to anchor just ahead of her. The men-of-war are to approach as near the chevaux-de-frise as possible and to keep up a fire on the fort and prevent their galleys from falling on the Vigilant. . . . November 13th.—The wind blows exceeding hardly; the Vigilant cannot come up, nor the floating battery get down” (Whinyates, Services description begins F. A. Whinyates, ed. The Services of Lieut.-Colonel Francis Downman, R.A., in France, North America, and the West Indies, between the Years 1758 and 1784. Woolwich, England, 1898. description ends of Francis Downman description begins F. A. Whinyates, ed. The Services of Lieut.-Colonel Francis Downman, R.A., in France, North America, and the West Indies, between the Years 1758 and 1784. Woolwich, England, 1898. description ends , 50; see also Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964—. description ends , 10:472). On 14 Nov. the Vigilant’s captain, John Henry, wrote in his journal that at 1:30 p.m. his vessel “weighed and run over the Bar, on which we had but 11½ feet water, and Anchd. in our former Berth between Hog Island and Bow Creek” (Journal of H.M. Armed Ship Vigilant, Naval Documents, 10:492–93). The Vigilant finally was brought to its station about noon on 15 Nov., when it joined the Fury in “pouring in a tremendous fire on the fort” and at the American galleys (Whinyates, Services of Francis Downman description begins F. A. Whinyates, ed. The Services of Lieut.-Colonel Francis Downman, R.A., in France, North America, and the West Indies, between the Years 1758 and 1784. Woolwich, England, 1898. description ends , 51; see also Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964—. description ends , 10:501).

4Matson’s Ford, Pa., on the Schuylkill River about twelve miles northwest of Philadelphia was located at present-day Conshohocken. The officer commanding the detachment at Matson’s Ford has not been identified.

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