George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General James Mitchell Varnum, 14 November 1777

From Brigadier General James Mitchell Varnum

Woodberry [N.J.] ½ past 3. P.M. 14th Novr 1777.


Your Favor of Yesterday is received. Major Thayer has the Command at Fort Mifflin at Present. Inclos’d you have his Sentiments1 I have continued nearly four hundred Rank & File in the Garrison—All Colo. Smiths Troops are bro’t to the Main to get a little Rest. I have no more Troops fit for Duty—I am very happy that a tolerable Prospect of holding the Post appears. Last Evening my whole Company of Artillery went into the Fort, Capt. Lee commands. He is brave and good. It is very unhappy that the Wind has been so great; However, we shall be now able to send Supplies, than for several Days. An Attempt upon Province Island is desirable, but impossible for us, who have no Troops, but fatigued ones, & those in less Force than the Enemy’s upon that Place. As your Orders appear discretionary, in some Measure, we shall risque many things in attempting to keep the River. I think we may hold the Island till such Time as you can send us five Hundred Troops to make a second Relief. If that cannot be done, we will endeavour to hold it.

The large Howitz we want very much. I am, in Duty, your Excellency’s

J. M. Varnum

N.B. I am now going with Colo. Smith to Fort Mifflin, & shall be able, in the Morning, to give you a particular Acct.

ALS, DLC:GW. Varnum signed a pass on the cover that reads: “The Express who goes with this, is to pass unmolested.”

1Varnum enclosed a letter sent to him by Maj. Simeon Thayer of the 2d Rhode Island Regiment, written at Fort Mifflin, Pa., on this date. The actual enclosure has not been identified, but William Sprague’s nineteenth-century transcript reads: “By this I would give you to understand that the cannonade we have here we value not, nor can conceive how any one would dream of delivering up so important a post as this at present; from Canon we have nothing to fear, if there should be an sudden storm—If, sir, you will send us a reinforcement tonight of 100 or more men, it will certainly be a great means of the salvation of this garrison. A floating battery of the enemy appeared this morning—We have silenced her for the present. . . . P.S. A Boat with a number of men deserted from our fleet but this minute—they may give some unfavorable account of our state, and insinuate some notion of our evacuating the fort—all well none hurt since my arrival here—The garrison in good spirits” (DLC:GW).

Simeon Thayer (1737–1800), a veteran of the French and Indian War from Providence who had been appointed captain lieutenant of the 2d Rhode Island Regiment on 3 May 1775, was captured at Quebec on 31 Dec. of that year and released on 1 July 1777. Having been promoted to major of the 2d Rhode Island on 1 Jan. 1777, Thayer served at Fort Mercer and at the Battle of Monmouth, where he lost an eye on 28 June 1778. He resigned from the army in 1781, and throughout much of the following decade he served as first a lieutenant colonel and later a brigadier general of the Rhode Island militia. Thayer unsuccessfully petitioned GW for a federal appointment on 15 June 1790, enclosing a manuscript diary of his “Sufferings and Adventures . . . in the two last Wars in America.”

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