From Brigadier General William Smallwood
Wilmington [Del.] Decemr 27th 1777
A Fleet of 59 Ships, inclusive of a Frigate of 28, & a Sloop of 16 Guns came down the River Yesterday, & Anchor’d of[f] the Mouth of Christiana Creek in the Evening, & from the Number of Boats attending them, & stopping short of the Admirals Ship, when both Wind & Tide favored, I was induced to think the Enemy had in View an Attack on this Post last Night, but the Weather proved too unfavorable; two Incidents contributed to increase my Suspicion, these Ships having mostly from two to three Boats after each, the others I wrote you of, had their Boats all on Deck except the Eagle,1 & from Information that Genl Howe had changed his Position, & advanced a few Miles, his right & Left extending from the providence Road, to the white Horse on the Chester Road, & fronting towards Chester; but this may not be so, (for I am in such a disagreable Situation for want of light Horse, & Persons of Integrity to detach, that I cannot depend on any Intelligence I receive), but shoud this be fact, I thought the Positions wou’d favor their Views in Advancing, & securing their Retreat by way of the Boats, in a very Capital manner; & therefore made every necessary disposition to obviate their Designs, or at least to guard against a Surprize, & being surrounded by superior Numbers2—to effect this its laughable enough, to see my Officers detatched on long Tail Mares big with Foal, to watch their Motions, but what will not a Man risque and suffer for the good of his Country—I need not mention the extra Fatigue Vigilance & Duty put on the Officer & Soldier in this Instance, your Excellency must be a competent judge of this, & that their Duty & Fatigue is & will for some Time be equal to any thro the course of the late Campaign, which I flatter myself will induce you to send a Party of Horse, to aid and remedy this inconvenience—I have been favored with 30 Militia Men in all from this State, & General Rodney who I wrote to promises all in his power, but doubts its efficacy,3 I think if we can guard against their Advances during their Stay on this Tour, we shall for some Time remain quiet, & compleat our Fortifications refresh Cloath & discipline our poor distressed Soldiers; to accomplish which doubt not but that every Effort shall be exerted & in the mean Time I have the honor to remain with sincere Regard Your Excellency’s most Obedt Hble Sert
P.S. the Eagle & 92 Sail lye a little below this a few more heaving in Sight. a Deserter just came in but gives no acct thats new a Sailor taken yesterday says he belonged to the Roe buck but can give nothing New.
ALS, DLC:GW. Smallwood signed the cover and indicated that the letter was “favor’d by Capt. Longstreet.” The bearer may be Elias Longstreet (1747–1788) of Freehold, Monmouth County, N.J., who had been a captain in the 1st New Jersey Regiment since 1775, was taken prisoner in December 1776, and, apparently exchanged or paroled a short time afterwards, retired in September 1780.
1. Lord Howe’s secretary Ambrose Serle, on board the Eagle, wrote in his journal on 26 Dec. that the British fleet, which had spent 24 and 25 Dec. off New Castle, Del., “Fell down to Port Penn, off Reedy Island.” On the following day he wrote that “The Fleet of empty Transports, &c. bound to N. York, came down this morning, to the amount of 64 Sail, & anchored by us. The Rebels have formed a Post at Wilmington with 3000 men, evidently meaning to cut off all Supplies to Philadelphia from the great Peninsula of Maryland” (Tatum, Serle’s Journal description begins Edward H. Tatum, Jr., ed. The American Journal of Ambrose Serle: Secretary to Lord Howe, 1776–1778. San Marino, Calif., 1940. description ends , 269); see also Smallwood to GW, 25 December.
2. For other intelligence of British movements in the direction of Chester, Pa., see the letters to GW from John Clark, Jr., 25 and 26 Dec., and from Stirling, 24  , 25, and 26 Dec. 1777  .