George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel Stephen Moylan, 7–9 May 1778

From Colonel Stephen Moylan

Trenton [N.J.] 7th[–9] May 1778

Dear Sir

I received a Letter this day from Major Clough he mentions that the 63d & 55th Regiments are Stationd as guards to a fatigue party of 200 men who are employed Cutting wood, the fatigue is daily relievd, their lines are Coverd by three Small redoubts without Cannon. he reconoitr’d their picket which was Strongly posted, Sent two of the Militia horse in sight of their Lines, which as he expected brought out twelve of the enemies Light horse, on whom he charged—two of them were wounded, and dismounted, and two others made prisoners not far from their picket,1 the four prisoners and three horses with their accoutrements, are now here, and the Major wishes that the men, (who behav’d with the greatest resolution) coud soon receive the value of their prize, as an encouragement to them at the opening of the Campaign, the horses are fit for the Regt and he thinks £100 each will be a moderate price for them—Col. Shreve is at Fostertown2 in the neighborhood of the enemy, but not Strong enough to disturb them. General Dickinson tells me he can draw out four or five thousand men, to Cooperate in any plan which your Excellency may form. if we coud make good a post at Billingsport, it woud alarm the enemy exceedingly.

8th May 1778 it is nine at night, and am just returnd Sir from Bordentown, which the enemy left about two hours ago as near as I coud judge there were about 1000 Landed there, having previously Burnt, the Frigats and Several Ships which were up a Creek near that town, I have Since Seen them rowing up the Pensilvania Shore inside of Byles Island, there are three Gallies and thirty six boats full of Brittish Light Infantry Mr Bordens house and two Small ones in the town were laid in ashes, it is probable they will come up here this night,3 General Dickinson has collectd about 200 militia and is in expectation of a Larger number Coming in tomorrow, he is very active, and has all the assistance that our horse can give him if they Land at this place I will order Blands Regt to join us in the morning, at which time I will send this to your Excellency, with any occurrencies that may happen this night.

the 9th the enemy lay last night on the Pensilvania Side about four miles from the Ferry, I am of opinion that they mean to collect the Stock & Grain at that Side, and not come any farther up the river. I have the honor to be Sir Your most obligd H. St

Stephen Moylan


1British engineer captain John Montresor apparently was referring to the same skirmish when he wrote in his journal on 5 May that “The rebels intercepted a Corporal and 3 men of Hovenden’s Light Dragoons, which were taken prisoners out of the Patrol of Six” (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 , 489).

2Forstertown was a hamlet about six miles south of Mount Holly in Burlington County, New Jersey.

3Lt. Col. Francis Downman described the British expedition in his journal entry for 7 May: “This night three of our row galleys, an armed brig, and a schooner went up the river with a detachment of the 2nd light infantry on each side, and set fire to the Washington and Effingham frigates, a large ship pierced for 24 guns, a privateer sloop, nine ships, and 16 or 18 small vessels, all of which were consumed, also a quantity of naval stores, and some thousands of tent poles, pegs, etc. The house of Mr. Borden at Borden town, Mr. Kirkbright’s and the ferry house were by some means set on fire and burnt to the ground. The troops and vessels returned on Sunday without losing a single man” (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 , 59; see also Philemon Dickinson to GW, 9 May, and GW to Henry Laurens, 12 May; for other British accounts, see Maj. John Maitland’s report of 11 May in P.R.O.: Colonial Office, Secretary of State’s Correspondence with Commander-in-Chief, North America, and 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 , 489–90). GW had ordered a detachment under Brig. Gen. William Maxwell to intercept the British, but they failed to do so and returned to camp a few days later (see GW to William Maxwell, 7 May).

Biles Island, a part of Falls Township, Bucks County, Pa., is on the Delaware River across from Bordentown and Trenton, New Jersey.

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