George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 22 July 1778

From Major General John Sullivan

Providence July the 22d 1778

Dear General

I have the Honor to Inclose you the Intelligence reced from Rhode Island Last night which is not only from Good Authority but is Corroborated by Intelligence Received from various other Quarters.1 Three Regiments of the Enemy Encamped yesterday on Connannicut Island Three more came out & Encamped in the North part of Rhode Island next Bristol: They may have Some Design upon us but I Rather Suppose they are preparing to guard agt the French Fleet.2 I think it necessary to keep you advised of their movements here that you may the better know how to Regulate your opperations—twenty one Sail of Square Riggd vessels (mostly Ships) went up the Sound Day before yesterday for newyork. I cant Learn what was in them. I am pretty Certain they had no troops on Board. I cannot help Supposing that the Enemy will Soon bring the principal part if not the whole of their Army this way Either for the purpose of operating in the Quarter, or to make their Retreat in this way to Hallifax: most probably the Latter. If they Intended to Act offensively in the York Department they would not have Sent off Such a [number] of Troops from their Main Army So Soon after a Defeat—which Convinced them of your Exelys Superiority in the Field: to Suffer their whole Army to Lay in newyork inactive is what they Cannot afford & what in my opinion they will never attempt[.] to Leave a Garrison there while there is a Superiour Army in the Field & a greater Naval Force at the Entrance of the Harbor would (at Least) be Hazarding the Loss of the whole as Their Supplies would Effectually be Cut off both by Sea & Land unless The British Fleet from England Should Arrive and oblidge The French Fleet to remove for I can by no means think They would Leave their Garrison trusting to Supplies by way of the Sound as a Superiour Army might possess itself of Such posts in the Neighbourhood of Hell gate as would Effectually Cut off all Supplies through that Channel it Therefore follows of Course that unless they are Certain of the Speedy arrival of a British Fleet to assist them they must Remove & Even then Should the French Fleet which Laid at Brest follow their Situation would not be much mended: nor Can I See any Solid Advantage Arising from their Coming to Act offensively in this Quarter as they must Labor under the Same naval Disadvantages and in a Short time if not at once be Checked in their operations by Land. for these & many other Reasons (among which is that of their having Sent two Foreign Regiment with a Considerable part of their Heavy Cannon from Philadelphia to Hallifax)3 I am of opinion that they will Try to make their Retreat to Hallifax but that at all Events they will Quit New york your Excellencey will pardon this Trouble & believe me to be with Every Sentiment of Respect & Esteem your Excellenceys most obedt Humble Servant

Jno: Sullivan

P.S. Since writing the above I Recd the Inclosed Intelligence from Colo. Williams have also Examined the Deserter & find he adds that he Saw the Enemy Embarking their Light Brass pieces in order to Come & attack this place4 I have in Consequence called in the militia to oppose any Design they may have formed against this place & to keep them within proper Bounds.5

J: S:


1Rhode or Aquidneck Island is the name given to the large island upon which Newport, R.I., is located. Sullivan probably enclosed the following undated and unsigned letter: “The Boat is returned this Moment, about Midnight. Tis generally beleived there, that the Reinforcement they have lately had exceeds 3000 effective Men. They are very Busy in fortifying Brenton’s Neck and the Island of Conanicut; and have removed all their heavy cannon there; in Expectation of the French Fleet, which they have Intelligence of. I shall remain here, in order to make further Tryal to Morrow Night, in Hopes of fuller Intelligence …” (DLC:GW). Similar information was given by exchanged prisoners who arrived at New London, Conn., on 21 July (Connecticut Gazette; and the Universal Intelligencer [New London], 24 July).

2The diary of Capt. Frederick Mackenzie of the Royal Welch Fusiliers indicates that this movement took place on 20 July. He noted on that date that “The 38th Regt marched from Newport this morning, and encamped on Windmill [Butts] hill, a short distance from the right of the 22d; and fronting Howland’s ferry” and that “two Battalions of Anspach embarked at 9 o’Clock in flat boats, and encamped on that part of Connonicut called Beaver’s tail.” The purpose, Mackenzie said, was “to possess the Island, and cover the Batteries at Fox-hill, (which fires on the Narraganset passage) and the Dumplins; (which fires on the entrance of the harbour)” ( Mackenzie Diary description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 2:315; see also Döhla, Hessian Diary description begins Johann Conrad Döhla. A Hessian Diary of the American Revolution. Translated and edited by Bruce E. Burgoyne. Norman, Okla., and London, 1990. description ends , 80).

3This information had been reported in the Independent Chronicle. And the Universal Advertiser (Boston), 9 July, citing “a Gentleman late from Halifax.”

4Lt. Col. James Williams wrote Sullivan on this date: “I herewith send you a Deserter from the Island of Conanicut, He informs Me that the Fleet which came in to Rhode Island, which you have had information of, brought three thousand effective Men, and that another Fleet went out yesterday, Containing twenty two sail mostly Ships and was followed by two or three others which went out in the Evening the Deserter informs that another reinforcement is expected in Consisting of four thousand Men, And that the Light House is ordered to be lighted for them to Come in by; The Light House was certainly lighted last night, I saw it myself, which was the first time it has been lighted, since the British Army has been in this State—The Deserter says, their design is to burn Providence which is to be done next thursday Night. A Number of Tents were Sprung yesterday on Conanicut, they are fortifying on the Island, with a considerable Party, the Fleet mentioned by the Deserter was seen from our Shore” (DLC:GW). James Williams of Scituate, R.I., was appointed a lieutenant in the Rhode Island Army of Observation in June 1775 and a captain in the Rhode Island militia in 1776. Appointed a captain of the 2d Rhode Island Regiment in February 1777, he became a major in the Rhode Island state brigade in June of that year and was promoted to lieutenant colonel in February 1778.

5After receiving the first intelligence, Sullivan had written New Hampshire governor Meshech Weare and Massachusetts council president Jeremiah Dummer Powell, reporting British strength and adding, “Pray will it not be necessary to reinforce this Post with some Militia.” The second intelligence roused him to send out more forceful letters, asking the governors to “forward immediately to Rhode Island such numbers of Militia, as can possibly be spared.” Sullivan also called out Rhode Island militia and requested assistance from Connecticut (Sullivan to Weare, to Powell, to William Greene, and to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., all 22 July, in Hammond, Sullivan Papers description begins Otis G. Hammond, ed. Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan, Continental Army. 3 vols. Concord, 1930-39. In Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society, vols. 13–15. description ends , 2:96 –99).

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