George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General John Sullivan, 22 August 1778

To Major General John Sullivan

Head Quarters White Plains Aug. 22nd 1778

Dear Sir,

I have received information, which has the appearance of authenticity, that the enemy have from an hundred to an hundred and fifty vessels in the sound near Frog’s point. This intelligence, I think it necessary to communicate to you that you may be upon your guard.1 What may be the purpose of these vessels can only be matter of conjecture. On the supposition, that the enemy have reason to believe the French fleet so remote, either in consequence of the storm or other circumstances as to afford them an opportunity to operate by way of the sound, it is perhaps most probable, these vessels are designed to transport a body of troops for the relief of those on the Island.

On another hand, the enemy may think the present moment favourable for evacuating New York; concluding the French fleet may be so much in want of necessaries; as to oblige them when they get into port again, to remain there awhile for fresh supplies; and, at the same time, so much injured, by being several months at sea, and by the late storm, as to stand in need both of rest and repairs. In this case, they might deem it expedient to conceal their real aim, by creating a jealousy of the sound; while the ships sent there may also serve to facilitate their embarkation.

They may perhaps meditate som incursions along the coast by way of diversion; or they may possibly have it in view to operate against this army, by way of the Sound, which however appears to me the least likely supposition.

Whatever may be the meaning of it, the fact itself deserves attention; and I dare say, you will use every precaution in your power to obtain the earliest discovery of the approach of these vessels, if they should be destined your way; and to secure the troops under your command from any untoward accident. And I am equally persuaded, that you will not suffer any ill-founded or premature alarm to produce any change in your disposition, which may injure or frustrate the enterprise, you are carrying on. The present state of the wind makes me hope, that if Rhode Island is the enemy’s object, this letter will get to you before they can accomplish it. I am Dr Sir Yr Most Obedt servt

Go: Washington

P.S. I doubt not you have taken every measure in your power to secure the passage across to the Main on any emergency.2 If the expresses stationd between this place and you, go by way of providence as this route is productive of delay, you will give directions to have it changed. Your letter of the 19th was received yesterday.

LS, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, NhHi: Sullivan Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. In addition to the changes indicated in notes below, there are many small differences in wording between the draft and the LS, none of which alter the meaning. A note with the LS, signed by Hamilton, reads: “The expresses are positively ordered to ride day & night without fail.”

1On the draft, Hamilton continued this sentence: “against any attempts which may be intended to relieve Rhode Island.”

2On the draft, Hamilton wrote, instead of the preceding three words: “in case it should become necessary.” The remainder of the postscript does not appear on the draft.

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