George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 2 September 1778

From Major General William Heath

Head Quarters Boston 2d September 1778.

Dear General

8 O’Clock A.M.

By the observations made at Hull (Nantasket) the last evening at 6 o’Clock, the Enemy’s Fleet, in sight, consisted of Twenty Ships, one Sloop & one Schooner within about Two leagues, veering E.S.E., from Light house Island, 8 or 10 of them Ships of the Line (one wearing a blue Flag at her fore Top mast head)1 8 Frigates the others small. Between 1, & 3, O’Clock this morning 6 or 7 Cannon were fired in the Bay, and at this time, the wind being fresh at North they are not to be seen; perhaps will stand in again when the wind will permit. Whether their intention is only to block up the Count D’Estaing’s Squadron until a Reinforcement arrives, or whether a landing is to be made by the Enemy at Providence or to the Southward of this place time must discover. Nine of the neighbouring Regiments of Militia are coming in for the defence of the most important Posts around the Harbour. The whole of the State Regiment of Artillery are with General Sullivan; I have wrote him to forward them here with all possible dispatch.2

On Yesterday a Mr Shirley, who was some time since taken by a Connecticutt Armed Vessel, a Gentlemen of Family & fortune, of whom perhaps your Excellency has heard mention made,3 observed to some Gentlemen in conversation, on the appearance of the Fleet, that it was a matter that would not soon be over, that General Clinton would Land at Tiverton or there abouts and push his march this way; whether this is an idle conjecture or worthy of notice you will best judge from circumstances better known to you than me.

The master of a Vessel just arrived informs that he saw yesterday about 100 Sail of Transport standing eastward. I have the honor to be With great respect Your Excellency’s Most Obedt Servant

W. Heath

P.S. Eleven O’Clock—The Signals are again out.

Would request that your Excellency will forward the enclosed Letter to Congress by the first Express your Excellency sends there.4

LS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers.

1Lord Richard Howe ranked as vice admiral of the blue.

2See the two letters from Heath to Maj. Gen. John Sullivan, 1 Sept., 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 , 2:289.

3Heath was referring to Henry Shirley, captured by the Connecticut navy ship Oliver Cromwell while aboard the privateer Admiral Keppel en route to Jamaica in April 1778. For more on the capture of the Keppel and on Shirley’s claims of importance, see Hinman, Historical Collection description begins Royal R. Hinman, comp. A Historical Collection, from Official Records, Files &c., of the Part Sustained by Connecticut, during the War of the Revolution. Hartford, 1842. description ends , 604–6.

4Heath’s letter to Henry Laurens of this date conveyed much the same intelligence as this letter, with added information about the position of the French fleet that Heath had sent to GW in his first letter of 1 Sept. (DNA:PCC, item 157).

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