George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Clinton, 24 September 1778

From George Clinton

Poukeepsie [N.Y.] 24th Sepr 1778.

Dear Sir

I wrote your Excellency on the 20th Instant inclosing an Account of the Destruction of the German Flatts on the Mohawks River. Since I have been favoured with a Letter from Colo. Bellinger of which the inclosed is a Copy giving the particulars of that Unhappy Affair—Colo. Bellingers Letter was handed to me by Mr Herkimer Brother to the late General Herkimer who (as he is well acquainted with the Situation of that Country & the Distresses of the Inhabitants) I have prevailed upon to be the Bearer of this that he may afford your Excellency the fullest Information.1

From the first Appearance of Danger in that Quarter The Commanding Officers of the Militia of Albany and Tryon Counties have had my most positive Orders to keep out one fourth Part of their respective Commands on the Frontier And tho I am sensible my Orders have not been fully complied with; yet from the Returns made me it appears that a considerable Force has been constantly out on that Service; and I entertained Hopes that with the Assistance of Alden’s Regiment they woud have been able to have afforded some Security to the Frontier Inhabitants; but the Extensive Country to be guarded & the Want of Judgment in not fixing on the most advantageous Stations with some other Causes have rendered the Measures hitherto pursued ineffectual & I fear will End in the Total Loss of the many valuable Settlements on the River—Shoud this be the Case besides the Distresses which will be experienced by Individuals we will find it extreamly difficult to get the necessary supplies to Fort Schuyler and that important Post of Course very insecure.

I have never been favoured with more than two Letters from Genl Starke on the Subject of his Command—the one last Spring—the other the latter Part of Summer neither of any Consequence, and if I may Judge from this and the Common Report of the Inhabitants corroborated by Complaints of the Civil Magistrates I may reasonably conclude that he has paid a greater Share of Attention to the Support & Encouragement of the disafected Subjects of this State on the Grants in establishing their usurped Government than to the Defense of the Western Frontier & Protection of its Inhabitants2 I am Sir with the highest Esteem & Respect your Excellency’s most Obedt Servt

Geo. Clinton

ALS, DLC:GW. Clinton addressed the cover to: “His Excellency General Washington. Head Quarters at John Kains Fredricksburgh.” In the lower-left corner of the cover, Clinton wrote: “Pr Henry Herkimer Esqr.” The slightly variant text of this letter that is printed in Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends , 4:78–79, apparently was taken from a draft that has not been found.

Clinton wrote Robert R. Livingston on 23 Sept.: “The Army has left the [White] Plains & are posted along the Mountains from Danbury to West Point, Head Quarters at Jno. Kain’s at Fredricksburgh” (Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends , 4:76–77). From 20 to 25 Sept., however, GW apparently lodged at Reed Ferris’s house in Pawling, N.Y., about four miles northeast of Fredericksburg, before moving on 25 Sept. to John Kane’s house, which was also in Pawling (see GW to Johann Kalb, 22 Sept., n.1, and Elijah Fisher’s diary in Godfrey, Commander-in-Chief’s Guard description begins Carlos E. Godfrey. The Commander-in-Chief’s Guard: Revolutionary War. Washington, D.C., 1904. description ends , 282). Except for trips to Fishkill from 30 Sept. to 8 Oct. and from 8 to 9 Nov., GW lodged at Kane’s house until 28 Nov., when Kane was paid $144 in cash, which was equivalent to £57.12, “for use of his house &c.” (Revolutionary War Household Expenses, 1776–1780, DLC:GW, ser. 5).

John Kane (Kain, Cain; 1734–1808), a native of Ireland who had immigrated to America in 1752 and had become a prosperous farmer and merchant in Dutchess County, N.Y., was elected to the New York provincial congress in October 1775, but he refused to attend because he did not wish to countenance rebellion. On 22 Dec. 1776 the New York commissioners for detecting and defeating conspiracies ordered Kane imprisoned for allegedly receiving a certificate of protection from Gen. William Howe (N.Y. Committee for Detecting Conspiracies Minutes description begins Minutes of the Committee and of the First Commission for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies in the State of New York, December 11, 1776–September 23, 1778, with Collateral Documents. 2 vols. New York, 1924-25. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 57–58. description ends , 1:35–38, 40–43). Kane was released several weeks later after swearing not to communicate with the British. In August 1779, however, Kane was one of several men who crossed the lines to join the British at New York (see Stephen Ward to George Clinton, 31 Aug. 1779, in Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends , 5:250–51). In December 1783 Kane went to England, where the British government granted him a pension and reimbursement for his losses during the war. His family moved about the same time to Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia. Kane and his wife eventually returned to New York, where they died.

In his petition to Parliament detailing his losses, Kane said that his property at Fredericksburg included “a large and commodious dwelling house, containing ten rooms, a large storehouse 65 feet distant from the dwelling house with a stone building of one story between, which joined each.” In 1820 Kane’s grandson, John K. Kane, wrote that “The extreme buildings are of wood; the connection stone: the large dwelling house has never been painted; the other is red. The yard in front is planted with poplar trees. The range of buildings is about 100 ft long. The store building had dwelling rooms above” (Patrick, Washington’s Headquarters at Fredericksburgh description begins Lewis S. Patrick. Washington’s Headquarters and the Revolutionary Army at Fredericksburgh in the State of New York, September 19th to November 28th, 1778. Quaker Hill, N.Y., 1907. description ends , frontispiece).

1Peter Bellinger (1726–1813), colonel of the 4th Regiment of Tryon County militia and current commander of Fort Herkimer at German Flats, N.Y., says in the enclosed copy of his letter to Clinton of 19 Sept.: “On Thursday the 17th Inst. about Six in the Morning, the Enemy attacked fort Dayton on the North Side of the German Flatts, & burned and destroyed all the Houses Barns & Grain, and drove a great number of Horses & horned Cattle away with them. The Church, Fort, together with two Houses is all that is left on that side, and they had two Men killed & one wounded, the Enemy tried to take fort Dayton, but they kept them off. On the south side the [Mohawk] River they began about Six Miles above fort Herkeimer, & burn’d all the Houses, Barns & Grain quite down to the Church at Fort Herkeimer[.] they tried to set fire to the Barn, but we sallied out with what Men we could spare and kept them from destroying any more Houses.” Bellinger complains of lack of support in the past and asks for reinforcements to be sent to German Flats (DLC:GW; the full text of the letter is printed in Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends , 4:47–50). Bellinger was a brother-in-law of Brig. Gen. Nicholas Herkimer, who had been fatally wounded in an ambush at Oriskany, N.Y., in August 1777, and Henry Herkimer, the bearer of this letter.

2Authority over the New Hampshire Grants, which subsequently became the state of Vermont, had been bitterly disputed by New York and New Hampshire for many years.

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