George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Brigadier General Charles Scott, 25 September 1778

To Brigadier General Charles Scott

Fredericksburg Sep. 25th—78

Dear Sir,

Your Letter of yesterday 9 Oclock is just come to hand; & by the Officer you will receive twenty five Guineas.1 I earnestly entreat, that you will endeavour to get some intelligent person into the City, & others of his own choice to be Messengers between you and him, for the purpose of conveying such information as he shall be able to obtain & give. It is of great consequence to the French Admiral to be early, & regularly advised of the movements of the British Ships of War, at New York; and he depends upon me to give this advice—vague & idle stories therefore, which have no foundation in fact, ought not to be communicated by the person employed because false intelligence may prove worse than none; he should therefore examine well into, & compare matters before he transmits accts; always distinguishing facts of his own knowledge from reports. If Mr C——could be engaged in a Work of this sort, his discernment, & mean of information, would enable him to give important advices.2

To me, it is very important to get the earliest intelligence of the imbarkation of Troops—their numbers—&, if possible, destination. I am surprized that you should not be able to ascertain the motions & advance of the party from Kings bridge. They can scarce have in view to turn your right; but this should, nevertheless, be well guarded—You doubtless know that there is a passage over Croton at the Mouth,3 and that, that rout, is the nearest to Peaks kill, & the Pass of the highlands at the Continental Village; which, of all things, should be secured by us; therefore, in addition to what was mentioned to you yesterday I again repeat, that you must not let them get above you, either by Land or Water, so as to sieze that Pass before you.4 If they had a mind to inclose you, they would aim at your left flank. I am perswaded your vigilance will guard against either, & surprizes. I am Dr Sir Yr most Obedt Ser.

Go: Washington

ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1The bearer apparently was Cornet James Paton of the 2d Continental Dragoons (see Scott to GW, 24 Sept. and 26 Sept. [first letter]). The twenty-five guineas sent to Scott are recorded on folio 14 of GW’s Revolutionary War Expense Account in DLC:GW.

2GW is referring to Samuel Culper, the pseudonym shared by two American spies who during 1778 began furnishing secret information from New York City, Manhattan Island, and Long Island. Abraham Woodhull of Setauket, Long Island, signed his intelligence reports as “Samuel Culper” or “Samuel Culper, Sr.,” and his colleague Robert Townsend, a merchant from Oyster Bay, Long Island, who had moved to New York City early in the war, usually signed his reports as “Samuel Culper, Jr.” The general procedure was for Townsend to send his reports to Woodhull and for Woodhull to report to Scott or Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge, who in turn communicated the intelligence to GW. After Scott’s departure from the army in mid-November 1778, Tallmadge served as the principal intermediary. The identity of these two spies and other informants was protected with the utmost secrecy, not only during the war but long afterwards. Tallmadge says in his memoir only that “This year (1778) I opened a private correspondence with some persons in New York (for Gen. Washington) which lasted through the war. How beneficial it was to the Commander-in-Chief is evidenced by his continuing the same to the close of the war. I kept one or more boats constantly employed in crossing the [Long Island] Sound on this business” (Tallmadge, Memoir description begins Memoir of Col. Benjamin Tallmadge, Prepared by Himself, at the Request of his Children. 1858. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends , 29).

3GW may be referring to a ferry or a ford at this point on the Croton River. On 28 Dec. 1778, Maj. Gen. Alexander McDougall wrote to Gov. George Clinton from Peekskill, N.Y.: “In a few days, I shall begin to erect a new Bridge over Croton, about a Mile from its Mouth, to facilitate my Communication with Sing Sing, as well as to shorten the distance ten miles from Kings Ferry, to the [White] Plains” (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 , 4:430–33). The older Pine’s Bridge crossed the Croton River about five miles above its mouth.

4See Tench Tilghman’s second letter to Scott of 24 Sept., which is quoted in the source note to Scott’s letter to GW of 23 September.

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