George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Stirling, 20 October 1778

From Major General Stirling

Elizabeth Town [N.J.] October 20th 1778 at Noon

Dear Sir

The foregoing is Copy [of] a letter I wrote your Excellency yesterday Afternoon from Amboy,1 I have Since received the two enclosed letters from Major Howell,2 he is Certainly Mistaken as to the Number of Ships which Sailed yesterday as they were Counted while at Anchor by several persons at Amboy who all Agreed they were between 120 & 130 15 Sail of the Line and 10 or 12 frigates, there Came down to the hook in the Afternoon near 30 Sail, two of them were either the New 44 Gun or 50 Gun Ships Two frigates & the rest Transports, These all Sailed this Morning by day light with a Strong breese at West.3 Nothing remains now at Sandy hook but two Guard Ships, one of them a Ship of the Line defective in her Masts, which for want of proper timber they have not been Able to repair Since the great Storm.

I have received your Excellency’s letter of the 17th. I hope you will think I have anticipated your request’s with regard to Intelligence. I have not yet been to Obtain any Certain Intelligence of what Ships of War remain within the Narrows; but I do not belive there is one Capital Ship there, two or three fifty fours are the Only large ones I had any account of.

I shall Continue to have a good look kept up, and to give you the Earliest account of whatever happens & am your Excellency’s Most Obedient Humble Servt


ALS, DLC:GW; copy (extract), enclosed in GW to d’Estaing, 22 Oct. 1778, FrPNA, Fonds de la Marine, ser. 4, vol. 146, f. 352. The extract consists of the first paragraph of Stirling’s letter.

1This letter is preceded on the manuscript by a duplicate ALS of Stirling’s letter to GW of 19 October.

2Stirling enclosed the letters that Richard Howell wrote on 19 Oct. to him and to Brig. Gen. William Maxwell, both of which are in DLC:GW. Howell’s letter to Maxwell reads: “Since my <last> I am recover’d from the fever & am happy to inform you that my Spy is return’d this Morning—There are but 90 sail of Ships in all—of which 21. Sail are men of war—The Transports are said to Contain 7000 Men—more are coming and their Destination is uncertain but suppos’d by those onboard to be for the West-Indies or Carolina—The Fleet of men of Warr are entended to blockade the harbour of Boston by the Conversation of the Officers. They allow that they can not injure Ct De Estaing in harbour but will try him if he comes out—Byron & Gambier are both here—Some of these Vessels are going home as there are a great many Officers onboard who have resignd—Bill allen [Lt. Col. William Allen of the Pennsylvania Loyalists] & his Garrisson are really to Embark & the refugees are Coming to the Hook—The fleet I mention’d in my last was not that from Egharbour but a fleet of 13 sail from Cork with provision—A Packet & two other Ships arriv’d at the same Time.

“The fleet will sail for the Eastward as soon as the wind serves & I shall send you an Immediate express on that Occasion.”

Howell’s letter to Stirling, which he wrote at Tinton Falls, N.J., “19 October at Night,” reads: “I am happy to assure your Lordship in return to your obliging Letter of the seventeenth, that not one Movement of the fleet can take place without my perticular Notice—I wrote this Morning my Intelligence by a Spy I can depend on & am now to Inform Your Lordship that the Fleet I mention’d in my last is sail’d, or the greater Part of them, to the Eastward. They went out in a Line with the Transports dispers’d through the Several Intervals—The Garrisson of the Hook will Embark to Day & the Refugees under Colo: Taylor take post at the Hook. Another fleet is expected tomorrow or next Day as there are more Ships falling down & all that Came before are not Suppos’d to be gone out—’Tis Impossible to count Them steering eastward in a Close Line but I immagin’d there were 80 or above. I have sent an Officer to Squan to look out if there should be any steering Southward of which your Lordship shall have the earliest Intelligence. . . . P.S. Your Lordship will please to inform Gen: Maxwell, that I have just receivd his Letter of the 8th last, which I will answer to his Satisfaction, by the next Opertunity; as I have now a fever that oppresses me a little. In my last account I told you of a report that Gaudelope was taken taking it from the account of my Spy verbatim, but upon reflection since, I told him he must be mistaken & he says he thinks it was not Gaudelope but some other Island which he can not recollect—Two Men since I am writing, declare they Know the spy which I have here, & that he is an Inhabitant of Newyork—Please to give me orders respecting him.” The French had captured the British island of Dominica, not Guadeloupe, in the West Indies on 7 Sept. (see GW to Horatio Gates, 3 Oct., and note 3 to that document).

3Stirling may be referring to the sailing of Admiral Byron’s fleet, which was seeking to engage d’Estaing’s fleet off the Massachusetts coast, and of a large convoy of transports bound for England, both of which left Sandy Hook together on 18 or 19 Oct. (see Richard Howell to GW, 9 Oct., and note 3 to that document).

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