George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 21 October 1778

From Major General William Heath

Head Quarters Boston 21th October 1778

Dear General

Yesterday I received the honor of your favor respecting the resignations of Captains Brown, Langdon &c. the Enemy’s leaving the Jersies, return to New York and preparation to embarke a number of Regiments, and your Excellency’s instention to march a Detachment of the Grand Army to the Eastward as far as Connecticutt river. The Letter is without date which obliges me to acknowledge the receipt of it by recitals as above.1 I shall endeavour to pay strict attention to its injunctions.

I am in sentiment with your Excellency that the embarkation of the Enemy is for the West Indies, but much revere the precaution which your Excellency has taken, in case the Enemy by late reports have been practising deception whilst their intentions may be this way.

Yesterday Brigadier General Portail gave me in writing his sentiments of the Works necessary to be Erected and repaired for the defence of this Town & Harbour, copy of the same I apprehend he has, or soon will lay before Your Excellency.2 His plan, on the largest Scale although perhaps the best that can be projected, is so extensive that if it were adopted would be impracticable to effect this Season, and some part of it I think, in particular that which respects fortifying the Islands in the Harbour, especially without a fleet’s being here, requires some consideration to determine its expediency; but of this your Excellency’s superior judgment will be the best criterion.

The inclosed is just put into my hand by Colonel Walker of the Board of War, the matter has been communicated to several members of the Council, and I am informed the Officer has been before Mr Edwards, not only one of that Body, but lately choosen a member of Congress for this State, who is very anxious to have the matter attended to. Colonel Walker has been extremely cautious not even to hint to me who the Officer is, but I am led to conjecture it is Captain McFall of the Queen’s Raingers, he was taken at Bennington. Colo. Walker informs me that he (the Officer) is known to a great number of Men in the State of New York and Connecticutt who have enroled their Names and stand ready to join the Enemy &c. I wish a hint from your Excellency on this matter, as I apprehend the Officer is on the point of being exchanged.3 I have the honor to be with the greatest respect Your Excellency’s Most Obedient Servant

W. Heath

p.s. I must beg the favor of your Excellency to forward the Letters, that accompany this, to Philadelphia by the first oppertunity—I hope your Excellency will excuse me in giving you this trouble as I have no other means for their conveyance.


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

1Heath is referring to GW’s letter to him of 17 October.

2For Duportail’s plan for the defense of Boston, see his letter to GW of 20–21 Oct., and note 1 to that document. GW apparently did not receive Duportail’s letter of that date until the end of October (see GW to Duportail, 31 Oct.).

3The enclosed letter that Thomas Walker, who was also in Boston, wrote to Heath on this date reads: “I have the honour to acquaint you that in the neighbourhood of this City, we have a british officer prisoner of war, of the rank of Captain who is very desirous of quitting his party, & coming over to ours, from a full conviction, of the justice of our cause; & an utter Abhorrence of the cruelties & inhumanity, of the warfare, in which he has been employed (which has been among the Savages) & in case he should be exchanged, & be sent back again to canada, he is apprehensive that he shall be detached as a partisan in the same detestable service, namely to murder & scalp his friends & benefactors who have treated him during his captivity with the utmost lenity & kindness. This officer in proof of his sincerity, is willing to take the oath of Allegiance to the united States, or to sign any paper that may be thought necessary to prove that, he has not been tampered with, but that, it is his own free voluntary Act And he is ready & able to make important discoveries, relative to the manner of their carrying on the indian war upon our frontiers, the places they stop at, in coming, & going to & from Canada, in order to get Intelligence, the persons most active therein, as well as their concealed friends & Abettors now residing in the northern & western parts of these States, many of whom have taken the oaths of Allegiance to & bear Commissions under King George, & have been enrolled to the number of between three & four thousand, & the register of their names already delivered in to Govr Tryon, & stand ready, when occasion offers, to rise in arms, & support the King’s Troops.

“This officer at the same time that he makes a full tender of his Services to the united States, is not solicitous of being employed in the military Line, wherein he was bred, neither does he stipulate any thing for himself, except only that his name, & offers may be carefully concealed, lest his good Will to our cause should prove his ruin, nevertheless he confides that he shall meet with nothing but honorable treatment and hopes that in case he should by this Step lose his baggage which he left in Canada, & his arrearages that the loss will some way or other be made good to him” (DLC:GW).

Thomas Walker (c.1718–1788), a native of England who had emigrated to Boston in 1752 and had become a merchant in Montreal in 1763, had been obliged to return to Boston in 1776 because of his strong support of the American cause. Timothy Edwards, who was a member of the Massachusetts council from 1775 to 1780, had been elected a Massachusetts delegate to Congress on 8 Oct., but he did not attend any of the sessions. David McFall, a native of Ireland, had served as a sergeant in the British 26th Regiment of Foot before being appointed a lieutenant in the provincial forces by Gen. Guy Carleton in 1776. Promoted to captain in the Queen’s Loyal Rangers by Lt. Gen. John Burgoyne at Fort Edward, N.Y., on 6 Aug. 1777, McFall was captured by the Americans at Bennington, Vt., ten days later. He did not desert to the American side. In August 1780 he went to Quebec on parole in order to arrange for his exchange and received there his pay since 6 Aug. 1777. For GW’s views on McFall, see his letter to Heath of 27 October.

Index Entries