George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Stirling, 29 October 1778

From Major General Stirling

Elizabeth Town [N.J.] Octobr 29th 1778

Dear Sir

I have to Acknowledge the receipt of your Excellency’s two letters of the 24th and one of the 25th. I would have wrote yesterday but was every Moment in1 expectation of hearing of some Movement of the Enemy, They Yesterday Afternoon began, In the Afternoon two Men of War and fourteen Transports Came to an Anchor at the Hook from New York, at the Same time two large Ships appeared in the Offing. By all the Accounts I have [been] able to Collect for these three days past their Embarkation is almost Compleated, and it is now universally belived it is for the West Indies and Hallifax; I expect every Moment another Messenger from Amboy and the Hook and as soon as they Arrive shall inform you. the Current at New York is that Lord Cownwallis is to Command the troops to the West Indies.2 the Conjectures about a total evacuation are various many think it is to take, others say a Garrison is to be left, it is Certain Sir Henry Clinton has rejected the Scheme of the Refugees, and I fancy the report of their embodying the Militia on Long Island Arose from their endeavours to get [the] Association of the Refugees signed, but it meets with very little Success.3 Colonel Morgan is gone with Woodford’s Brigade to some place near the great Road from Morris Town to Kings ferry five or Six or Seven Miles South [of] Savarins where he will be Convenient for mending the Roads as well as guarding the pass.4

I shall enclose Rivingtons paper of the 24th with some papers I received Since my last.5 and Am your Most Humble Servant


Eleven oClo. Colonel Laurens is Just arrived in his way to Philadelphia.6

ALS, DLC:GW; copy (extract), M-Ar. The extract consists of the fourth, fifth, and seventh sentences of this letter, as well as excerpts from Stirling’s first letter to GW of 30 October. The same or similar extract that was enclosed in GW’s letter to d’Estaing of 31 Oct. has not been identified. On 1 Nov. GW replied to this letter from Stirling and Stirling’s letters to him of 26 and 30 Oct. (PWacD: Sol Feinstone Collection, on deposit at PPAmP).

Stirling apparently enclosed with this letter five recent intelligence reports from American spies and British deserters: “L” to Matthias Ogden, 25–26 Oct.; John Vanderhovan to Cornelius Vanderhovan, 26, 27, 29 Oct.; and a memorandum of intelligence in Stirling’s writing, 27–28 Oct., all of which are in DLC:GW. A copy of all or part of the letter from “L” to Ogden of 25–26 Oct. was enclosed in GW’s letter to d’Estaing of 31 October.

“L,” who was an American spy on Staten Island, says in his letter to Ogden of 25–26 Oct.: “The troops is most all aboard the transports. a great many imbarcked this day from New York, more regiments order’d to imbarck from staten Island. there Destination as far as I Can learn, and which is the Oppinion of most of the Officers is for Different Islands in the West inges [Indies]—no Genl Officer is mentioned yet to Command these troops it is Said there will be neer ten thousand Sold[ier]s goes in this fleet. The troops which lay at the hook is allso imbarck’d—the forty Second regiment is order’d on staten Island. Genl [Cortlandt] Skinner Commands there as yet, to morrow Sails the Cork fleet they Consist of twenty Sail of Ships from Sixteen to twenty two guns, when ever you want to no the number of Troops on Staten Island, pray Send, as I am very well acquainted with the Com[missar]y that Serves out there Provision.

“[P.S.] <W>hat ever you receive from me in writing you may rely on.

“[P.P.S.] Monday 26th: I was in Compy this morning with one of the Com[missar]ys of Foriege. he told me the fleet had Drawn foriage for Forty Days, and expect to Sail in a Day or two.”

John Vanderhovan, another American spy on Staten Island, wrote in his letter of 26 Oct. to his father, Cornelius Vanderhovan, at Metuchen, N.J.: “On My Arrival at this place I found all things in motion the Army was On the move and No One Could form any Conjecter if theire would Be Any troops Left or not I went On Board of Capt. Wilkerson who informd me that the Number of troops Imbarked and to imbark Amount to ten full Ridgments the Battallion of waldecks Encluded I took Mr french one of they pilots On Shoar who Informed me that the Convoys to the fleet Consist of two Seventy fours One Sixty and three friggots And that the Vigilent was taking in water But wheather She was to Go with the fleet was Uncertain the pilots thinck that the fleet is Bound for South Carrolina And the Whispers at the Coffe House Are that the peopel of Southcarolina Have assured Sir Harry [Henry Clinton] that if He would Send an army into that State At this time they Could Raise Six thousand men to His Assistance As they Hotheaded party ware all Gone to the Eastward After washington all the troops that is Likely to Be Left On this Island Are the fifty seventh [Lt.] Colenel Buskercks [Abraham Van Buskirk’s] Coar are All at preasent the Report is that the forty Second Are to Lay at Deckers ferry this w[i]nter General [Cortlandt] Skinner is this morning ordired Down to the Lines at Blasing Star the fifty seventh Lays Still Heare But I thinck they are only Sent to Cover the Imbarcation of the others.

“As the Stores are all taken out of the Store at Deckers ferry 27th the fiftyfifth and fifth are All Gon on Board this morning All things in the Greatest Confusion the fleet is Exspected to Sail to morrow the offcers thinck they Shall Return to this place Soo[n] And many of them Have Left theire Horses this morning with the Inhabitents And would not Sell them at any price Still Some of my few friends Heare thinck they are Designed for an atack o<n> Boston But I do not I thinck they are for they Suthren Collenies . . . .

“N.B. I Shall Remoove from this that the Rebels Does not Get theire Hands On me.”

On 27 Oct. at “Nine Oclock,” John Vanderhovan wrote his father at Metuchen: “Since I Closed my Letter the thirty seventh Have All Returned to the watring place according to Exspecttation and the Island is Left Quite Naked Except One of the New Levas [levies] and Capt. [William] Chandler tell me that General Skinner is to moove Down to Wandels in the morning the Report among the offcers is that the thirty seventh is to Man the Redout at Richmond this winter and the New Levars [levies] to Garrason the Redouts.”

Stirling’s intelligence memorandum for 27–28 Oct. reads: “[Oct.] 27th three deserters from the 40th say their Regiment Embarked yesterday Morning from Staten Island.

“two Regts of New Levies Embarked on Saturday [24 Oct.] there remains on Staten Island only the 17th & 35th Regts both Weak.

“the Embarkation bound to the West Indies and Hallifax.

“a letter from Monmouth of 24th Octor Say’s, the Enemy burnt 8 or 10 Houses as many Shipping, Killed 1 Lt Col. 1 Capt. 3 privates Lost a frigate.

“three Jews from New York, say they intend an Intire Evacuation.

“[Oct.] 28th all quiet at the Hook.

“L. & J.V.H. [John Vanderhovan] both Staten Island.

“Yesterday Evening the two Encampments on Staten brooke up set fire to their Guard House.”

John Vanderhovan’s letter of 29 Oct. to his father at Metuchen, which he wrote at New York, reads: “since my Last nothing Meterial Haith tra[n]spired the fleet Still Remains in the Same Situation All the Alteration is the Ogmentation [augmentation] to the Imbark[a]tion of Seven Sail of transports With two Battallions of Col. Dellencas [De Lancey’s] Levas [levies] the offcers of which Are Ordered to Be On board tomorrow By Nine Oclock Bets in the Coffe house this morning was offered of three to two Hundred Gueneys [guineas] that the fleet and Army now Imbarcked and to Imbarck Are Distened for Some place in Virgina And So fully Satisfied Are the Merchants in this City that they Have Rased the price of Rum within these three Days from Six to thirteen Shillings pr Gallon and Every Other produce according in perposion Not Less then twenty thousand pounds Value of Goods Have Been Shipped On board Small Vessels to follow the fleet And All the English marchents Have Been takeing up all the Vessels they Could find to follow the army this turn of matters you may form your Own Oppinyon of But for my part As I am in Duty Bound to Speake my Sentements to you Sinceerly I Belivve them Bound to Some part of the Carrolinaes Or Virginia to Harris [harass] as I Said Befour As they are Determined Niver to face the army Again if they Can Avoid it And they thinck they Can Get theire Before any Army Can Be Braught Against them the Situation of Staten Island is Lonesum at preasent All the Garreson At preasent is three Companies of the thirty seventh and Skinners first Battallion Amounting in all to four Hundred men And Seven Hundred waldeck Granedeers in the Redouts at the watring place And Richmond One Battallion of New Leavs [levies] at the flag staff And Capt. [William] Stewarts troop of Hors [Provincial Light Dragoons] who padrole [patrol] from Deckers ferry to the Redout at the watring place from Nine till Day Light all the Gard Ships Left at york is One Seventy four two Sixtys and three frigots with the vigelont [Vigilant].”

1Stirling inadvertently wrote “I” at this place on the ALS manuscript.

2The West Indies expedition that sailed from Sandy Hook on 3 Nov. was commanded by Maj. Gen. James Grant.

3For the Loyalist refugees’ petition to the British peace commissioners, see Charles Scott to GW, 15 Oct. (second letter), and note 2 to that document.

4Stirling is referring to John Suffern’s tavern at the entrance to Smith’s Clove, New York.

5See Stirling to GW, 26 October. The enclosure was James Rivington’s Loyalist New York newspaper, the Royal Gazette, for 24 October.

6John Laurens had taken a leave from his duties as one of GW’s aides-de-camp to visit his father, Henry Laurens, in Philadelphia. John Laurens returned to GW’s headquarters between 7 and 12 Dec. 1778 (see GW to Joseph Reed, 12 Dec. 1778, RPJCB).

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