George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel Christian Febiger, 29 November 1778

From Colonel Christian Febiger

Hackinsack [N.J.]
29[th] of Novembr 1778

May it please your Excellency

In Obedience to Orders from Major Generall Lord Stirling to communicate to your Excellency as well as to him, what Intelligence I could receive and the Discoveries I could make of the Enemy’s Situation in New York.

I beg Leave to inform your Excellency that from severall persons I learn, that the Enemy have stopd for the present any further preparations for an Embarkation, this is further confirmed by their laying in large Stores of Wood, from severall paragraphs in their papers, a late Proclamation of the Commissioners in Consequence of a petition from the Merchants and Traders, allowing them a Prolongation of severall Priviledges therein mention’d till the 1st of June next,1 But a stronger proof is want of Transports, of which I am well convincd, they have but a small Number left. From a man who was two Days on Powles Hook, and whose Account, I find by my own Observations to be true I learn, that the 64[th] Regt of about 280 men and one Troop of the Queens light Dragoons are station’d there, on the hook are three Redoubts, one on the East End of the Hook appears circular & large, has two Buildings in it where the horse Keeps, Between the Center and the Western Redoubt lays the 64[th] encampd in Tents.

The Hook is abatied all round, and at the Distance of about 70 Yards apart are Redans, on the Edge of the Marsh is an advanced Foss filld with Water by the Tide, over which is a Drawbridge, from thence they advance a Sergt & twelve to a small Redan who advances and retires with the Morning and Evening Gun. A Sloop of 20 Guns lays between Hoback & York and a small Distance below Powles Hook lays the Admirals Ship, The Monmouth a 74, who was dismasted is refitting in the Docks, where also the Lord Townsend of 28[th] Guns double fortified Twelves, who has taken in the heavy Artillery and Waggons, that stood in the Commons near the new Goal, is refitting. On the 26[th] I sent Captn Parker an Intelligent & good Officer of my Regt & a party with good Guides to make what Discoveries he could of the Enemy’s Situation, inclos’d I send his Report to me,2 and their Situation is at present as it was except the Encampment mention’d is West of Fort Washington and now lessen’d to about 60 Tents and the Encampment near Bunker hill consists of Six Double Rows of 10 Tents each Side.

The Transports that saild were only 34 and from a Deserter, who left them in York, they had on Board 1800 Scotch Troop & one or two Regts of Hessians, But the Accounts of their Destination differs much: The Roebuck has saild and it is said had on Board the Comissioners, they are gone either in her or some other,3 it’s currently reported in new York, that Lord Cornwallis, Sir Wm Erskine and Genl Grey are going home soon. On the 27[th] I reconnoitred the Lines myself from above Fort Washington to Bergen point, and find them still working on their hutts, and from severall corroborating Accounts I learn that the Remainder of their Troops are Billetting in New York. By Orders from Generall Green receiv’d on Friday Morning 4 o’Clock,4 I detachd parties of horse and Foot, in Quest of the Villains that took Colo. Ward & Mr Bradford Captn Taliafero I order’d nearest on the Lines, his Report I likewise enclose,5 all the by Ways & Roads through Paskiak, Skralenburgh by Fort Lee and back to the Liberty Pole were scourd by Lt Smith with 8 light Dragoons Lt Cowherd with 10 Infantry mounted by different Routs well Guided, But unfortunately the Intelligence came too late, they were seen on horseback and trackd to the Fork of the Hoback and Bergen Roads, and I believe, that Colol Ward & Mr Bradford were carried to Hoback and crossd as they had taken the Bridge leading on to Hoback point or Island up after them.

the horses and plunder they carried over to Powles Hook. My Regiment is hardly sufficient to Keep necessary Guards for our own Security, which renders it very severe Duty to Keep a Guard at the Liberty Pole and parties out to intercept the Villains that are dayly carrying Supplies to the Enemy. Your Excellency may at the same Time depend on the Exertion of every Effort in my power both for the Security of the Post and preventing Supplies going in. I have the Honor to be May it please Your Excellency with all due Respect Your most obedient Most humble Servant

Christian Febiger Colo. 2nd Va Regt


1The British peace commissioners’ proclamation allowed imports to continue into British-occupied New York and Newport, R.I., suspending Parliament’s act of embargo for those two ports only (Royal Gazette, 25 Nov. 1778).

2The enclosed letter from Capt. Alexander Parker to Febiger, dated 26 Nov., reads: “Agreeable to your orders I set out this Morning with my party at 4 OClock and arived at the North River oppysiet Fort Washington about Sun Rise and observed that all the Armed Vesseles except one Row galley which lay above the Fort had gon out of the River, there was a small Incampment of about 250 Tents about a Mile to the Eastward of the Fort and about six Miles lower down between the Six & Seven Miles Stones was a large Number of Wiggworms or Hutts built up with Fur, or Sods of Earth to the Number of about 500 they seemed to be not finished as there was a number of Men at work on them, theire was only one other Small I[n]campment near Bunker Hill on the Island which I could Discovour I Continued my March as low down as Howbuck and about two OClock in the Evening I <eserverd> two Ships of the Line Sail out of East River and in a little time was Joined by a third which lay at the Watering Place, They in Company with about Thirty six Transports which likewise lay at the Watering Sailed down the Narrows with a Fair Wind & Tide, I allso <desedd> where there was a large quantity of Wood taken from this Side and caryed over as late as Yest<erday> to N. York, I discovourd Nothing else worth Relating Since I have bin out” (DLC:GW).

Parker (1755–c.1821), of Westmoreland County, Va., had been appointed an ensign in the 2d Virginia Regiment in September 1775; he was promoted to second and then first lieutenant in 1776 before attaining the rank of captain in June 1777. He continued serving with the regiment until the destruction of the Virginia Continental line at Charleston, S.C., in May 1780, when he escaped capture and subsequently took command of the amalgamated remnants of several regiments. He served until the end of the war. In 1790 he was appointed a major in the U.S. Army, and in July 1798 he dined at Mount Vernon (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:311). From May 1808 to December 1809 he served as colonel of the 5th U.S. Infantry Regiment.

4Friday was 27 Nov.; for Greene’s orders, see Greene to GW, 30 November.

5The enclosed letter from Capt. Benjamin Taliaferro to Febiger, dated 29 Nov. at Hackensack, N.J., reads: “The following will inform you of the steps taken by me, with my party, to intercept the Tories by which Colo. Ward & Assistant were taken.

“I proceeded with my party, (consisting of Two Subalterns, two serjeants, two Corporals, & 30 privates) to the lower Ferry, which I crossed about Sunrise—from thence into the Bergen Road: where on makeing the necessary enquiries of the Inhabitants, I was informed that a party of six horsemen, with a lead Horse, had been heard to pass about an hour before day. I marched from thence to the Road leading to Bulls Ferry; where I detached a Subaltern and 10 Men, with Instructions, to proceed immediatly to the Ferry; and there make such a disposition, as to prevent their passing the River; Observing to have all by ways patroled. I proceeded with the remainder of my party, down the Bergen road; to the Road leading to Weykock; & Hobuck, where I detached a Subaltern & Ten men, with instructions as above.

“With the remainder of my party I proceeded briskly on to Bergen; where I arrived at 8. O. Clock, & posted them in such a Manner; as to Effectually prevent their geting to York; by the way of Powler’s Hook, and was there informed by the Inhabatants, that a party of 6 Horsemen, with a lead Horse, had passed through Bergen abt ½ an hour before day—from thence I marched up the River to Weykock joined the Detachments from my Party, & returned to Hackensack, abt 8. O. Clock in the Evening” (DLC:GW).

Benjamin Taliaferro (1750–1821) served as an ensign in a company of minutemen from Amherst County, Va., in 1775, and was appointed a second lieutenant in the 6th Virginia Regiment in March 1776 and promoted to first lieutenant in August 1776. He was appointed a captain in September 1777 and transferred to the 2d Virginia Regiment in September 1778. Captured at the fall of Charleston, S.C., in May 1780, Taliaferro remained a prisoner on parole until the end of the war. He moved to Georgia in 1784 and served as president of the state senate 1792–96; from 1799 to 1802 he served as a Republican delegate to the U.S. Congress.

“Lt Smith” is probably Larkin Smith (1745–1813) of Albemarle County, Va., who was appointed a cadet in the 6th Virginia Regiment in February 1776 and became a cornet in the 4th Continental Light Dragoons in August 1777. He was later appointed a lieutenant, with a commission dating from September 1778, and he was promoted to captain in April 1780, serving until the end of the war.

Francis Cowherd (1753–1833) of Orange County, Va., was appointed an ensign in the 2d Virginia Regiment in May 1776, and was promoted to second lieutenant in September 1776 and to first lieutenant in June 1777. Captured at Charleston, S.C., in May 1780, Cowherd was promoted to captain during his captivity and exchanged in June 1781, serving until the end of the war.

A recent Loyalist raid to Kakiat, now the village of New Hempstead at Ramapo in Rockland County, N.Y., had resulted in the capture of mustermaster general Col. Joseph Ward and his assistant Col. William Bradford, along with papers containing the muster rolls of the Continental army (see Nathanael Greene to GW, 30 Nov., and Leiby, Hackensack Valley description begins Adrian C. Leiby. The Revolutionary War in the Hackensack Valley: The Jersey Dutch and the Neutral Ground, 1775–1783. New Brunswick, N.J., 1962. description ends , 188–91).

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