George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Alexander McDougall, 25 January 1779

From Major General Alexander McDougall

Head Quarters Pecks-Kill [N.Y.] Janry 25th 1779


I had the Honor to address you by Captain Bedlow.1 I have not been favored with any of your’s, since that from Paramus of the 16th Ultimo. Your being absent from the Army, occasioned the Caution on the Address of my late Letters, “not to be opened [but] by the Commander in chief.”2

I take the Liberty to inclose correct Copies, of my Orders for Permits of Provision below, and the Regulation of military Prizes of Effects taken; which I hope will meet your Approbation.3 They are all things considered, the best I could devise—That no Officer or Inhabitant might plead Ignorance, to justify Irregularities or lax Conduct, I put the public to the Expence of the Press.

Four men of Reputation from Long-Island, lately banishd from thence, by the Enemy for treasonable Correspondence with us, confirm the Strength of the Enemy, and reduce the Number of British Regiments, to a Certainty, of there being at least fourteen—They are confident, that fourteen Companies of light Infantry are now quartered at South Hampton on Long Island. This Town, is at the E.S.E. part of the Island. In other Respects, they perfectly agree with the sensible Deserters, as to the Corps on that Island—They also confirm Delancy’s Brigade being there.

Poor’s and Wood’s Regiments of Militia, have not yet been dismissed. The former has been employed, on the Works at Kings Ferry; and as the Regular Troops were taken up with their Hutts, those at West-Point on hard Fatigue, it was judged expedient, to detain both, till I should be fully advised of the Strength and Cantonment of the Enemy—These being now obtained, I propose to discharge them the first of Febuary, if nothing extraordinary casts up4—Considering the Scarcity of Flour in this State, the extreme Difficulty of Transportation, and the impossibility of procuring Forage, to deposit on the Road: I beg to suggest it for your Consideration, whether it will not advance the Service to order Poor’s Brigade to these Posts?5—They can quarter in Nixon’s Cantonment, which are excellent Hutts; as the latter is to advance to Croton in a few Days, into Houses, to begin the Bridge and other purposes necessary for common Interest.6

When I have collated the Examination of Deserters, a Copy will be transmitted, stating the Position, Strength and Cantonment of the Enemy’s Corps, on York and Long Island. I wish to know what that is of the Enemy, on Staten Island and Powles Hook. I am with great Respect Your Excellency’s most Obedient and most humble Servant

Alexr McDougall

LS, DLC:GW; ADf, CSmH. The draft manuscript is docketed: “Copy to Genl Washington 25th Jany 1779, by stated express via of Morris Town.”

2The word “but” is supplied from the draft.

3These orders of 22 and 24 Dec. 1778 and 7 Jan. 1779, all of which McDougall issued at Peekskill, N.Y., are on a two-page broadside printed by Samuel Loudon, Sr., at Fishkill, New York. The enclosed copy of the broadside is in DLC:GW. McDougall’s order of 22 Dec. 1778 authorizes eleven specifically named Westchester County, N.Y., officials to issue permits to county residents living “at and below the White-Plains” to allow them to transport to their respective dwellings small quantities of provisions necessary to support their families, provided that their residences were not “within the Enemy’s works” and they were not “known and avowed enemies to America.” McDougall’s order of 24 Dec. 1778 prescribes the oath to be taken by applicants for the above permits, who were to swear or affirm that the transported provisions were solely for the use of their respective families. This order also includes the form of the permit, on which was to be written an exact list of the allowed articles. The provisions were to be transported only on public roads during daylight hours, and the permits were to expire three days after issuance.

McDougall’s order of 7 Jan. establishes detailed procedures for protecting the well-affected inhabitants of New York and Connecticut from illegal seizure of their property “under the pretence of military prize,” while also “giving suitable encouragement to those, who are under orders of military discipline, to prevent the cattle, horses, calves, sheep, &c. of the country, from being carried away by thieves and robbers to the Enemy.” Appended to the order in a postscript is the form of the certificate that was to be issued by Westchester County justices before any captured property could be sold or otherwise disposed of as a “lawful military prize.”

4Col. Ezra Wood’s Massachusetts militia regiment, which was employed in building barracks, was discharged by 4 February. Col. Thomas Poor’s Massachusetts militia regiment remained with the army a short time longer to complete an assigned duty (see McDougall to GW, 4 Feb.).

5McDougall is referring to the Continental brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. Enoch Poor, who was a brother of Col. Thomas Poor of the Massachusetts militia.

6For McDougall’s plans to build a new bridge over the Croton River a mile above its mouth, see his letter to GW of 10 Dec. 1778.

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