George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major Benjamin Tallmadge, 21 March 1779

To Major Benjamin Tallmadge

Middlebrook Mar. 21st—79


With this Letter you will receive Fifty Guineas for S—— C——r, which you will cause to be delivered as soon as possible, with an earnest exhortation to use them with all possible ĩconomy, as I find it very difficult to obtain hard money.1

I wish C—— could fall upon some more direct channel by which his Letters could be conveyed, as the efficacy of his communications is lost in the circuitous rout. if he could fall upon a method of conveying his Letters to Genl Maxwell at Elizabeth town, or to Colo. Shreive at Newark, they would come to me with more dispatch, & of consequence render his corrispondance more valuable.2

As all great movements, and the fountain of all intelligence must originate at, & proceed from the head Quarters of the enemy’s Army, C—— had better reside at New York—mix with—and put on the airs of a Tory to cover his real character, & avoid suspicion3—In all his communications he should be careful in distinguishing matters of fact, from matters of report. Reports and actions should be compared before conclusions are drawn, to prevent as much as possible, deception—Particular attention is to be paid to the arrival, & departure of all Fleets—and to the alterations in the cantonments of the Troops and their respective movements with the destination of them, if to be come at, and before it is too late to profit by the knowledge. All reinforcements, whether of whole Corps—detachments—or recruits (for the purpose of filling their regiments) to be carefully marked, & the numbers—description—&ca properly designated. All detachments and the strength & destination of them to be scrutinized with an eye equally attentive. The temper & expectation of the Tories & refugees is worthy of consideration, as much may be gathered from their expectations & prospects—for this purpose an intimacy with some well informed Refugee may be political & advantageous. highly so will it be, to contract an acquaintance with a person in the Naval department, who may either be engaged in the business of providing Transports for the imbarkation of Troops, or in victualling of them. Many other things will occur upon reflection with out an inumeration of them; I shall therefore only add my wishes that the whole may be placed on such a footing as to answer the end4 most effectually, & that I am Sir Yr Very Hble Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. I wish, merely for curiosity, and that I may be prepared with sufficient knowledge for any future favourable contingency, to know the depth of Water through Hell gate? the largest Ship of War that has ever passed it? & the largest that can pass it?5

G. W——n

ALS, DeHi; DfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1GW wrote, and Tallmadge signed, a receipt dated Middlebrook, 21 March, that reads: “Then received from General Washington the Sum of Fifty Guineas (in gold) to be delivered to S—— C—— for the purpose of secret intelligence from New York” (Revolutionary War Accounts, Vouchers, and Receipted Accounts, 1776–1780, DLC:GW, Ser. 5). Samuel Culper had requested additional funds in his letter of 26 Feb. to Tallmadge (see GW to Tallmadge, 5 Feb., n.1.).

2Intelligence reports from Samuel Culper, the spy pseudonym used by Abraham Woodhull, originated in or near New York City. Either Woodhull or a courier then carried the reports roughly fifty-five miles eastward to Setauket on the north central coast of Long Island, where they were sent across Long Island Sound by boat under the supervision of Capt.-Lt. Caleb Brewster to a point on the opposite shore near Fairfield, Connecticut. A dragoon then rode northeast to New Haven before turning westward to Danbury and beyond to reach GW at his headquarters. The distance of this ride increased nearly 100 miles when GW moved his headquarters from Fredericksburg, N.Y., to Middlebrook. The inability of Tallmadge and Woodhull to develop a safe, more direct route across the narrow, but easily and heavily patrolled, waterways separating New York City and New Jersey frustrated GW (see GW to Tallmadge, 29 May and 13 and 27 [first letter] June, MiU-C: Clinton Papers).

Brewster had written a letter on 26 Feb. from Fairfield, apparently to Tallmadge, which reads: “I have Return’d from the Island this Day Genl Erskine Remains Yet at South Hampton, he has been reinforc’d to the Number of 2500 they have three Redoubts at South and East Hampton and are heaving up Works at the Canoe place at a Narrow pass before you get into South Hampton They are building A Number of flat Bottom Boats there went A Number of Carpenters Down last week to South Hampton. it is thought by the Inhabitants that they will cross over to New London after the Continental Frigates. Col. Hewlet Remains Yet on Lloyds Neck with 350, Wood Cutters included. Col. Simco Remains at Oyster bay with 300 Foot & light Horse. There is no Troops from Oyster Bay till you come to Jamacia—Their is one Regt of Highlandars and some at flushing and Newtown the Numbers I cannot tell but not a Regt at Booth places the most of the Shipping of force has left New York. there is one 50 one Old 40 Gun East India Man & one 20 that is Repairing at the Ship Yard. The Scorpion at N. City Island one Old India Man at Huntington 40 Guns the Hallifax Brig at Oyster bay one Sloop of 10 Guns they are repairing all their flat Bottom Boats in New York and Building a Number at the Ship Yards This Intelligence is as late out of New York as the 20th of the Month. The Inhabitants is fitting A Number of Privateers out in the City. their was one French Ship Brought in with 500 Hhds of Sugar last Week” (DLC:GW).

3Rather than reside in New York City himself, a venture the Setauket farmer deemed both inconvenient and inordinately risky, Woodhull later that spring recruited a New York City merchant named Robert Townsend, who reported his intelligence using the pseudonym Samuel Culper, Jr. For GW’s earliest known reference to the name Culper, Jr., in a letter, see GW to Tallmadge, 25 July 1779, DLC:GW.

4GW’s assistant secretary James McHenry, who prepared the draft manuscript, wrote “intention” instead of “end” at this place.

5Hell Gate, a narrow strait connecting the East River with Long Island Sound, was a notoriously hazardous channel for navigation because of rocky outcroppings and powerful tides that constantly shifted depths. Samuel Culper, Sr., knew about GW’s queries by early April and reported that a fifty-gun ship had made the passage (see Culper to Tallmadge, 12 April, DLC:GW; see also Tallmadge to GW, 21 April, DLC:GW). For more on GW’s interest in Hell Gate, see his letters of 4 Oct. 1779 to Admiral d’Estaing and 7 Oct. to the Continental Congress Marine Committee, both DLC:GW.

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