George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Alexander McDougall, 23 May 1779

From Major General Alexander McDougall

Head Quarters Pecks Kill [N.Y.] 23d May 1779.


Since I came last to these posts, I have generally been under no apprehension, of an attack from the Enemy. The reasons which induced me to be of this opinion, were that the Enemy had no object beyond them, equal to the risque of the enterprise. And he cou’d not hope, to carry the Works before the Grand-Army and the Troops in Connecticut wou’d arrive to succour the Posts. But as this Conduct has, almost in every instance, bafled all conjecture, and he has scarsely in one instance, acted as an Enemy wou’d do in his circumstances. I have now my doubts about it. I think the inclosed intelligence, renders an Attack probable and if he shou’d be successfull, it wou’d in the present State of our Affairs, be advancive of his Object.1 You have the Intelligence in the same Ideas it was given to me. Two Days ago Sincoes and Lord Cathcarts Corps, moved out on this side of the Bridge, they are composed of Horse and Foot. The former with a Troop from Long-Island annexed to Colo. Emmericks, I imagine they will amount to near 200 Horse, exclusive of the 17th light Dragoons. I am not without anxiety for my detachments on the Lines; They however have the most particular Orders I can give them, to Guard against Surprise. It will not be expedient to reinforce them, as it will take too much of my Strength remote from the post. And if I call them off, the Enemy will derive many Supplies from the Country, which our Army will want, when the Campaign is opened, and prevent our Friends carrying on their Agriculture. I have the honor to be Your Excellencys Most Obedient and Most Humble Servant

Alexr McDougall

P.S. The two New-Hampshire Regiments marched from hence in the morning of the 17th Instant.


1The enclosed, undated intelligence report reads: “Mr [ ] is returned from New York—General Tryon was free and undisguised with him.

“The substance of the Conversation of Moment that passed is as follows.

“‘that they intend to possess themselves of South Carolina—The Troops which sailed were destined for Virginia where they had arrived, and a Packet returned to New York with Advice that they were very successfull there in taking four Vessels; and destroying a Number; and securing Magazines of Flour Tobacco and naval stores: that they (the Enemy) do not intend to operate seriously in the Eastern states, but in the Southern ones, as the Militia of the former are more hardy and give them more opposition than the latter, which they consider feeble and incapable of giving them much Resistance.

“That they consider the Posts on the North River of great moment to them, and assigned their Reasons, vizt, ‘that the Possession of them would cut off the Communication between the Eastern and Southern states; open a Communication to them with their Friends in the back Country, and give Protection to those in the Vicinity[’]—And questioned him on the Roads in the Rear of works at West point; the Heights which command it; the strength of the Garrison and Character of the commanding Officer; and also the Strength of the Posts in general. And express’d their Surprize and Chagrin that the Troops should be called from the Command of General Putnam at Reading. They questioned him, whether if an appearance was made of an Opperation in the Sound against New England, it was his Opinion the Troops from hence would be drawn that way—He answered in the Negative—He is instructed to get the Number and quality of the Cannon at West Point.

“General Tryon observed to him, their former Excursions in the Country only expos’d their Friends; without answering any valuable purpose to Government. And if they make any more to [that] purpose, they must get Posts, which will give Protection to their Friends; and strengthen their Cause.’

“Upon the whole Theme of the Conversation with them Mr [ ] is clearly of Opinion, these Posts are an Object with them, especially, if they have an Opening, or any Prospect of carrying them. The Enemy is very solicitous to intercept your Letters to me; and questioned him on the Route, which the Expresses go, in order to direct Parties to seize them. They still place great Dependance on the state of our Currency—General Clinton is in New York: All the Regular Troops are moved from Long Island to New York Island” (DLC:GW). This intelligence, which presaged a British advance up the Hudson River, had come from Elijah Hunter; see Hunter’s letter to GW of 21 May.

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