George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General John Neilson, 5 June 1779

From Brigadier General John Neilson

Elizabeth Town [N.J.] 5 June 1779


I have to acknowledge the Honor done me by your Excellency’s Letter of yesterday which I received in the Evening—Nothing has transpired at this place since my Last tho’ I have been very Industrious to obtain Intelligence.

I have wrote to Governor Livingston acquainting him with your Excellency’s directions about the Beacons and other Signals by which the Militia may be collected with the greatest facility should it be necessary, requesting him to give the necessary Instructions for that purpose and acquaint me therewith that I may know how to set the Machine at work.1 I am most respectfully Your Excellencys Obedient & very Humble Servant

John Neilson

ALS, PHi: Dreer Collection; copy, PWacD: Sol Feinstone Collection, on deposit at PPAmP; Sprague transcript and original cover, DLC:GW.

1Neilson wrote New Jersey governor William Livingston from Elizabeth on this date: “His Excellency General Washington in his Letter of Yesterday says the real intention of the Enemy is not yet perfectly Evident he however is moving towards the North river to take Such measures as may seem best Calculated to counteract their designs—he has directed me to have the Beacons and every other Signal that will facilitate the Collecting the Militia in the utmost state of readiness, Should it be found necessary to call them out. Your Excellency Seeing the necessity of being in this situation will please to give the directions necessary for the above purposes and acquaint me therewith that the proper Steps may be taken, to put them in Execution and set the Machine at work.

“I should be glad to be informed by Your Excellency if there’s a Magazine of Ammunition in the State and where it is … I must again repeat to Your Excellency the Situation this place is in, the returns yesterday amount to 2 Capts. 4 Subs. 9 Sergts. 5 Corpls 1 Lt an[d] 93 Privates a small detachment from the Artillery with our piece & a few Horsemen makes up the whole force at this Important Post A Capt. with about 40 Men at N[ew]ark & a Capt. with 12 Men at Woodbridge There’s no men yet come from the County of Hunterdon but the small detachment of about 14 Men Colo. Chambers Regt neither are there any from Colo. Scudder’s Regt, from Burlington nor from Glousester. My tour of Duty being nearly performed the Situation of my Family and the Important necessity of my being at home makes it absolutely necessary I should be releived Your Excellency will therefore please to give orders to an Officer of Such rank as may be thought proper to releive me on the 11th of this Month. I should be glad to be informed who the officer is to be and that he may have notice to prepare himself by that Time” (Prince, “Livingston Papers”).

Livingston replied to Neilson on 7 June from Trenton that “General [Philemon] Dickinson who is at present in Maryland but daily expected has given orders with respect to the Beacons, but not having with me a Copy of the orders respecting the places where they were directed to be fixed nor having received any notice from him of what orders he has given respecting the firing of the Beacons, I cannot resolve you on that head, but I inclose you a Copy of the orders respecting the different Alarm posts at which the Militia is to assemble on the alarm.

“All the Ammunition we have is in the hands of Colonel [Benoni] Hathaway in Morris Town, & Mr. Woodruf in Princeton.

“I have directed Colonel Scudder to take your place by the eleventh of the month, & shall order all the Classes before ordered out to be releived monthly till further orders” (Prince, Livingston Papers, description begins Carl E. Prince et al., eds. The Papers of William Livingston. 5 vols. Trenton and New Brunswick, N.J., 1979–88. description ends 3:108–9). The enclosed orders have not been identified, but Livingston’s letter to Lt. Col. William Scudder, also dated 7 June, reads: “You are hereby directed to relieve Colonel Nielson at Elizabeth Town & take the Command of the Militia ordered or to be ordered for the defence of the Frontiers of the Counties of Essex & Middlesex for a month unless sooner discharged. If you could go on the post a day or two sooner it would be best as Colonel Nielson who is now acquainted with these posts may give you some useful Information. As soon as you take the command you will notify General Washington of it & for your General Directions Colonel Neilson will deliver you those I gave to him” (Prince, “Livingston Papers”; see also Livingston to Scudder, 8 June, in Prince, Livingston Papers, description begins Carl E. Prince et al., eds. The Papers of William Livingston. 5 vols. Trenton and New Brunswick, N.J., 1979–88. description ends 3:109).

Another letter from Neilson to Livingston, written at Elizabeth and dated 11 June, reads in part: “I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your Excellency’s Letter of the 7th Instant with the places apointed for the Militia to repair to at an Alarm but how the Alarm is to be given and by whom the Beacons are to be fired still remains undertimed [undetermined] this should be known to the Commanding Officer here, if any is continued” (Prince, “Livingston Papers”). A reply from Livingston to Neilson on 15 June from Princeton, N.J., reads in part: “The Beacons I am told are all fixt, & the alaram is to be given to the officer nearest to them” (Prince, Livingston Papers, description begins Carl E. Prince et al., eds. The Papers of William Livingston. 5 vols. Trenton and New Brunswick, N.J., 1979–88. description ends 3:112–13). For the establishment of signal beacons in New Jersey to call out the militia, see Stirling to GW, 20 and 22 March; GW to Livingston, to Arthur St. Clair, to William Smallwood, and to Stirling, all 23 March; and Livingston to GW, 30 March; see also Bernstein, N.J. Privy Council Minutes, description begins David A. Bernstein, ed. Minutes of the Governor’s Privy Council, 1777–1789. Trenton, 1974. In New Jersey Archives, 3d ser., vol. 1. description ends 1:111.

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