George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Nathanael Greene, 24 June 1779

From Major General Nathanael Greene

Smiths Clove [N.Y.] June 24th 1779.


There is a man now at my Tent whose name is Spencer with whom I am well acquainted. He has just returned from Ch’s Town in South Carolina, and is on his way to Rhode Island from whence he sailed in a Brig of my Brother’s some time since for Ch’s Town, after a load of Rice on the public’s account and was taken by one of Goodriches fleet1 landed near that city.

He says he was in the action that happened on the 11th & from my knowledge of the person I verily believe it is true. He was Mate of the Vessel & is a person to be confided in.

His acco’t is as follows:—Genl. Pulaski arrived there the 7th; on the 8th he went out & surprised the advancd party of the enemy that lay at the quarter House, about six miles from the city, & took one hundred & eighty four prisoners, four of which were Indians. On the 11th the enemy made an attack upon the town, about six o’Clock in the evening; the attack was very severe & lasted three hours, when they were repulsed, leaving six hundred & fifty three upon the ground. They retreated back to the quarter house, where they remained when he came away. The town is fortifyed with two lines that runs across from Ashleys to Coopers river, Our troops were posted in these two lines. Gov’r Rutlige, Genl. Williamson & Genl. Moultrie were in the town. The Sailors belonging to the shipping were posted in the Batteries, Mr. Spencer who gave this acco’t, among others. The Inhabitants who were capable to bear arms were all ordered within the lines, and it was thought the soldiers, sailors & citizens amounted to seven thousand. Our Rowe Gallies & other Vessels of force were drawn up in each river upon the flanks of the works to scour the trenches.

The enemy during the attack attempted to land 1500 men within the town in Ashley river; they went in between the shipping & the intrenchments. Our people discovered them as they attempted to land & gave them a repulse. They had passed the shipping undiscovered but the fire within the line discovered the manoeuvre to the fleet from which they kept up such a hot fire that they could not return and were obliged to retreat to Johns Island & from thence to James’ Island. The fortifications of that Island being blown up & evacuated by our people at the same instant of time. Here they remained when Mr. Spencer came away, being unable to join the main body & obliged to retreat (If they can make any) by the way of Buford [Beaufort] or Portroyal, The town was in high spirits & wished a second attack. Mr. Spencer left the town the 13th & found the road lined with people going in. There was no certain intelligence where Genl. Lincoln was that was known to the common people when he came away; some said that he was within three days march of the town, others that he was in Georgia. The Enemy had no fleet in the Bay. Our people had high expectations of making the whole of the enemy prisoners. We lost but two men in the action. A major was killed afterward by accident by one of our own Sentinels. I am &c.

Nat’l Greene.

N.B. The common people were not allowed to go without the lines, but the report concerning the enemy that were left behind, was from Officers that had counted them. The reason why there has been no official accounts it is supposed the expresses have been killed on the road, as numbers of people have been killed in No. Carolina lately.

Mr. Spencer has sworn to this acco’t.2

Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers, description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends 5:95–97. This transcription apparently came from the copy that GW enclosed in his letter to George Clinton, this date.

1For the Goodrich family of Virginia Loyalists and their naval activities, see George Weedon to GW, 30 March 1778, n.9.

2In a letter of 5 July to his brother Christopher Greene, Greene acknowledged that Stephen Spencer had misled him. That letter reads: “The agreeable news we have been so long amused with from So Carolina is turned out nothing at all or worse. Mr Stephen Spencer gave me an Acct of the Action and said he was in it; and that the Enemy were repulsed with the loss of 653 men left upon the Field. This Acct He swore to and I took it down from his own mouth. His brother Tom has since come along and declares that neither Stephen nor he were in any action. They only heard a Canonade at a distance which We since Learn was a Firing at a Party of our Men taken for the enemy by which We lost some Officers and several Privates. These are the last accounts we have, whether true or false is uncertain yet. However I believe Spencer swore to a lye and dont deserve to be trusted again” (Greene Papers, description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends 4:205). Replying to his brother from their Rhode Island homestead, Potowomut, on 12 Aug., Christopher Greene reported: “I had Stephen Spencer taken up after receiving your Letter with an intention to have had him Whipped, but the Military Power would not take Cognisence [of] him nor the Several [Civil] Power neither, accordingly I am afraid he will get Clear. I Proposed to have him sent Back to you but it did not take” (Greene Papers, description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends 4:316–18).

Stephen Spencer (died c.1797) was a mariner from East Greenwich, R.I., who died leaving an insolvent estate (see Providence Gazette [Rhode Island], 8 April 1797).

Reports of an American success in South Carolina ultimately proved erroneous (see John Jay to GW, 4 and 7 June, and GW to James Clinton, 13 June; see also GW to John Augustine Washington, 20 June, and n.7 to that document).

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