George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major Benjamin Tallmadge, 27 June 1779

To Major Benjamin Tallmadge

New Windsor June 27th 1779.


Your letter of yesterday came safe to my hands,1 and by the Dragoon who was the bearer of it I send you Ten guineas for C——r.2 His successor (whose name I have no desire to be informed of, provided his intelligence is good, & seasonably transmitted) should endeavour to hit upon some certain mode of conveying his information quickly; for it is of little avail to be told of things after they have become matters of public notariety; & known to every body. This new agent should communicate his signature & the private marks by which genuine papers are to be distinguished from Counterfeits.3 There is a man on York Island, living on or near the North river, of the name of George Higday who I am told hath given signal proofs of his attachment to us, & at the same time stands well with the enemy.4 If upon inquiry this is found to be the case (and much caution should be used in investigating the matter, as well on his own account as on that of Higday) he will be a fit instrument to convey intelligence to me while I am on the West side the North river, as he is enterprising and connected with people in Bergen County who will assist in forming a chain to me, in any manner they shall agree on.

I do not know who H——employs but from H——I obtain intelligence, and his name and business should be kept profoundly secret, otherwise we not only lose the benefits derived from it, but may subject him to some unhappy fate.5

I wish you to use every method in your power through H——& others, to obtain information of the enemy’s situation—and as far as it is to be come at, designs. C——r speaks of the enemys force up the River as not exceeding 8000 Men, but as I know he is mistaken if he comprehends their whole force, I should be glad if his successor was cautioned against giving positive numbers by guess. this is deceptions—let him ascertain the particular corps which can be no difficult matter to do, & he will soon by taking a little pains indirectly, come at the strength of them, & where they lie. I am Sir with esteem & regard Yr Very hum. Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing, MiU-C: Clinton Papers; ADfS, DLC:GW; copy (extract), UKLoBM, Add. MSS 34416; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW’s draft manuscript runs together both of GW’s letters to Tallmadge of this date, suggesting that GW initially considered sending one letter before deciding to send two. The Varick transcript is based on GW’s draft manuscript. Tallmadge received the LS, but it was subsequently captured, along with other letters and papers, during a British raid on 2 July (see William Heath to GW, 4 July, and GW to Tallmadge, 5 July).

1This letter of 26 June from Tallmadge to GW has not been found, but for Tallmadge’s description of its contents, see GW’s second letter to Tallmadge of this date, n.1.

2In supplying Tallmadge with ten guineas for Samuel Culper, an alias for Abraham Woodhull, GW responded to a request in Culper’s letter to Tallmadge of 20 June, numbered “14” and addressed Setauket, N.Y., in code. That letter reads: “your No. 8—on the 16th found me at 20 [Setauket]—Anxiously concerned for our Intrest—And—unwilling it Should be neglected, And Some reason to fear that by delay, The dore might be Shut and out of my Power to performe, What I proposed in my No. 13, Which I have Concluded would be your desire, I thought Proper to detain 40 [post rider] untill I went to 10 [New York] to endevour to gain the best Intelligence I Could. And Settle the Plan Proposed, I returnd on the 19—And my Success hath exceeded my most Sanguine expectations—There hath bene no arival of any Fleet from any Quarter Since my Last—And the enemy hath not bene Sthrengend. on the 18 Genl Clinton Went out of 10 [New York] in Person to go to his Camp, you may depend there Whole force is up the River. And that Cant exceed 8000 Men, I Expect they are about evacuateing Rhode Island, if not all Part of their Troops are Comeing to 10 [New York] it is Said four Regmt. this I had from good Authority, likewise that it is Certainly Genl Clintons Positive Order and determination to Burne all the Feilds of Wheat assoon as they are dry and Intendes to exert him Self in that. to the utmost. they have Brought in many Cattle, If you dont exert yourselfs the Country will greatly Suffer. A Considerable force to March towards the Bridge would make them quit the River and Country, for they are very fearfull of your geting N. york And have Frequently Said they have in all but Just a Garrison, it is the Admiration of all freinds that they can hold their ground up the river their Sthreng by Sea is trifeling much the Same as mentioned in my Last only it is Said you have taken the Deleware of 28 guns—It is Currently reported in N. york that the Enemy are intirely defeated near Charles Town, and is beleived by Some, And the Enemy in general, Trembles for fear. if it Should be true they acknowledge that it will ruin them—In answer to yours concerning the Sthreng of the Enemy at Loyds Neck, and What Saw Mills Wer Sawing for the Use of the enemy, I Canot give So Satisfactory an Ac[o]u[n]t about the above questions as I Could Wish—The former Shall endevour and refer you to Capt. Cornelius Conklin Major Brush Capt. Rojers and Some others Mostly resideing at NorWalk that frequently Cros near there. the Latter Shall advise—Coll Ludlo Regmt is very Small dont exceed 150 Men: The Refuges that are there are all armed. and take their turns on guard With the Regmt how many I Cannot tell but redily Conclude they exceed the Number in the Regmt. I Cannot tell Wheather thers any Cannon in the fort nor how it is Situated—Coll Hulet [Hewlett] that Commands is a Brave Officer[.] Many decerters and refugees that Know they will be hanged—And think they will make a desparate resistance. And think if it is done at all it must be by Surprise Tillotson hath a Sawmill at the County house Havens one at Moriches, Seth Worth one at Fire Place, Humpry Avery one at West Necke. Nicols and one Willets each one at Islip Edmond Smith at Stony Brook Samuel Phillip, Caleb Smith, Both at Smith Town. All alike in Serveing the King And all Proffesed freinds to the Country except Havens & Nicols. And it is the Nature of the People here they Will do any think to get money. the navigation of South Bay is now intirely Stoped by Whale Boats. I am intirely against destroying Property if Can be avoided Sawmills are Built with little expence. and if tourn dow[n] no great Loss to build again if People are amind to be Obstinate. the following I do not doubt will answer the desireed affect. Print in hand bills let them be Conveyed over in all Quarters if Possible and be Pasteed up intirely forbiding every Sawmill on the Island from Stricking a Stroke under Penalty of destruction of their Property it will most Certainly be adheard to they never Will Saw no More. They are determined under Command of Coll Axtell to raise 400 Men out of the militia of L. Island the People in general much against it and Certainly will quit their homes before they Will Comply[.] I have comunicatied my buisiness to an Intimate freind. And disclosed every Secret and laid before him every instruction that hath bene handed to me, it was with great dificulty I gained his Complyance, Checked by fear. he is a Person that hath the Intrest of our Country at heart and of good reputation Charecter and family as any of my Acquaintance. I am under the most Solomm Obligations never to disclose his name to any but the Post Who unavoidyble must know it. I have reason to think his advantages for Serving you and Abilityties are far Superior to mine. I must Call on you for Ten Gines Which will about defray my Charges With What I have received—If What I have done is disapproved of it Can be droped, but if mine Was Worth attention theis Will not Certainty be of less Value—you will receive a letter from him in a Short time begining at No. 1. he Will expect an ample Support at the Same time he Will be frugal, as long as I am here Shall be an assistant and do All that I Cam [Can]” (DLC:GW). For codes used in this letter, and Culper’s “No. 13,” see GW to Tallmadge, 13 June, n.1. Tallmadge’s letter “No. 8” has not been identified. For a subsequent raid on Lloyd Neck, N.Y., see William Heath to GW, 10 (first letter), 11, 12, and 13 Aug. (MHi: Heath Papers); GW to Heath, 10 Aug. (first letter; MHi: Heath Papers); GW to Robert Howe, 15 Aug. (DLC:GW); and Tallmadge, Memoir, description begins Memoir of Col. Benjamin Tallmadge, Prepared by Himself, at the Request of his Children. 1858. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends 32–33. For Woodhull’s “Intimate freind,” see n.3 below.

Tallmadge, who lost the ten guineas during a British attack on his camp, subsequently secured more coin from GW, writing a receipt on 21 July: “Recd New Windsor July 21st 1779 of His Excellency Genl Washington fifty Guineas for Secret Services … I also acknowledge to have recd of Genl Washington ten Guineas fro[m] Dragoon some time Last” (Revolutionary War Accounts, Vouchers, and Receipted Accounts 2, 1775–1783, DLC:GW, Ser. 5; see also source note above).

3The “successor” and “new agent” was Robert Townsend. Using the alias Samuel Culper, Jr., Townsend wrote his first spy letter on 29 June (see GW to Tallmadge, 25 July, n.2).

Robert Townsend (1753–1838) was the son of Samuel Townsend, a prosperous merchant from Oyster Bay, N.Y., who served in the New York Provincial Congress between May 1775 and August 1776 but took the oath of allegiance to George III on 10 Sept. 1776. Shortly before Samuel Townsend professed his loyalty to the king, Robert Townsend, who had worked as a purchasing agent for his father, was named a commissary to supply provisions to a New York militia brigade. The British victories around New York City in the late summer, however, eliminated the need for his services. For the next four years, British officers quartered in the home of his parents, and other officers paid gallantries to his sisters. After being recruited by Abraham Woodhull to spy for the Continental army, Townsend’s familiarity with British officers, both as an acquaintance and a merchant, enabled him to mingle freely with them in a coffeehouse established in New York City by James Rivington, publisher of the Royal Gazette, who then shaped information that Townsend gathered into copy for his Loyalist newspaper. Townsend’s written intelligence reports traveled from New York City to eastern Long Island, initially via Woodhull, but afterwards via courier. After the war, Townsend continued briefly as a merchant in New York City before moving to Oyster Bay, where he resided, never marrying, until his death. For extended biographical treatments of Townsend, see Pennypacker, General Washington’s Spies, description begins Morton Pennypacker. General Washington’s Spies On Long Island and In New York. Brooklyn, 1939. description ends 12–17, 30–31, 103–16, and Rose, Washington’s Spies, description begins Alexander Rose. Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring. New York, 2006. description ends 135–54, 276–77.

4For more on George Higday, see GW to Tallmadge, 5 July, and n.4 to that document.

5“H——” typically has been taken to mean Higday (see Pennypacker, General Washington’s Spies, description begins Morton Pennypacker. General Washington’s Spies On Long Island and In New York. Brooklyn, 1939. description ends 45; Van Doren, Secret History, description begins Carl Van Doren. Secret History of the American Revolution: An Account of the Conspiracies of Benedict Arnold and Numerous Others drawn from the Secret Service Papers of the British Headquarters in North America now for the first time examined and made public. New York, 1941. description ends 237–38; Bakeless, Turncoats, Traitors and Heroes, description begins John Bakeless. Turncoats, Traitors and Heroes. Philadelphia, 1959. description ends 232–33; Rose, Washington’s Spies, description begins Alexander Rose. Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring. New York, 2006. description ends 112–13). Given GW’s phrasing in this letter and the jarring incongruity of mentioning a man’s name and then directing that his identity remain “profoundly secret,” the partial word more likely refers to a different person. A definite possibility is Brig. Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons’s spy William Heron (1742–1819), a native of Cork, Ireland, who settled on Redding Ridge in Fairfield County, Conn., and served in the state legislature starting in 1778. Heron began to send Parsons information during the winter of 1778–79, when Parsons’s brigade was quartered at Redding. Parsons wrote GW on 6 April 1782 that Heron, through an Irish acquaintance in the British adjutant general’s office, had supplied intelligence on enemy “Designs & Intentions with more certainty & Precision than most Men who have been imploy’d” (DLC: GW). After the war, Heron again served in the Connecticut legislature, but he applied unsuccessfully for a position in the new federal government (see Heron to GW, 26 July 1790, in Papers, Presidential Series, description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series. 17 vols. to date. Charlottesville, Va., 1987–. description ends 6:125–28). Documents uncovered in the late nineteenth century revealed that Heron also provided British headquarters in New York with information while spying for Parsons, leading to allegations that he was a double agent. For an examination of relations between Parsons and Heron, which concludes that Heron’s “espionage for the British was a mere pretence,” see Hall, Life and Letters of Parsons, 418–60, especially 427–28.

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