George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons, 14 July 1779

From Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons

Stamford [Conn.] 14th July 1779

Dr General

your Excellency’s Letter of the 13th I receivd this Morning and shall pay a particular Attention to procure an exact detail of the Mischiefs done by the Enemy at the different Places both on the Persons & Property of the Inhabitants, the Movments of the Enemy and the apparent Prospects of a speedy Descent upon Stamford has hitherto so far ingagd my Attention as to prevent my paying that Attention which is necessary to assertaining the Depredations committed by the Enemy in their various Descents on our Coast, but shall to Day take Measures for the Purpose.1

By my Information Yesterday it appeard the Enemy were again Advancing toward Horseneck, about 200 Infantry & as many Horse were upon Kniffin’s Hill near Sawpitts,2 this was Supposd To be the advancd Guard. Genl Clinton was at Maroneck Bridge; inclosd is an Account of the various Corps with him with their Numbers as far as I have been able to collect them.3 the Fleet are now at Huntington, by the Motion of the Fleet last Night I expected they would have made another Attempt probably in Conjunction with the Troops advancing toward Horsneck but at Present they remain quiet.4 I am Still of Opinion the capital Object of the Enemy is so to weaken the Post on Hudson’s River as to render an Attack upon the Fort successful; as many Troops as can be spard without indangering the Post are of absolute Necessity here, but tis better to suffer the Loss of all our Towns than that Fort should fall into their Hands. the Enemy do not incline to advance into the Country so as to indanger a Retreat to their Ships, and their easy Movments by Water from One Place to another renders it impossible for Us to prevent the Destruction of our Towns; they ⟨mutilated⟩ no Inclination to fight Us, their precipitate ⟨mutilated⟩ on Shipboard the 11th5 sufficiently shews their guilty Fears operated powerfully Upon them and they were sufficiently convincd they can make no Attempt to desolate our Dwellings but where they will meet an Opposition and any considerable Stay in the Country will render that Oposition formidable, this answers valuable Purposes even though our Opposition should fail to preserve our Towns in every Instance. the Loss of the Enemy cannot be assertaind with any considerable Degree of certainty, the Inhabitants say they began to carry back their dead & wounded in the first Skirmish and continued it till they themselves retreated immediately on the Close of the Action; by their Accounts there cannot have been less than 100 kild & wounded.6

We are in great Want of Cartridges I beg your Excellency to direct some to be forwarded to this Part of the Country.

One Peice of Savage Barbarity at Fairfield I have heard so often & so credibly that I should give full Credit to it; did not the Act exceed almost a possibility of being committed by the most depravd & brutal Wretch that exists in Earth or Hell The Account is this. That a Man was left in Town & chargd with the Care of his Master’s Goods. upon the Enemy’s gaining the Town, they ripd open his Bowells fild the Trunk of the Body with Rum, dipd a Sheet in Spirits in which they wrapd him & sett fire to the Sheet & in that Way put an End to his miserable Existence. Old Men from 80 to 90 were inhumanely butcherd, Women abusd in the most scandalous Manner & no bounds set to the most wanton Acts of Barbarity, I shall as soon as possible reduce these Relations to a Certainty & transmit them.7 inclosd is One of Tryon’s Proclamations,8 another from Clinton to the Negroe’s I had but have mislaid it.9 I am with the greatest Respect Yr Excellency’s Obedt Servt

Saml H. Parsons


1For the handling of depositions describing British excesses at New Haven and Fairfield, Conn., see Parsons to GW, 31 July, and notes 1 and 2 to that document; see also GW to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 7 July, source note.

2Parsons is referring to Sniffin’s Hill near Saw Pit (now Port Chester), New York. The diary entry for this date of a British officer stationed in New York City reads: “The Corps under Major General Vaughan mov’d from East Chester to Merrimack [Mamaroneck], the better to cover the Hay makers, employed in preparing Forage for the Use of the Army” (Ritchie, “New York Diary,” description begins Carson I. A. Ritchie, ed. “A New York Diary [British army officer’s journal] of the Revolutionary War.” New-York Historical Society Quarterly 50 (1966): 221–80, 401–46. description ends 428).

3The enclosure, which is in DLC:GW, is an undated table that reads: “19 Comp. Infantry 950[;] 16 Granadiers 800[;] Hessian Grenadiers 400[;] Queen’s Rangers 300[;] Legion Foot 250[;] 42d Regt 300[;] Horse variously computed say 700[; subtotal] 3700[;] with Tryon Seven Regiments 2000[; total] 5700.”

4The British fleet that conducted raids along the Connecticut coast under Maj. Gen. William Tryon earlier in July had returned to Huntington Bay, Long Island, on 12 July. The diary entry for 15 July of a British officer stationed in New York City reads: “The Troops late under the Command of Major General Tryon cross’d over from Whitestone to Long Island to the Continent, & march’d to Marioneck [Mamaroneck], to join Major General Vaughan” (Ritchie, “New York Diary,” description begins Carson I. A. Ritchie, ed. “A New York Diary [British army officer’s journal] of the Revolutionary War.” New-York Historical Society Quarterly 50 (1966): 221–80, 401–46. description ends 428).

5The British raided Norwalk, Conn., on that date (see Parsons to GW, 11 July).

6Parsons had promised details on enemy casualties from the fighting at Norwalk in his letter to GW of 11 July.

7See n.1 above.

8The enclosure, which is in DLC:GW, is a broadside with publishing information that reads: “New-York: Printed by Macdonald & Cameron.” The broadside itself reads: “By Commodore Sir GEORGE COLLIER, Commander in Chief of His Majesty’s Ships and Vessels in North-America; and Major-General WILLIAM TRYON, commanding His Majesty’s Land Forces on a Separate Expedition.

“ADDRESS, To the Inhabitants of CONNECTICUT.

The ungenerous and wanton Insurrection against the Sovereignty of Great-Britain into which this Colony, has been deluded by the Artifices of desperate and designing Men, for private Purposes, might well justify in you every Fear, which conscious Guilt could form respecting the Intentions of the present Armament.

Your Towns, your Property, yourselves, lie still within the grasp of that Power, whose Forbearance you have ungenerously construed into Fear; but whose Lenity has persisted in its mild and noble Efforts, even though branded with the most unworthy Imputation.

The Existence of a single Habitation on your defenceless Coast, ought to be a constant Reproof to your Ingratitude. Can the Strength of your whole Province cope with the Force which might at any Time be poured through every District in your Country? You are conscious it cannot. Why then will you persist in a ruinous and ill-judged Resistance?

We have hoped that you would recover from the Phrenzy, which has distracted this unhappy Country; and we believe the Day to be now come, when the greater part of this Continent begin to blush at their Delusion. You, who lie so much in our Power, afford the most striking Monument of our Mercy, and therefore ought to set the first Example of returning to Allegiance.

Reflect upon what Gratitude requires of you; if that is insufficient to move you, attend to your own Interest: We offer you a Refuge against the Distress, which, you universally acknowledge, broods with increasing and intolerable Weight over all your Country.

Leaving you to consult with each other upon this Invitation; We do now declare, That whosoever shall be found, and remain in Peace, at his usual Place of Residence, shall be shielded any Insult, either to his Person, or his Property; excepting such as bear Offices either Civil or Military, under your present usurped Government: Of whom, it will be further required, that they shall give Proofs of their Penitence and voluntary Submission; and they shall then partake the like Immunity.

Those, whose folly and Obstinacy may slight this favorable Warning, must take Notice; that they are not to expect a Continuance of that Lenity, which their Inveteracy would now render blameable. GIVEN on Board His Majesty’s ship CAMILLA, in the Sound, July 4th, 1779.


For the process of drafting this proclamation (see Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs description begins William H. W. Sabine, ed. Historical Memoirs . . . of William Smith, Historian of the Province of New York. 2 vols. New York, 1956–58. description ends [1971], 118, 122-25).

9The Royal Gazette (New York) for 21 July printed on its first page a proclamation from Gen. Henry Clinton, dated “PHILIPSBURGH, the 30th Day of JUNE.” It reads: “Whereas the Enemy have adopted a practice of enrolling NEGROES among their Troops; I do hereby give Notice, That all NEGROES taken in Arms, or upon any military Duty, shall be purchased for a stated Price; the Money to be paid to the Captors.

“But I do most strictly forbid any Person to sell or claim right over any NEGROE, the Property of a Rebel, who may take Refuge with any Part of this Army: And I do promise to every NEGROE Who shall desert the Rebel Standard, full Security to follow within these Lines, any Occupation which he shall think proper.”

Fig. 2. address to Connecticut residents. (National Archives)

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