George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Horatio Gates, 25 July 1779

From Major General Horatio Gates

providence [R.I.] 25th July 1779


Last Night the inclosed Letter, & paper of Intelligence, came to my Hands from the Council of The State of Massachusetts Bay; at their Request I forward it immediately by Express to Your Excellency1— The informant being an Enemy, ought to be believed with Caution, indeed there are circumstances which induce me to think His Intelligence is by no means to be dispised, in the Main, I am inclined to give it Credit.

The inclosed Copy of a Letter from Major Rice who Commands in Boston, will shew Your Excellency how shamefully some of Our people behave respecting prisoners of War;2 I have sent Lieut. Edwards, a Sensible Officer of the best Character, from Col: Jacksons Regiment, to Rutland, with Orders to take the Direction of The prisoners there, and to Examine Stricktly into the late proceedings respecting them; His Report, shall be Transmitted to Your Excellency.3

So very Negligent, to say no Worse, have been the persons intrusted with The State prisoners of War at Boston; that three days ago Sixty of them Seized a pilot Boat from Virginia freighted with a Cargo Valued at 30,000£, & made their Escape to the Enemy4—Surely Sir Congress will think it High Time to put all prisoners of War under the proper Continental Commissaries, who are responsible to Your Excellency.

The Fleet which I inform’d Your Excellency to have saild from Newport the 25th June, return’d thither the Night before last, I’m endeavouring by every possible Method to learn if they have brought The Troops back, and discover the whole of their Intention; I defer sending this Letter until Evening being in Hopes of Obtaining the desired information.5

I am happy in Congratulating Your Excellency upon the Glorious Success of General Wayne and His intrepid Companions,6 The American Arms have now reached the Summit of Military Fame, and George the 3d may seek another Continent in the Terra Australis, for he has lost This.

Since writing the above I have Obtain’d the inclosed Declaration from Mr payne Hammond, a Farmer, taken at day light this morning7 Off the South End of Conanicut Island; The Man is known, & Credited by good Whiggs here.8 I am Sir Your Excellencys most Obedt Servant,

Horatio Gates

ALS (copy), enclosed in Gates to John Jay, 25 July, DNA:PCC, item 154; ADfS, NHi: Gates Papers; copy, DNA:PCC, item 171; copy (extract), enclosed in GW to John Jay, 29 July 1779, DNA:PCC, item 169.

1A copy of the letter from the Massachusetts Council to Gates, signed by Jeremiah Dummer Powell on behalf of the council and dated 22 July, reads: “Your favor of the 17th inst. has been laid before Council, they immediately gave directions for a Return to be made of the powder now in the Magazines belonging to this State and am directed to inform you that upon examining said Returns they find it is out of their power to supply you with any powder for the use of your Department.

“We now inclose you a piece of Intelligence just recieved from a Captain of a Vessell lately taken by one of our American Cruizers, By this Information it appears that the British Fleet, sailed from Torbay on the 23rd of May last having under Convoy Seven Thousand Land Forces—The Character of the Deponent is unknown to us but the Intelligence is such as we thought it proper to transmit you, We request you would forward this Intelligence to General Washington” (DNA:PCC, item 154).

The enclosed “paper of intelligence” apparently was the deposition of Henry Potbary (Potbery) given at Boston on 22 July. GW enclosed a copy of this deposition in his second letter to John Jay of 29 July. That copy reads: “Henry Potbary Capt. of the Briggt. Sally bound from Topsham to Trepasy and taken off Cape Race by an American privateer, Testifies that he sailed from Torbay the 23d day of May with a Fleet under the Command of Admiral Arbuthnot consisting of six sail of the line Viz.; 3 of 74—2 of 64—and one of 50 Guns and two Frigates one bound for NewfoundLand one to Quebeck, Also one of the 64 Gun ships bound to Quebeck—The Admiral was bound to New York the rest as was reported, were bound to different parts of America he left them about a month or five weeks ago in Longitude 20 or thereabouts & to the Eastward of the Western Islands, It was reported they had 7,000 land Forces with them bound to America—The Troops were some Hessian and some British—The Experiment was bound to Georgia” (DNA:PCC, item 152). For the copy of this deposition that Gates sent to Congress, see DNA:PCC, item 154. The fleet under Vice Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot arrived later in the summer (see GW to John Jay, 24–27 Aug., and Robert Howe to GW, 27 Aug., both DNA:PCC, item 152).

2The original of the letter from John Rice, Boston town major, to Gates, dated 18–19 July, reads: “Mr Tuckerman the Asst Qr Master General at Rutland, now in Boston, represents the Conduct of Mr Pope the Asst Comy of Prisoners at that Place, as very reprehensible. I am inform’d by him Sir, that Mr Pope frequently gives passes from under his Hand, to Prisoners of War there, to pass & repass to and from the adjacent Towns upon Parties of Pleasure; often to Places at a considerable Distance, which gives much uneasiness to, & occassions many Complaints from the Inhabitants thereabouts.

“I have an Account Sir of this irregular Behavior & the consequent dissatisfaction of the Inhabitants thereup⟨on⟩ from another Quarter, which renders it unquestionable. & establishes my Belief of its Truth.

“Mr Pope has permitted three Prisoners of War to proceed to New York by Land, by what Authority I hav’n⟨’t⟩ yet learnt, ’tho I have wrote him upon the Subject.

“One of the Council inform’d me last Ev’ni⟨n⟩g Sir, that by a Brig which arrived here a few Days since from France, there are Accounts of a Reinforcement coming from England to America immediately; upon its Arrival ’twas imagin’d both by our Friends in France & England, the grand Object of the Enemy would be this Place; these Accounts are confirm’d by a Captn Paddock who was lately a Pris’ner in New York, came out on Parole, effected his Exchange the 16th Inst., appear’d before the Council Yesterday & acquainted them with many Circumstances, corroborating the above.

“Lieut. Colo. Revere with 100 Men (Officers included) of his Corps, are order’d upon the Penobscut Expedition; they have Embark’d & now wth the Naval Force destin’d upon that Service, lay wind bound in Nantasket Road.

“The Garrison at Castle Island at present consists of about 25 Men. . . . P.S. July 19th Early this Morning (the Wind being at West) the Penobscut Fleet came under Sail & Stood to Sea” (Gregory and Dunnings, “Gates Papers” description begins James Gregory and Thomas Dunnings, eds. “Horatio Gates Papers, 1726–1828.” Sanford, N.C., 1979. Microfilm. description ends ).

John Rice (c.1753–1803) became a lieutenant in the Massachusetts militia in November 1776 and served as Boston town major from April 1778 to September 1780. Rice served as naval officer for the port of Boston, 1785–87, and when Benjamin Lincoln began as collector of the port of Boston in 1789, he chose Rice as his deputy, praising him as “a Gentleman very pleasing to the people, of an amicable character and of great integrity” (Lincoln to GW, 16 Aug. 1789, 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 3:477).

3The orders that Gates sent Lt. Thomas Edwards, written on this date, read: “You will immediately proceed to Rutland, in the State of the Massachusetts Bay, where, upon your Arrival, you will take the Direction of the Prisoners of War, quartered there, or in the Neighbourhood.

“You will, without Loss of Time, arrest Mr Pope, the Assistant Commissary of Prisoners, who is accused of frequently granting Passes to Prisoners of War, to pass and repass, to, and from the adjacent Towns, upon Parties of Pleasure, indulging them to ramble about the Country, at a great Distance.

“Such Passes, which he could not grant without Breach of Trust, enable the Prisoners to obtain, and transmit Intelligence to the Enemy; and, by too free an Intercourse with the Inhabitants, to damage their Zeal in the common Cause, by propagating dangerous Falsehoods, calculated to prevent the Efficacity of the salutary Measures, lately adopted for the Recovery of public Credit.

“Mr Pope is likewise accused of ‘having granted Passes to Three Prisoners of War; to proceed to New-York, by Land.’

“This is not a simple Official Misdemeanour; it is no better than Treason, committed under the Sanction of Office; and consequently, that Crime is of the blackest Die, whatever the Motive may be.

“You will, therefore, enquire into the Grounds of these Charges, as well as any other, which may come to your knowledge; and endeavour to procure sufficient Testimonies, for the Trial of Mr Pope, and every other Person concerned in the Crime he stands charged with, or any other Crime, committed against the United States, respecting the Department of the Commissary of Prisoners; but, you will apply to the Civil Power of the Land, for the Trial of such of the Inhabitants, who are not subject to the Martial Law.

“You will secure by Arrest, or Imprisonment, according to the Rank of the Offender, and the Nature of his Crime, every Person in the Service of the United States, whom you shall have sufficient Reason to believe amenable before a Court-Martial.

“My Opinion of your Judgment, Integrity, Zeal, and Honour, persuading me, that the discretionary Powers I entrust you with, will be exercised to the Benefit of the United States, I have now but to recommend to you, to send me, as early as possible, an exact Report of whatever you may discover, and to remain at Rutland, until you receive further Orders from me, or his Excellency the Commander in Chief” (DNA:PCC, item 154; see also Gates to GW, 9 Sept., and GW to Gates, 29 Sept., both NHi: Gates Papers).

Edwards wrote Gates from Rutland, Mass., on 3 Aug. (Tuesday) that “Mr Pope return’d from Boston on Saturday Night late & on Sunday I put your Orders in Execution respecting him” (Gregory and Dunnings, “Gates Papers” description begins James Gregory and Thomas Dunnings, eds. “Horatio Gates Papers, 1726–1828.” Sanford, N.C., 1979. Microfilm. description ends ). A letter from Robert Pope to Gates, written at Rutland on 18 Aug., reads: “But as your honor is sensible, Mans Character after once being slandered cannot be restored without a fair examination, I must beg your honor to be so indulgent to me, as to order a speedy Enquiry to be made into my Conduct. Your honor is sensible the longer such a matter is deleay’d the more Vain conjectures & Idle reports will be propagated. . . . I should have been very happy to have deliverd this Verbally, but Maj. Edwards thot it not so well at present” (Gregory and Dunnings, “Gates Papers” description begins James Gregory and Thomas Dunnings, eds. “Horatio Gates Papers, 1726–1828.” Sanford, N.C., 1979. Microfilm. description ends ). For a defense of Pope, see Joshua Mersereau to Gates, 9 Aug., in Gregory and Dunnings, “Gates Papers.”

4The Royal Gazette (New York) for 31 July printed a report on this incident: “Yesterday morning arrived here a Virginia schooner rigged pilot-boat, which was cut out of Boston harbour last Friday night [23 July], by thirty eight British prisoners, who had effected their escape from a prison-ship there. The schooner had lately arrived from the West Indies, and part of her cargo remained on board. These brave men, rendered almost desperate by the hard usage they received from the rebels, had, some time before, projected a scheme for their deliverance and were resolved to have boarded and brought off the Warren frigate of 36 guns; but that vessel being of a large draught of water, and all of them unacquainted with the channel, they were obliged to desist from the enterprize; But Captain Bowen, late prize-master of the Lady Gage, formerly of this port, having found means to get on shore last Thursday, brought on Friday night a large boat along-side of the prison-ship, with which they boarded the schooner, where they found three rebels, (now in the prison-ship here) a very small quantity of beef and pork, and only ten gallons of water; they however, on their passage, boarded other two rebel schooners, and obliged them to relinquish part of their provisions. Off the back of Long-Island, they were chased by two rebel privateers to the southward of Barnegat, but out-sailed them.”

5See n.8 below.

6For the successful attack on Stony Point, N.Y., by Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne’s light infantry during the night of 15–16 July, see GW to Wayne, 1 July, n.2; see also Wayne to GW, 17 July, and GW to John Jay, 21 July, and to Gates, this date.

7At this place on his draft manuscript, Gates first wrote “last Night.” He then struck out those words and wrote “at day light this morning” above the line.

8The final portion of this paragraph on Gates’s draft manuscript reads: “by Colonel Talbot off Conanicut Island—The Man is known by good Whiggs here & is well believed.” The Rhode Island General Assembly resolved later in the summer to seek an exchange of Loyalists, including “Pain Hammond, lately taken upon Jamestown … for some of our unfortunate people now prisoners with the enemy” (Bartlett, R.I. Records, description begins John Russell Bartlett, ed. Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England. 10 vols. Providence, 1856–65. description ends 8:577).

The original version of this intelligence report, written at Providence on this date, reads: “Payne Hammond of Conanicut, a Farmer, who was brought to Providence this Morning by Colo. [William] Barton saith That 32 Sail of Vessels, mostly Sloops and Schooners arrived at Newport on Thursday Morning last, being a Wood and Provision Fleet joined together; and having no Troops on board: That Genl [Montfort] Brown’s Regiment is stationed upon that Island at present under the Command of Col. Patterson [Lt. Col. Thomas Pattinson] that in the Port upon the high Ground near the East-Ferry are about 80 Men, and in the Dumplin Fort about 50 Men, making in the whole about 500” (Gregory and Dunnings, “Gates Papers” description begins James Gregory and Thomas Dunnings, eds. “Horatio Gates Papers, 1726–1828.” Sanford, N.C., 1979. Microfilm. description ends ). Gates sent the same intelligence to Congress with a different closing: “That Gen: Browns Regiment is posted on Conanicut with a party of Hessians, & some Artillerists, making in the whole 500 Men” (DNA: PCC, item 154).

The original of a letter from Brig. Gen. Ezekiel Cornell to Gates, written at Tiverton, R.I., on this date, 7:00 A.M.—which Gates docketed “Copy’d to Congress, & Genl Wng. 25th July”—reads: “(S.) is now at my Quarters. And by intelegance from the (R.) The fleet brought no Troops. Altho’ it was currently reported in the Enemy’ Camp the day they came in there was 4,000 on board. They have brought some Provision⟨s⟩ and a little wood. some of the Fleet is along side of the wharfs unladeing and others taking in water: And the report is they are to sail immediately; but on what arrand our informer cannot find out. Mr Davis, one of the Committee of Safety of the Town of Dartmo[uth, Mass.] Infroms me that one of his neighbours came yesterday in a small Boat from Nomans land, and informed him that day before yesterday he saw Thirteen large ships bearing S.E. from Nomans land and they appeared to be standing for Newport; And that some other persons on the Island informed him they saw a much larger Number. It appears to be a hearsay story; But, as it was sent to me, I thought proper to make you acquaintd there with. One Lake went on to Rhode Island the Night before last. He took a small Boat out of a Pond, and carried her near a Mile across the land to the River—There is strong presumtion that one Brightman assisted him in going off. I have sent for him; And if upon Examination his crime appears of so dark a dye as I expect. I shall send him to you. N.B. ⟨illegible⟩ hath hitherto made use of a Borrowed glass—The Owner hath now taken it away. I have been obliged to lend him mine—He informs me Colo. [Silas] Talbot hath one he can spare if so I wish it might be sent by the barer.

“Two Ships of War, that were apart from the Fleet that went into Newport, Have not been into the Harbour, but are cruseing off, between Block Island, and the Elizabeths Island; and one of them was standing to the Eastward last night at dark; Supposed to be the Renown. A large Number of scattering Cannon have been heard this morning in that direction. The fog is so thick nothing can be seen. . . . N.B. The Fleet that went into Newport, is the same that Carried the Troops from thence” (Gregory and Dunnings, “Gates Papers” description begins James Gregory and Thomas Dunnings, eds. “Horatio Gates Papers, 1726–1828.” Sanford, N.C., 1979. Microfilm. description ends ). Gates docketed this letter: “Copy’d to Congress, & Genl Wng. 25th July.”

Index Entries