George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 18 August 1779

From Major General William Heath

Mandevilles [Dutchess County, N.Y.]
August 18th 1779

Dear General

It has for some time past been reported that numbers of women frequent going to and comeing from the Enemy at Ver Planks Point by which intelligence undoubtedly can be communicated to any part of the Country—I take the liberty to enclose a letter which I received from Genl Nixon the last evening1 and request your Excellencys direction in this and other like instances—The women are yet detaind but it is difficult to determine how to conduct with this sort of People—I am informed that Colo. Webster at first objected to this sort of intercourse but that upon the representation of Colo. Robinson that many of his Soldiers had wives and relations in the vicinity who would wish to come in it was granted2 any mode that your excellency may think fit to adopt I will endeavour to have effectually carried into execution.3

I forward two Deserters from Ver Planks Point who came in the last evening. I have the Honor to be with the greatest Respect Your Excellencys Most Obedient Servant

W. Heath

LS (retained copy), MHi: Heath Papers.

1This enclosure has not been identified.

2Lt. Col. James Webster was commander of the garrison of Verplancks Point. His 33d Regiment and Col. Beverly Robinson’s Loyal American Regiment were part of the garrison of Verplancks Point.

James Webster (c.1743–1781), of Edinburgh, Scotland, joined the British army as a lieutenant in the 33d Foot Regiment in May 1760 and was promoted to captain in January 1763 (regimental rank from May 1763). Webster became major of the 33d Foot in February 1771 and its lieutenant colonel in April 1774, commanding the regiment during its service in America from 1776 (its colonel, Charles Cornwallis, had been promoted to major general in 1775). Although holding the rank of lieutenant colonel, Webster served as a brigade commander in the British expedition to seize King’s Ferry in May-June 1779. He also served in that capacity in Gen. Henry Clinton’s expedition against Charleston in 1780 and in Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis’s subsequent campaigns in the Carolinas in 1780 and 1781. Praised by Cornwallis for his “distinguished courage and ability” in leading a brigade at the Battle of Camden (Davies, Documents of the American Revolution, description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends 18:151), Webster was mortally wounded at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in March 1781, while commanding the British left wing.

3In a postscript to a letter to Brig. Gen. John Nixon of this date, Heath wrote: “The case of the women taken up yesterday and what measures are to be pursued with them & other that may be taken up, I have Submitted to His Excellency—who has Informed me that an answer shall be given this afternoon or to morrow morning, untill when the matter must remain in Suspence” (MHi: Heath Papers). GW wrote to Heath this day with his instructions.

Nixon provided Heath with additional information regarding the women in a letter of this date, addressed from “Warrens House,” reading in part: “Should be Glad to Know How I am to Dispose of those women I wrote you Concerning yesterday—I have interogated them as Critically, as I Know How—but Cant find Shee, Mrs. Lent had any other motive in going on to the point then to See her Sons” (MHi: Heath Papers).

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