George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General William Heath, 26 September 1779

To Major General William Heath

West-point 26th Sepr 1779.

Dr Sir

As it is an object of importance to have ascertained as soon as possible the account which is said to have been brought by a vessel arrived at New-London, out of which a Capn Johnson was taken on board Count D’Estaigns fleet in the lattitude of Bermudas, I would therefore wish you to dispatch without loss of time an officer intelligent in marine affairs to New-London to learn the particulars from the person who commands the vessel in which Capn Johnson was, with such other information of the Count’s fleet and destination as can be obtained.1

I should prefer Lieut. Lee who has been employed on a business of this nature before (provided the Journey is agreeable to himself) as his former report was extremely clear and satisfactory.2

The utmost expedition is to be used both in going and in returning, to facilitate which I herewith inclose for the office⟨r⟩ an order on all Quarter Masters to furnish him occasionally with fresh horses.3 I am Dr Sir Your most obt servt

Go: Washington

LS, in James McHenry’s writing, MHi: Heath Papers.

GW modified these instructions on 27 Sept.; his letter to Heath of that date, written from headquarters at West Point, reads: “You will be pleased to hasten the departure of the officer who was to have gone to the Eastward by yesterdays instructions—with this alteration—that he is to call on Governor Trumbull in the first instance, and if his information should be satisfactory to return immediately to Head Quarters—If not he is to proceed to Dartmouth and gain the proper information from the master of the vessel out of which the Count is said to have taken Capn Gardiner. He may call at General Gates in his way to Dartmouth. You will recommend to him the greatest expedition” (LS, in James McHenry’s writing, MHi: Heath Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW).

1GW seems to have corrected the identity of the ship captain in his letter to Heath of 27 September. The mistaken reference may have been to Martin Johnson, a pilot from Stamford, Connecticut. On 29 Sept., GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton wrote to John Jay a letter reading in part: “We have a report here that a vessel is arrived at some port to the Eastward which parted with the Count D’Estaing in the latitude of Bermudas, and informs that he took Capt Garner the commander of the vessel on board. Gardner it seems was with him as a Pilot when he was on the Coast before. The period to which the intelligence refers is the 10th. instant; and from the time that has elapsed, it is suspected that he is gone to Halifax, though if he was bound here the winds have been very contrary” (Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 2:191-92).

2For Lt. Ezra Lee’s previous mission to gain intelligence at New London, Conn., see GW to Jedediah Huntington, 12 Sept., and GW to Jay, 19-20 September.

3This enclosure has not been identified.

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