George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Brigadier General Duportail and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, 10 October 1779

To Brigadier General Duportail
and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton

Head Quarters [West Point] Octob. the 10. 1779


The only material intelligence which I have obtained from New York or respecting the Enemy since your departure, is contained in the inclosed account, which I received yesterday from Captain Monroe.1 This in your communications with His Excellency Count D’Estaing, you will be pleased to shew him.2

As we shall have occasion for a great many boats, in case a cooperation between the Count & us takes place, I request that you will inform yourselves of the number, which His Excellency has fit for transporting Troops.

In order to cut off the Enemy’s force on Staten Island, I would suggest that it will be necessary for the Count, as soon as possible after his entry at the Hook, to have measures taken for destroying all their boats on the Staten Island shore. And besides, it will be material that a part of his Ships should be stationed along the Island, to prevent Boats from being sent from New York to withdraw them; and their being stationed in this manner appears to me, the more essential, as the Enemy would annoy them from Land batteries, if they were to continue in the narrows.3 I am Gentn with great regard & respect Yr Most Obedt servant

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC: Alexander Hamilton Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

On this date GW wrote from West Point to the Continental Congress Marine Committee: “I must take the liberty to request, that the Letter I have the honor to transmit inclosed, may be forwarded by a safe and early conveyance to Brigadr Genl Duportail and Lt Colo. Hamilton, who it is probable will have left philadelphia when it arrives, in order to meet Count D’Estaing.” A note on the document reads: “The Letter to Genl Duportail & Lt Colo. Hamilton alluded to above dated—the 10th” (Df, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW).

1GW enclosed a copy of a document stating the intelligence received from Capt. James Munro. The draft of the document, dated as “given the 9th of Octr 1779” and signed by and in the writing of Harrison, reads: “Capn James Monroe, late of the Armed Brig Saratoga, escaped from on board a prison Ship in New York harbour on Wednesday the 6 Instant at 2 OClock AM informs.

“That a Mr Burling of the Luty sent him word on the preceding monday—that Sir James Wallace & his fleet were taken and also the British Land forces to the Southward amounting to 5000, by Count D’Estaing—and that the Count had put to sea again.

“That Admiral Arbuthnot with the Russel of 74—Europa of 74 or 64—the Raisonable of 64 & the Renown of 50 (the Renown dismasted in a late gale of wind when convoying Troops to Hallifax), the Roebuck of 44 are at the Hook—with 8 or 10 frigates and Sloops of War and besides these they had selected 12 or 15 of their largest Vessels and had them at the Hook to form a line with their Ships of War—in order to deceive Count D’Estaing; That 11 ships are prepared to sink at the Hook to obstruct and prevent the Counts entrance; That he had not heard any thing of the Enemy’s fortifying Sandy Hook; That last sunday morning [3 Oct.] the Inhabitants of New York were called upon to take their tour of duty for fortifying Governor’s Island; That 4 Indiamen arrived about a fortnight or Three weeks ago with Ordnance and Stores—and that a great number of heavy Cannon had been landed from them and mounted in the grand battery.

“That on Monday last [4 Oct.] Sir Henry Clinton and Several Genl Officers went over to powles Hook—and after their return—Two flats proceeded thither with 10 or 12 pieces of heavy Cannon; That from good information—the Enemy were in great confusion—landing their Cannon one day & putting them on board the next & shifting them from one Vessel to another.

“That about 10 days ago about 40 sail of Vessels went off in great hurry to the Eastward up the Sound, which were reported to be gone to bring the forces from Rhode Island.

“their force, previous to the Enemy’s embarkation of Troops for the South, on Long Island was reported to be about 9000—on York Island 4000—& Staten Island 1500—that in this Estimate the Troops which came both with Adml Arbuthnot & Capn Hammond, were included; but not those which sailed for Hallifax.

“That the Troops which arrived with Adl Arbuthnot were reported to be about 2500—those with Capn Hammond about 1300—both very sickly⟨;⟩ that with respect to the Other Troops, from the reports he had received, they were in general pretty healthy; That the whole of the Troops which had embarked for the Southward had returned and landed on Staten Island; That those which came in with Capn Hammond—run into the East River—and landed some on York & Others on Long Island; That 2 of the Transports which sailed for Hallifax with Troops had returned again.

“That the Chief of the Shipping lay in the East River—and that it was generally computed that there were in the whole at York—the Hook & Staten Island about 1000 sail, including all sorts of Vessels.

“That the Enemy’s supplies both of wood & Coal were very scanty—As to provisions from their late arrivals, he supposed it plenty—though fresh meat was from 2/3 to 2/6 hard money” (DLC:GW).

James Munro, a privateer captain of Providence, R.I., had, prior to his command of the privateer brig Saratoga, commanded the privateer sloop Sally and the privateer brig Blaze Castle. Captured while commanding the latter ship in June 1778, Munro with his crew was taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia and jailed there, but he was exchanged in the fall of 1778 (see 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 8:448). With Capt. Silas Talbot of the Argo, Munro in Saratoga had captured the British privateer Dublin in August 1779, but, on 11 Sept., his brig was captured by a British frigate. He later commanded the privateer sloop Hope and the 20-gun Massachusetts privateer ship Belisarius. While commanding the latter ship, Munro was again captured in August 1781 and taken to New York.

2GW had assigned Duportail and Hamilton to meet Vice Admiral d’Estaing at the Delaware Capes (see GW to d’Estaing, 7 Oct.). A copy of spy Robert Townsend’s (“Samuel Culper, Jr.”) 29 Sept. intelligence report to Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge is in DLC: Alexander Hamilton Papers, and Hamilton may have carried this report with him. For the report, see GW to Samuel Huntington, 9 Oct., n.4.

3For GW’s preparations for joint operations with d’Estaing’s fleet and a summary of his plans for attacking Staten Island, see Planning for an Allied Attack on New York, c.3–7 October; see also specifically Documents I and IX in the editorial note, and GW to d’Estaing, 13 September.

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