George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons, 26 December 1779

From Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons

Westfield [N.J.] Decembr 26th 1779

Dear General

I have sent by a Gaurd Wm Davenport and Samuel Marsh, two Persons taken by the Patroles from woodbridge last night: Davenport was imployd in the Service of the States in 1776, and joind the Enemy on the Retreat through Jersey in that year; and since that Time has been imployd in the Se[r]vice of the Enemy, and was about 6 weeks since in Arms with a Party of the Enemy in Jersey: and is suspected of carrying four Men of our Troops to Staten Island a fiw nights since, he being over at that Time; the other man is a Carpenter in the Service of the Enemy, who came over with Davenport last night to see his Father at amboy.1 some Salt Tea &c. which they brought over is divided amongst the Guard.

About Sixty Sail of the Fleet with Troops fell down to the Hook yesterday morning and the night before, but I am not satisfied the whole Fleet is there: I hope for some more Inteligence to Day which I shall immediately transmit. I am with the greatest Respect yor obe. Sert

Saml H. Parsons

P.S. since writing the above, I am informd the Fleet consists of near Two Hundred Sail (but whether this is both or One fleet only my Information is not particular in) the Fleet is said to have a Number of Southern Refugees among them Governor Martin2 has imbarkd—I expect soon more particular Information.3

A Peice of linnen directed to Mr Adams D.C.P.4 and 3 or 4 Yards of Scarlet Broadcloth directed to Col. Beatty C.G.P. came out by the Flag from Mr Loring C.G.P. and is in Custody of the Officer of the Guard; I wish to receive your Excellency’s particular Directions about them the Officer of the Guard has no Objection to their going as directed if tis your Excellencys Pleasure; but as our orders are we do not think ourselves at Liberty to relax in a Single Instance the literal Execution of them with[out] your Consent.5 I am yr Excellen[c]y’s Obedt Servt

Saml H. Parsons


1William Davenport could have been Samuel Marsh’s relative. Samuel Marsh probably was a son of Elias Marsh (1722–1789), who had married Mary Davenport and died in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

2Parsons is referring to former North Carolina governor Josiah Martin, who accompanied the British expedition with other “North Carolina Refugees” (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], 197). William Smith, royal chief justice of New York, recorded in his memoirs under 24 Dec. a dinner discussion with Martin: “He disclosed in Confidence the General’s [Henry Clinton’s] Motive in taking him on the Expedition, to be the immediate Erection of Civil Government under him, and that the Destination was to Charles Town.” During the conversation, there came “a more full Declaration from Martin, that he expected to be the Governor of South Carolina, and a general Question what I would advise him to do. I took this fair Opportunity for an Answer of some Extent, having before perceived Governor Martin’s Mind rather inclined, from his Losses and Sufferings, to too great a Degree of Revenge” (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], 198–99).

3A later letter on this date from Parsons to GW headed “Sunday Ev’ning” reads: “this Moment a Deserter from the 63d Regt who left Staten Island Yesterday informs me, that the british Grenadiers & Infantry, Hessian Grenadiers, 7th 33d 63d british Regiments and the Horse of the Queens Rangers, make Part of the Troops imbarkd on Board the whole Numbers in which are included 17th Dragoons are said to be 8000, Genl Clinton is said to be on Board, he says the Ships of War to Convoy the Fleet hal’d without the Hook last Night and the Fleet were to sail this Morning—the Troops remaining on Staten Island are the 57th british Regt Two Hessian Regiments between Decker’s & Cole’s Ferry, Ld Rawdon’s Corps at the Narrows & the Queens Rangers on Richmond Heights [Hill]; the Island is to be commanded by Colo. Sterling.

“I shall forward the Deserter to your Excellency in the Morning; at which Time this Letter will be sent forward … this is all the Paper I have left which I hope will apologize for so Scanty a Peice” (ALS, DLC:GW). For further details on the British embarkation from New York to the southern states, see Anthony Wayne to GW, this date, and the source note to that document.

4Parsons meant John Adam, deputy commissary of prisoners.

5GW answered Parsons from Morristown on 28 Dec.: “I have recd your favor of the 26th.

“Before you return you will be pleased to leave orders that the linen and cloth addressed to the commissaries of prisoners be retained till the matter can be taken up and enquired into” (Df, in James McHenry’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW).

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