George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Samuel Huntington, 18 January 1780

To Samuel Huntington

Head Quarters Morris Town 18 Jany 1780.


The severity of the Weather having rendered a descent upon Staten Island practicable by the Ice, and it being also imagined that the communication between New York and the Island was interrupted by the same cause, a favorable opportunity, of striking the enemy stationed there, (who amounted by report to 1000 or 1200 Men) seemed to present itself—A detachment of 2500 Men, including the troops under General Irvine, who was already advanced for the cover of the Country along the Sound, was accordingly made for that purpose, and the command given to Major General Lord Stirling.

It was originally intended to have attempted the execution of this matter by surprize, but having good reason to suppose, that the enemy, by their emissaries or by other means, had got notice of our designs, little hope remained of effecting the Business in that manner. As the detachment was assembled near Elizabeth Town, it was thought advisable to proceed at all events, upon a consideration, that no bad consequences could possibly result, but that we might, upon gaining a fuller information of the enemy’s Strength—position and Works than we had been able to obtain from report, still find an opportunity of reaping some advantages—We were however disappointed in our expectations, as Congress will perceive by the enclosed Report from Lord Stirling.1

I this morning recd letters, of which the enclosed are Extracts; from my confidential Correspondent in New York. I imagine the difficulty of passing from Long Island has detained them thus long. They are the most circumstantial accounts that I have received and I beleive may be depended upon.2 I have not yet been able to learn whether Genl Clinton did really sail with the detachment or not.

I have received your Excellency’s favor of the 12th with the Resolutions to which it refers. I have the honor to be with the greatest Respect Your Excellency’s most obt Servant

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 20 Jan. and referred it to the Committee of Intelligence.

On this date, GW sent a third letter to Huntington. The letter, written from headquarters at Morristown, reads: “In the copy of Lord Stirlings letter, which I had the honor of transmitting your Excellency this morning, the following sentence was omitted. ‘We took a few prisoners and had a few deserters from the enemy.’ Congress will be pleased to read this after the paragraph concluding, ‘I imagine a very few may have been left behind[’]” (LS, in James McHenry’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW). Congress read this letter on 22 Jan. (JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 16:79).

2These were extracts from the letters of the chief spy of GW’s Culper ring espionage network, Robert Townsend (“Samuel Culper, Jr.”). On 27 Dec. 1779, GW had informed Congress that he expected this intelligence from his “confidential correspondent” in “the course of a few days” (GW to Huntington, that date). One extract most likely was taken from a Townsend letter to Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge (“John Bolton”)—apparently his No. 16 letter, which is not in DLC:GW. This extract, in Tench Tilghman’s writing and dated 11 Dec. 1779 at New York, reads: “I am now to inform you that a considerable part of the enemy are under orders for embarkation. say 5 Battalions British all the Grenadiers and Light Infantry of the Brittish—all the Hessian Grenadiers—Regiment of Chasseurs—The Legion and above 200 of the Artillery—the whole from 7000 to 10,000 Men. The heavy Baggage is chiefly on board. It is the opinion of those who have access to Head Quarters that they are going to Georgia. However some think they will first go to the Chesapeak and endeavour to take some french Men of War which are said to be there, and others again think that part of them will go to the West Indies. The Russel—Robuste—Europa—Raisonable—Defiance Renown and several Frigates go with the Expedition” (DNA:PCC, item 152).

A second extract was taken from Townsend’s “No. 17” letter to Tallmadge of 27 December. The letter, written from “729,” the Culper-ring code for Setauket, N.Y. (see Tallmadge to GW, 25 July 1779, n.2), reads: “In my last I inform’d you that a considerable number of the Enemy were under orders for Embarkation. The number does not exceed seven thousand. I have now to inform you that they have all Embarked, and part of the Transports fell down to the Hook a few days ago. They were to sail the 26th Inst. under Convoy of the Russel, Robust, Europa, Defiance, Raisonable, Roebuck, Renown, Romulus & Perseus. Genl Clinton goes in the Romulus. The time that it will necessarily take for this to get to hand makes it almost needless to inform you that they are possitively going to Charlestown. Governer Martin with a considerable number of North Carolina Refugees, and all the Officers who have been on furloe from Georgia, goes with the Expedition. Five vessels are Loaden with Ordnance Stores; and they have taken Fifty Chests of Arms for the purpose of arming the Tory’s & Negroes. It is said that they are to act on a very diffirent plan from what they formerly have, i.e. to settle the Country as they Conquer it, by securing all those whom they may suppose dangerous; and to give the most noted Torys a considerable command. It is said that Clinton will go home immediately after taking possession of Charlestown, and leave the Command to Lord Cornwallis. The most sanguine of the Torys flatter themselves that the Brittish army will be in possession of both the Carolina’s by may next. I sincerely hope that such measures will be taken as may disappoint their expectations, even to the taking of Charlestown. If the Garrison distin’d to defend it will have a Retrospect to Georgia, and immitate them, I think they may hold it. Clinton will make a vigirous push for it. For I believe he thinks that it is necessary to do something to distinguish himself before he returns to England.

“The Garrison at New-York is left under the Command of Tryon & Knyphausen. It is now entirely out of Wood, and can get none but what they bring from a considerable distance by land. A considerable number of Teams are order’d from Queens County to Brooklin Ferry, each to carry a load of Wood, and to continue there six days to Cut wood from the nearest Woodland for the use of the Army. If the Creeks continue shut any time, the Inhabitants will be greatly distress’d for the want of Fuel. The Markets are well supply’d with Fresh provision of every kind, and will continue so while there is any Cattle in Connecticut & New-Jersey. A considerable number of Cattle and other provision is daily brought over from Connecticut to the East end of Long Island, and from thence conveyed to New York; and there has ever been regular supplies from Shrewsberry, Middletown, and every other part of East Jersey. It is almost needless to mention Kings Bridge, for it has been, and ever will be a practice to get supplies in that way.

“No arrivals since my last; and none from Europe since the September Packet. The Fleet for Europe, consisting of near One hundred sail, sailed from Sandy Hook the 23d Inst: under Convoy of the Solebay & Lioness, Frigates.

“The expence of conveying Letters obliges me to request that you will send me Twenty Guineas pr next conveyance.

“I am, now entirely out of the Counter-part of the stain.” (DLC:GW). The extract, dated the same date as Townsend’s letter and in James McHenry’s writing, contained all but the final two paragraphs (DNA:PCC, item 59). Congress ordered that an extract of the portion of Townsend’s letter regarding the movement of supplies from Connecticut and New Jersey to the British be sent to the governors of those states (JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 16:74; see also Huntington to William Livingston and Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 20 Jan., in Smith, Letters of Delegates, description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends 14:352).

Townsend’s letter No. 16 probably was accompanied by Culper spy Abraham Woodhull’s (“Samuel Culper”) letter to Tallmadge of 12 Dec. 1779. This letter, written at Setauket, reads: “Inclosed you have a blank Just come to hand from C. Junr Which I conclude contains Some important Intelligence, And as this is the appointed Night and very good, hope it will Soon reach your hands—On Monday last [6 Dec.] the Forageing Party left us after collecting the Forage in general as far Eastward as this Town Ship extends, Some from South Hold and South Hampton. The Forage collected in this County is all carried to Huntington; and are as fast as Possible Sending it to N. york as soon as they get it all from that Place the Enemy will most certainly leave there except the Garison on L[loyd] Neck—We are not a little comforted after our distress with the Pleasing hope that the Enemy will not Trouble us any farther thi⟨s⟩ Winter—And glad our corresspondence, will not be interupted or Subject to greater danger than Us⟨ual⟩ The Sad misfortune attending our indevours to the Sou⟨th⟩ ward hath greatly lifted up our Enemies and dejectd our Freinds, And deeply effectd me and Allmost ready to conclude that the day of our deliverance is farther distant than we ever glanced a Thought—and that all the Carolinas will fall into their Hands, as is most certain a large imbarcation destind for Charles Town is about to take Place. and believe Clinton will go himself, But yet hope Such measure will be adopted, that they may be Spaird and Protected Culper Junr is intirely out of the Counterpart. and Unable to read any future Blank that may come dont fail to forward it next opportunity, And we cannot get any Person to run the resque writen with common Ink—C. Junr is to be with me on the 25 hope if the weather is favourable you will incline to come over as we greatly desire to See you. we would gladly if Possible meet you half way. I have the Pleasure to informe you my fears are much abated Since the Troops have bene with us—Their approach was like death to me did not know wheather to Stand or flee, had they bene the Qeens Ranger or Legion Should have bene with you before now—Were I now in the State of N. Jersy without fear of Law or Gospel—would certainly [kill], [Col. Simcoe]—for his Usage to me. I have n⟨o⟩th⟨in⟩g further ⟨to⟩ ⟨sa⟩y at Present.” Woodhull added the following postscript: “do let me hear Some good News from you” (DLC:GW). Woodhull spelled the words “kill” and “Col. Simcoe” in code. Woodhull’s reference to Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe’s “usage” to him may refer to Simcoe’s plundering of Woodhull’s father “in a most Schocking Manner” (Woodhull to Tallmadge, 5 June 1779, in GW to Tallmadge, 13 June 1779, n.1). Apparently, GW did not forward Congress an extract of Woodhull’s letter.

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