George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Arthur St. Clair, 4 February 1780

From Major General Arthur St. Clair

Spring Field Febry 4th 1780


The Enterprise intended against Buskerque’s Corps, the Night before last, I was obliged to give up after every thing was ready for the Execution1—The Column that was to have been led by Colonell Hazen would have had seven or eight Miles to march thro’ the Woods, and, as the Night became very dark, and the Air thick, he was unwilling to trust altogether to the knowledge of the Guides without some Star to direct them—they indeed also disapointed us a whole Hour.

Last Night the Person that had been sent to new York returned.2 He did not receive the Information that was expected from Colonell Willets Freind, who, it seems stands in so suspected a Light, that he is obliged to act with great Caution, and at that time declined seeing him—but from his own Observation, and what he learned from some Friends of his own in the City, he reports that, the East River is open, and a free Communication by water with Staten Island. that the number of Troops on York Island amount to about five Thousand and on Staten Island to an equal or greater number. Guards posted along the North River, and Cannon planted at different Distances from the City to Fort Washington—a Subalterns Guard at the Ferry from Paulus Hook, where there is about one hundred Tons of Hay Stacked—the Main Guard in the City Hall—Genl Knyhausen in Mr Moystens House; Genl Tryon in Mr Verplancks, and Genl Jones in Mr Reeds all in the same Street3—a vast Number of Vessels laid up along the Wharfs—a forty Gun Ship in the east River, and three Frigates hauled up—a Vessel also lying at the point of the Battery, but he could not discover her to be of Force (other Accounts mount her with twenty Guns)—a Galley ashore in the Ice in th⟨e⟩ North River, but her Guns landed. He could get no Account of the Vessels at Turtle Bay or Newtown but only generally, that some Ships were there, nor could he learn any thing of the Guards there. the greatest part of the Troops quartered in Town in the Colledge,4 and a Number of other public Buildings And many of them in the Houses of the Inhabitants—Wood extremly scarce, and no great Quantity has been carried from this side, what has been carried is almost entirely from Bergen and comunepas5—This is I think the whole of his Information except that he saw about two thousand Men paraded in the Broad Way betwixt the old English Church and the Oswego Market6—he judges they must have been that Number from their ocupying that Space formed four Deep.

Mr Mercereau returned from New York last Night7 and reports that the Night before last a number of Sleighs, to the amount six hundred, were collected at Kingsbridge to carry Troops upon some Enterprise—if this be true, the Party in the broad Way were probably designed for it.8

Colonell Star with the Connecticut Troops arrived last Night, and Colonells Hazen—and Ogden are relieved.9 I Am Sir your very humble Servant

Ar. St Clair

P.S. When it was judged improper to proceed to Staten Island on the Plan that had been projected, Colonell Hazen proposed joining the Detachments that were to have taken different Routs and taking the command of the whole, and passing at DeHarts Point—this I did not approve of.


1For St. Clair’s plan for this attack, see his second letter to GW of 2 February.

3New York’s City Hall was located on the western side of Wall Street, near Broadway. “Mr Moystens” probably is a reference to the house of John Marston at the corner of Wall Street and Smith Street. Samuel Verplanck (1739–1820) owned a house on the north side of Wall Street near City Hall. “Mr Reeds” may refer to the home of merchant John Reade (1745–1808), who owned property on Wall Street. Maj. Gen. Daniel Jones, former commandant of the garrison of New York, had departed the city for England in July 1779. Maj. Gen. James Pattison was the current commandant of the garrison.

4St. Clair is referring to King’s College (now Columbia University).

5St. Clair is referring to Communipaw, N.J., a village on New York Bay about two miles south of Paulus Hook, New Jersey.

6St. Clair probably is referring to Trinity Church, at the intersection of Wall Street and Broadway. It had been destroyed by fire in 1776. He also may be referring to St. Paul’s Chapel. Both were near the Oswego Market, located in the middle of Broadway where it intersects with Crown Street. Along Broadway, the site of Trinity Church was south of Oswego Market; St. Paul’s was north of the market.

7St. Clair most likely is referring to John Mercereau. His brother Joshua Mersereau and his nephew John LaGrange Mercereau also were engaged in espionage activities for the Continental army.

8These sleighs may have been assembled to carry the troops that attacked the forward detachment of Maj. Gen. William Heath’s division on 3 Feb. (see Heath to GW, 4 and 10–11 Feb.).

9For the march of the Connecticut brigades to reinforce St. Clair’s command, see GW’s letter to St. Clair of 1 Feb., and his first and second letters to St. Clair of 2 February. At this time or soon after, St. Clair posted the 1st Connecticut Brigade at Westfield, N.J., and the 2d Connecticut Brigade at Springfield, New Jersey. In addition to the main posts at Springfield and Westfield, he established outposts at Newark, Woodbridge, Rahway, and Connecticut Farms, with smaller units of guards and patrols at various other locations. In his 14 March letter to GW, Maj. Gen. Johann Kalb, who in March would relieve St. Clair as the commander of these forward-deployed brigades, reported these positions as the established posts of the Connecticut brigades (DLC:GW; see also GW to Kalb, 29 Feb.). The primary purpose of these troops was to protect Springfield and defend the roads through the Watchung Mountains leading to Morristown.

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