George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel Elias Dayton, 19 May 1780

From Colonel Elias Dayton

Elizabeth Town [N.J.] 19 May 1780


I have received your excellency’s favor of the seventeenth—should have been more explicit in the letter alluded to, had I not when I last had the pleasure of seeing your excellency given a particular account of the vessels laying at the hook, prepared for a criuze, of which the fleet I mentioned to have sailed on thursday were composed. From what I can since learn I suspect that they were only intended to drive off & clear our privateers from their harbours.1

On the 16th and 17th a number of troops embarked consisting of the 44th Regt the Hussars & drafts from the different corps nearly two thousand in the whole—39 twenty four pounders were also put on board—’Tis said they were to sail this day and are ordered to Halifax & Cape Breton—They will be convoy’d by the Pearl, Thames & two arm’d sloops of twenty guns each.2 The enemy’s late movement up the Hackinsack river was intended to collect forage for the above embarkation, there being a considerable number of horse on board.3

A vessel in 18 days from St Kitts brings accounts that eight days before she left that place, twenty three French, line of battle ships sailed from Martinico, supposed for Carolina;4 five days after which that Admiral Rodney with 18 ships of the line had sailed from St Lucie.5

Three to two were yesterday betted in New York that Charles town would not fall.

The enemy are building two forts in New York, one a short distance westward of a place called Bunker’s hill; the other at Curlis hook.6

I enclose to your Excellency a number of questions asked my informant at Head Quarters, with the answers to them.7 I am your Excellencys most Obedient Humbl. Servant

Elias Dayton

LS, DLC:GW. GW received this letter on the morning of 20 May (see GW to Samuel Huntington, 19–20 May).

1Dayton is clarifying his letter to GW of 15 May containing intelligence on the sailing of a fleet from Sandy Hook, N.J., on Thursday, 11 May.

2This fleet carried British and Hessian troops bound for Quebec. Hessian officer Jakob Piel noted in his diary that his Lossberg Regiment embarked on 15 May, sailed on 17 May, and dropped anchor at midday near Staten Island, where Piel saw “ships which had the 44th Regiment on board and one which had 108 Brunswickers, who had returned from prisoner of war status.” Under way early on 19 May, the fleet “anchored near Sandy Hook” at 11:00 A.M. The fleet sailed again on 23 May, cleared coastal waters the next day, and passed near Nova Scotia, including Cape Breton Island, before reaching Quebec (Burgoyne, Defeat, Disaster and Dedication, 44–55; see also Prechtel, Diary description begins Johann Ernst Prechtel. A Hessian Officer’s Diary of the American Revolution. Translated and edited by Bruce E. Burgoyne. Bowie, Md., 1994. description ends , 48).

On 18 May, James Robertson, royal governor of New York, informed Lord George Germain that “it was not till yesterday that two sloops of war could be got ready for sea. To strengthen this convoy the Thames frigate sails and proceeds with them to the mouth of St Lawrence and then cruises to try to get early notice about the French fleet.” Robertson also informed Germain that Capt. George Montagu, commander of the Pearl, had been directed “to get a convoy agreeable to the requisition” that Robertson had made “for the troops ordered to Quebec” (see Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 18:95–97).

4William Smith, royal chief justice of New York, recorded in his memoirs for 18 May that the frigate Guadeloupe had arrived in New York the previous evening “in 4 Weeks from St. Kitts with 4 Prizes.” Smith continued with erroneous intelligence: “A Report that the French Fleet have left Martinique for Georgia” (Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs [1971], 265; see also Ford, Journals of Hugh Gaine description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed. The Journals of Hugh Gaine, Printer. 1902. Reprint. [New York] 1970. description ends , 2:87).

5Adm. George Rodney’s fleet engaged Rear Admiral Guichen’s French fleet on 17 April and then sailed to St. Lucia, where Rodney refitted his ships and gathered intelligence on enemy movements (see Duane to GW, 26 May, n.5).

6For the fortifications along Bayard’s Hill, known as Fort Bunker Hill, and at Corlear’s Hook, N.Y, see GW to Duane, 13 May, and n.9. For other reports regarding these fortifications, see Intelligence Operations in the New York City Area, 17 May–24 June.

Corlear’s Hook, located on the southeastern point of Manhattan Island, is the headland that juts into the East River north of Long Island’s Wallabout Bay. The name derives from the Van Corlear family, early Dutch settlers who owned the land.

7Dayton enclosed an undated document with “Questions asked my info[r]mant by General Kniphausens Aid De camp [George Beckwith] & the answers”: “What number of troops does G. Washingtons army consist of[?] Answer uncertain but beleive seven or eight thousand[.] Do you believe he has more then four thousand[?] uncertain but beleive he has[.] Will you go & count their huts & find the number of men in each hut. know their number of Cannon also[.] I will[.] What is the situation of the Rebels respecting provission[?] I hear a considerable complaints of want[.] Who commands on the lines & what number of troops have they there[?] uncertain but beleive the Jersey Brigade[.] Where are their alarm post in Elizabeth Town[?] I will enquire” (DLC:GW).

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