George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Robert Howe, 25 May 1780

From Major General Robert Howe

Highlands [N.Y.] 25th May 1780

Dear Sir

The Enemy have been lately out to Horse Neck—I warn’d the Officer of Militia of it, for I had Intelligence of their Intentions—Their Guard however was surpris’d—three were kill’d & two wounded, several Inhabitants carried off & two Houses burnt1—They have been, & are collecting Horses from Long Island & elsewhere, & by the Choice they observe in the selecting them, they are for Men, not Teams, tho’ some fit for the Gears have also been taken—My Spies have inform’d me that Forage is their Object—that Horse Neck & Millen2 are to be amus’d by Attacks, While a strong Party of Horse supported by Infantry are to scour the Country & drive off Cattle, & that their Operations were to extend even to Crompond—This appears to be more probably their Intention, as some of the Refugees of the Enemy, who have near Relations at Crompond, have sent out Emissaries to give private Notice to their Favorites of this Movement—advising them to get out of the Way.

In Consequence of which Col. Putnum is detached with a Party, to lay near the Croton, between Pine’s & new Bridge, which as it is said they intend to cross at the former & sweep downwards to the latter, is a proper Place to counteract their Designs3—Millen is noticed of their Design,4 & every other Step taken not only to defeat their Success, but to render their Scheme as detrimental to them as possible.

I have late Papers from York—Rivington’s Silence as to the southern Operations is indicative of their ill Success—They acknowledge (as my Agents inform me) that the British are block’d up in Charle’s Town Harbour by the French, but boast that it is of no Consequence as they had a large Supply of Provision, & would be relieved by a superior British Fleet very shortly & therefore had nothing to fear but the Inclemency of the Climate.5 At the same Time they talk this Way they are evidently alarm’d to a great Degree, & hastening the finishing of their Fortifications & erecting new ones—have taken, & are taking their heavy Cannon from their Works remote from the City, & carrying them to the Town, or to those Works in its Vicinity6—have removed their Troops station’d at Jamaica on Long Island to New York, & are seemingly contracting their Works of Defence.

Waggons & Teams however, have been press’d from Long Island lately, for what Purpose it is not known.

The Accounts I have of the Horse neck Affair is much to the Dishonor of the Enemy—an old Woman above seventy was burnt in one of the Houses,7 & many other Acts of Barbarity committed, as unwarrantable as savage. I am Dear Sir With every Sentiment of Respect Your Excellency’s most obedient Humble Servant

Robert Howe


1No letter from Howe to the militia officer has been identified.

The New-York Gazette: and the Weekly Mercury for 29 May reported the raid against Horseneck (now Greenwich), Connecticut. Loyalist colonel James De Lancey and his Westchester County Refugees and Militia conducted “a successful Incursion upon the Enemy, of whom they killed ten, took 37 Continental and Militia Troops Prisoners, and Trophies.” The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser (Boston) for 15 June 1780 printed an extract of a letter from Stamford, Conn., dated 23 May. It reads in part: “This morning we were alarmed by the approach of the enemy to Horseneck. That place has again been ransacked and plundered. They burnt two houses and two barns, broke the windows in most of the houses which they passed—⟨t⟩ook off a number of horses and cattle, and behaved in other respects, so as to support the infernal reputation they have acquired since the commencement of hostilities with America. Six of the militia were killed, most of them were hewed to pieces, and mangled in the most shocking manner, after they had surrendered, and sued for quarters. O⟨n⟩e woman perished in the conflagration, and an officer of their’s Capt. [Solomon] Fowler, who had distinguished himself in their service, was killed.” Only “dispirited” militia were present to defend the town. William Smith, royal chief justice of New York, wrote in his memoirs for 24 May: “The Refugees returned from Horseneck. … 10 Rebels slain, 30 brought in and 100 Head of Cattle including some Horses” (Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs [1971], 267–68).

2For Lt. Col. James Mellen, previously stationed with a detachment near Sing Sing (now Ossining), N.Y., see Howe to GW, 14 May.

3Howe wrote Col. Rufus Putnam on 24 May that he had “ordered sevanty five Men under a Majr from Genl [John] Glovers Brigade, to hold themselv’s in constant readiness” to join Putnam’s detachment. Putnam replied on the same date, from Continental Village, N.Y., that he had “determined to take post between the New Bridge and Pines Bridge So as to be able to fall in with the enimy in case they attempt to Steal a March by the Fords.” Putnam conjectured that the enemy would “Come up by Pines bridge and Return by the New and proverblay a Body of Infentry may advance if not Cross at the New Bridge [Croton River] to cover there Retrete with the Booty.” Putnam advised Howe that “one hundred men from [John] Nixons officers” had left Continental Village early that morning and that Glover’s men had not arrived. Howe wrote Putnam on 25 May that he suspected the British had “suspended the Execution of their Plan.” He recommended a feint to make the British think that Putnam’s command had “retired to the Highlands by which Means they may be led to execute their Scheme” and move into a trap. Putnam replied on the same date from Collaberg Mountain, in Westchester County, that he planned to “Post” himself that night “between the Bridges” (Buell, Putnam Memoirs description begins Rowena Buell, ed. The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam and Certain Official Papers and Correspondence. Boston and New York, 1903. description ends , 147–51).

4Putnam wrote Howe on 25 May that he had sent one of Howe’s letters “by Express” to Mellen the previous day and that Mellen was “on the Rode from Pine bridge—Youngs [tavern]” (Buell, Putnam Memoirs description begins Rowena Buell, ed. The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam and Certain Official Papers and Correspondence. Boston and New York, 1903. description ends , 150–51).

5For erroneous intelligence regarding a French fleet bound for South Carolina, see Elias Dayton to GW, 19 May, and n.4 to that document.

6The “new” fortifications may refer to British works near Bayard’s Hill and Corlear’s Hook, N.Y. (see GW to James Duane, 13 May, and n.9). Smith wrote in his memoirs for 18 May that concern over a French fleet prompted “the Planting of Cannon on the Shores” (Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs [1971], 265). In a letter to George Germain of 18 May, written at New York City, James Robertson, royal governor of New York, noted: “A large square fort is built at Brooklyn Heights. The works at Paulus Hook are strengthened and these at Fort Knyphausen put in order. The townspeople are employed in joining the redoubts near the town with lines” (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).

7Howe probably refers to the woman mentioned in the newspaper report concerning the raid against Horseneck (see n.1 above).

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