George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General William Heath, 21 August 1780

To Major General William Heath

Head Quarters Orange Town 21st Augt 1780.

Dear Sir

Your favor of the 17th reached me last Evening. I have recieved intelligence that Sir Henry Clinton went himself towards the East End of Long Island on the 16th and that the troops at Whitestone were again embarking. I have an account of Sir Henry’s movement through two different Channels—that of the embarkation only thro’ one.1 I can hardly suppose that he will, considering the present position of this Army, venture to carry a force from New York sufficient to make an attempt upon Rhode Island; but that you may have the earliest intelligence of any movements, I have desired Genl Arnold and Major Tallmadge to transmit immediately to you, any well grounded information they may receive.2 This you will of course communicate to the General and Admiral of France.

They are apprehensive in New York of an embarkation of troops for the West Indies, but I have nothing from thence which satisfies me of the truth of the report. I am with great Regard Dear Sir Your most obt Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. I have just heard that Genl Clinton was certainly in New York the day before Yesterday.3

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, MHi: Heath Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1See Benedict Arnold to GW, 20 Aug., found at GW to Arnold, this date, n.1, and Benjamin Tallmadge to GW, 20 Aug., n.5; see also Robert Howe to GW, this date. GW had received earlier intelligence of a British embarkation at Whitestone, N.Y., but from reports of deserters (see Nathaniel Shaw to GW, 13 Aug., and n.1).

GW soon received another intelligence report of these events. On 19 Aug., spy Abraham Bancker, signing with his alias of “Amicus Reipublicae,” wrote to John Mercereau from New York City: “Early in the Beginning of this Week, Sir Henry Clinton out from the City to visit Adml Arbuthnot on his Station in Gardner’s Island Sound, attended by a Number of Officers & it is Said for a Certainty that he was to consult with the Admiral abt the present State of Affairs & to resolve ⟨at⟩ a Council of War what will be most expedient to be done at this present Juncture. As a Number of Transports are hauled out of the East River and the North River, Some People imagine there will be a Speedy Movement but no troops have embarked as yet, Various Conjectures abt the Matter but this you may depend on that the Barrack Master at New York has Orders to provide immediately Qrs in the City for 1500 Men.

“By which it appears they mean to continue in their present Quarters—& We are informed (but assert it not as a fact) that the Passage at the Narrows ⟨illegible⟩ Brigade of Hessians are to be distributed on Staten Island in Case there’s the Appearance of an Enemy & when hostilities Shall commence They are all to repair to their Strong Holds & leave the Inhabitants to Shift for themselves A new Forag Yard is constructed at the Flag Staff, where all the Forage is to be conveyed for the future—The grand Redoubt at the Flag Staff is now doubly fortified with Abbatis which are distant from each other abt 20 feet between the two Rows is a 24 Pounder pointing towards the Woods & four more without the Works tending also towards the Woods.

“The Mercantile Part of the City is fully employed in purchasing the Cargo of the East Indiaman, little else is Stirring at this Time more than usual, but by next Saturday [26 Aug.] we hope to give you Something more Satisfactory” (DLC:GW).

GW usually received Bancker’s reports through the agency of Mercereau. For evidence that Mercereau might have been at GW’s headquarters about this time, see Mercereau to GW, 25 August.

2See GW to Tallmadge, this date, found at Tallmadge to GW, 20 Aug., source note; and GW to Arnold, this date.

3The source of this intelligence has not been identified. British general Henry Clinton was on Long Island on 19 Aug. (see GW’s second letter to Rochambeau, 27 July, n.3).

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