George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Robert Howe, 26 August 1780

From Major General Robert Howe

26 August 1780

Dear Sir

I went out this morning by Day light in order to make my Self acquainted with the Approaches of the Camp And situation of the Guards, and am but this moment Return’d. during this Tour I am inform’d that your Excellency did me the Honour of a Visit, I therefore immediatly Send to know if you have any Business or Commands that I may Attend without Delay Should that be the case, & which with Pleasure I Shall be ready to do. my Emissarys (at least two of them) insist upon it that Sir Henry Clinton is on Long Island with a considerable Force,1 & that some weighty manœuvre is in object, that on the 21st Instant 1 fifty Gun ship 2 Frigates and three large Brigs Came from the Fleet at Gardners Bay near Rhode Island, & went towards New york, & that Vessels Were on the 23d Collected at New York, And it was said were to fall down to the Hook.2 That the Troops between New york & Kings Bridge Were Certainly five thousand, that General Kniphausen was to Join Sir Harry Clinton & General Tryon to Command on York Island, that Your Excellency’s movements had puzzled Sir Henry & that he appear’d to have suspended his Operations from the perplexity he was thrown into by them, & that continual Expresses were passing & Repassing between him & General Tryon to a very remarkable Degree; that Conjectures Were various As to the End they Aimed At, some said Defence alone would be their Aim & that Sir Harry had chosen Long Island as his Sphere from the persuasion that the French would Operate there & that the principal Attack would be in that Quarter, Others are Certain that Offensive measures were in View, and that Clinton was under possitive orders to Act Vigorously & to make You his Object, & that however Divided he and Tryon Were at present, a Sudden junction Would be formd When matters Were Ripe for Executio⟨n⟩ & that their motions would be Rapid, a third Set are possitive that General Tryon is to Keep you at Bay While Clinton Went Against west Point, imagining that if you could be kept off the Militia at that Post would be an Easy conquest, and that the Ships mention’d above to have been sent from Rhode Island, with those at York Were to be Stationd in the North River so as to prevent your Crossing at any Place below New Windsor. The Person himself thinks that Either our Allies at Rhode Island or your Excellency was their Object, and he inclines to the latter as officers of High Rank are Continually Saying that washington was America and that Every Risque should be Run to Subdue him, that now was the time, When his Army Consisted of a set of Raw Boys hardly able to Wield a Firelock, & that sir Henry had been so freely Exclaimed Against for not making you his Aim, all along, that the writer thought he Could not avoid doing it Even if his inclinations Were otherwise this Sir is the Substance, indeed almost the Words of What has been sent me I am Dear sir With the greatest Respect & Regard yr Excellency’s most obt Servt

R. Howe

P.S. I think Captain Lawrences Acct that a Body of Troops had Saild to the Eastward thro’ the sound must have been premature.3


GW replied to Howe on this date from headquarters: “When I called at Your Quarters this Morning, I had no business particularly in View, I proposed only taking a ride to the River, & should have been happy in Your Company if you had been disengaged.

“You will be pleased to accept my thanks for your communications” (Df, in David Humphreys’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW).

1British general Henry Clinton had been on Long Island, N.Y., but returned to New York City on 23 Aug. (see Lydenberg, Robertson Diaries description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends , 239–40; see also GW’s second letter to Rochambeau, 27 July, n.3).

2New York printer Hugh Gaine wrote in his journal entry for 23 Aug.: “Great Preparations for the Fleet’s going to Sea, but the Day not yet fixed” (Ford, Journals of Hugh Gaine description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed. The Journals of Hugh Gaine, Printer. 1902. Reprint. [New York] 1970. description ends , 2:97).

3Howe may be referring to Capt. Jonathan Lawrence, Jr., of Col. William Malcom’s corps of New York levies, or New York navy captain Augustine Lawrence.

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