George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 9 September 1780

From Major General William Heath

Newport September 9th 1780

Dear General

Yesterday I was honored with yours of the 28th ultimo ⅌ post. I immediately acquainted General Count de Rochambeau with your Wishes respecting the militia doing duty here. He wishes to retain them a little longer; partly on account of the intelligence you were pleased to communicate to him in your Letter of the 3d Instant, of the motions of the Enemy at New York,1 and also in consequence of the French fleet’s having Sail’d from the West Indies. the intention and destination of both these he Supposes will be Soon known. the Militia Shall be discharged the moment his consent can be obtain’d. they are now closely employed at Butts’s hill, which is a very heavy piece of Work. My sentiments perfectly coincide with your Excellency’s with respect to this and all other works which have been repair’d or constructed here—I have therefore in every instance been avoiding as much as possible putting the United States to Expense—this occasioned my addressing your Excellency on the Pallisading or friezing the Works at Butts’s hill. The Count is incessantly urging the importance of that post and the necessity of it’s Works being compleated.2

The enclosed intelligence I have taken this morning from Capt. Earl’s own mouth—He is a man of Strict veracity and full credit may be given to his Account3—Many of the french officers are of opinion that the Fleet is bound here—Capt. Earl informs me that Count de Guichen had received information before he Sail’d that Admiral de Ternay was block’d up by Admiral Arbuthnot—that they were under Some apprehensions for the fate of the Fleet but none for the Army, which they Supposed capable of defending itself.4 The Brittish fleet which Captain Earl Saw I think beyond a doubt was Admiral Arbuthnot, and furnishes grounds for Several conjectures.5 I have the honor to be, With the greatest respect Your Excellency’s Most obedient Servant

W. Heath

ALS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers.

3Heath enclosed intelligence written at Newport on this date: “This morning Capt. John Earl in the Schooner Polly arrived here from Cape Francois, which place he left the 13th Ulto, with part of the French Fleet under The Command of Count de Guichen and off Tortoga the remainder of the Fleet Joined, makeing in The whole 27 Men of war, 24 of which were of the Line, and about 100 Sail of merchant Ships. Capt. Earl left the Fleet on the 28th Ulto … In Lat. 39—Long. 69 Capt. Earl passed a British Fleet consisting of 24 Sail, nine of which he took to be men of War, Standing to the South west, wind E.N.E. Four of the Ships Chased Capt. Earl for Six hours, but not being able to Come up with him returned to the Fleet” (DLC:GW).

John Earl (Earle; c.1750–1810) was captain of the Polly, a schooner built near Providence in 1780.

4French rear admiral Guichen’s fleet sailed for Europe (see Heath to GW, 6 Sept., n.3; see also GW to Guichen, 12 Sept.).

5For Vice Adm. Marriot Arbuthnot’s fleet, see Heath to GW, 19 Sept., n.2. Earl’s intelligence presumably reported on Adm. George Rodney’s fleet (see David Forman to GW, 14 Sept., n.1).

GW replied to Heath from headquarters in Bergen County on 13 Sept.: “I have recd your favor of the 9th inclosing Capt. Earles account of the French Fleet in the West Indies. There is intelligence of a similar nature from Philadelphia.

“You will be pleased to forward the inclosed letter for Mr Bowdoin immediately by Express” (LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, MHi: Heath Papers; see also GW to the Massachusetts Council, 12 Sept., found at GW to Samuel Huntington, 9 Sept., n.3, and GW’s second letter to Rochambeau, 13 Sept.).

Heath replied to GW from Newport on 16 Sept.: “I am this moment honored with yours of the 13th Instant with one enclosed for the Honble Mr Bowdoin, which agreable to your direction shall be forwarded immediately by Express.

“we have no news in this Quarter except puffing accounts in the New York Papers of their Successes and our losses at the Southward, which we are loath to believe” (ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers).

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