George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 19 September 1780

From Major General William Heath

Newport September 19th 1780

Dear General,

I have just been favored With a Sight of your letters to General Rochambeau and Admiral de Ternay, mentioning the arrival of a fleet at Sandy hook—Supposed to be a squadron under the command of Admiral Rodney1—a few minutes before I received the enclosed from Colonel Ledyard at New London.2

General Rochambeau and Admiral de Ternay went yesterday morning to Providence; Were not expected to return until to morrow or next day.3 Baron Viominel who is the Senior officer of the French troops here is very desirous to be precisely ascertain’d that Admiral Arbuthnot’s fleet Were at Gardners island the 13th & 14th Instant, Which will fully determine whether the fleet which arrived at the Hook, was Arbuthnot or Rodney. I have sent an officer to have the matter fully determined.4 Baron Viominel has also sent off an Express to the General and Admiral at Providence. for my own part, I am of opinion that the fleet which arrived at the Hook is part of Admiral Rodney’s from the West Indies.

A very intelligent man just from New York informs me that the most active preparations are making there for the embarkation of a body of Troops—that a number of Vessels are fitting for their Horses—that the awnings are made up very strong, and have the appearance of being designe⟨d⟩ for a voyage of some length—but the approaching roug⟨h⟩ Season may be the motive for this, that there Were conjectures that the embarkation was destined for the West Indies, the Southward, and by some that an attempt Would be made here before Winter at least on the Shipping.

Enclosed is a Certificate of the time of Lieutenant Cooks resigning his Commissi⟨on⟩.5 I have the honor to be With the greatest respect Your Excellencys Most obedient Servant

W. Heath

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

1This letter from GW to Lieutenant General Rochambeau has not been found, but see GW to Ternay, 16 September.

2The enclosure, from Lt. Col. William Ledyard to Heath, was written at New London, Conn., on 17 Sept.: “I wrote you Several days since Respecting the information my Boat brot from Long Island relative to the British Fleet in Gardiners Bay but was prevented Sending it on Account of the Light horse mans not calling according to my Lin[es] to Capt. Hurlburt, it would be in my power frequently to give you information of Matters this way could I be made acquainted when the Express goes Eastwd without detaining them at any time five Minutes—Inclosed I send a List of the British Ships brought by my Boat from Long Island given by a Petty officer belonging to the Fleet—the Fleet lies far up the Bay near East Hampton there takeing in Wood Water &c. this moment three Ships are seen of abrest this Harbour Nothing New from the Southerd, expect the return of a Flag I sent to N. Yorke every Moment & any thing by her worthy Notice will imeadietly inform you” (DLC:GW). The enclosed undated “List of the British Ships laying in Gardiners Bay” names the commanding officers for nine ships of the line (DLC:GW).

Vice Adm. Marriot Arbuthnot had aborted an operation against Rhode Island when he wrote Gen. Henry Clinton on 18 Aug. that his ships were “preparing to weigh to cruise for the enemy between Montauk Point and the southward of Nantucket Shoals” (Willcox, American Rebellion description begins William B. Willcox, ed. The American Rebellion: Sir Henry Clinton’s Narrative of His Campaigns, 1775–1782, with an Appendix of Original Documents. New Haven, 1954. description ends , 451; see also Heath to GW, 28 Aug., n.2). Arbuthnot wrote Adm. George Rodney from Gardiners Bay, N.Y., on 20 Sept. that he had sailed on 18 Aug. with “Nine sail of the Line and a fifty Gun Ship, and Anchored on the 23rd off Rhode Island, where, and on its environs, I have remained ever since until the 13th Instt when not only the advanced season, but the circumstances of the Ships calling on me to return to this Bay” (Rodney of the White Squadron description begins Letter-books and Order-Book of George, Lord Rodney, Admiral of the White Squadron, 1780–1782. 2 vols. New York, 1932. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 65–66. description ends , 1:13–14). The location of Arbuthnot’s fleet concerned GW (see GW to Samuel Washington, 31 Aug., and to Rochambeau, 11 Sept.).

4Heath wrote Ledyard on this date that he had sent Maj. Daniel Lyman “to bring the Intelligence” (MHi: Heath Papers). Ledyard replied to Heath on 20 Sept. that Arbuthnot’s fleet was in Gardiners Bay “before & at the 13th 14th & 15th Instant” (MHi: Heath Papers).

Antoine-Charles du Houx, baron de Vioménil (1728–1792), served as a brigadier general during the French and Indian War. Promoted to major general in 1770, he sailed for North America in April 1780 as Rochambeau’s second-in-command and distinguished himself at Yorktown, Va., in 1781. He became a lieutenant general in 1783 and died in Paris protecting the French royal family.

5Heath enclosed a certification he wrote at Newport on this date for the discharge of “Lieut. John Cooke of the 1st Rhode Island Regt” on 17 Sept. “at his own request, and with honor” (DLC:GW; see also GW to Heath, 28 Aug., and n.4 to that document).

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