George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major Benjamin Tallmadge, 17 October 1780

From Major Benjamin Tallmadge

Pines Bridge [N.Y.] Octo. 17th 80


I have this moment recd the enclosed from the C——s.1 As Circumstances have since turned out I wish I had met C——Junr as mentioned in my last to your Excellency.2

C——has returned me five of the Guineas which I recd of your Excellency at Tappan, for reasons which are mentioned in his enclosed letter—I will forward them to Hd Qrs or otherwise dispose of them as I may be directed.

With respect to the Person mentioned in C——Senior’s letter, I really believe he is a very dangerous Man among us, and from the Charges adduced against him by C——, should suppose he ought to be apprehended. I am informed he has lately been to Rhode Island; his business may be guessed at—The Persons mentioned in C——Senior’s Letter, as friends to Aiqlai Bqyim [George Howell] are the Brothers of the Person who had a Permit from Genl Parsons to Cross with Lt Brewster, but has since been prohibited agreeable to your Excellency’s orders though Me—I am very confident Genl Parsons was much deceived in the Man.3 I have the Honor to be with Great Regard, Sir, Your most Obedt Servt

Benja. Tallmadge

ALS, DLC:GW; copy, DLC: Benjamin Tallmadge Papers; copy, NjP: Benjamin Tallmadge Collection.

GW replied to Tallmadge from headquarters near Passaic Falls on 20 Oct.: “I have recd your favr of the 17th: If you will return the five peices of Gold which are too light I will replace them. I have not the means of weighing them, and therefore may be again mistaken.

“Be pleased to find an opportunity as soon as possible of obtaining the following information—with accuracy. Of what number of Men and of what Corps the late embarkation consisted? Whether Sir Henry Clinton went with them? Whether a reinforcement arrived lately from Europe—the number, and whether of whole Corps or Recruits? In what manner the British Army is at present disposed—designating as nearly as possible the Corps which lay at the different places?

“I am anxious to receive intelligence of the foregoing particulars, and you will oblige me by obtaining it speedily” (LS [facsimile], in Tench Tilghman’s writing, The Raab Collection, Catalog 53 [Spring 2006], item 6; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW). Tallmadge replied to GW on 23 October.

1Tallmadge enclosed a letter from Samuel Culper, Jr. (Robert Townsend’s alias) to John Bolton (Tallmadge’s alias) written at Setauket, N.Y., on 14 Oct.: “Yours of the 30th of Sept: & 6th of October are now before me. In answer to the first, W——s assureances are as much as I could expect. When I conclude to open another route you shall be inform’d of it. I do not choose that the person you mention, or any other of his character, should call on me.

“I am happy to think that Arnold does not know my name. However, no person has been taken up on his information. I was not much surprised at his conduct, for it was no more than I expected of him. Genl Clinton has introduced him to the General officers on parade as General Arnold in the British service; and he is much caressed by General Robinson. This will tend to gloss his character with the venal part of the army; but the independent part must hold him in contempt; and his name will stink to eternity with the generous of all party’s.

“I never felt more sensibly for the death of a person whom I knew only by sight, and had heard converse, than I did for Major André. He was a most amiable character. General Clinton was inconsolable for some days; and the army in general and inhabitants were much Exasperated, and think that General Washington must have been distitute of feeling or he would have saved him. I believe General Washin[g]ton felt sincerely for him, and would have saved him if it could have been done with propriety.

“The long time I have been out of Town prevents my giving you any information of consequence. The army which embarked last week are generally supposed intended to make a diversion in Virginia or Cape Fear in No. Carolinea, to favour Lord Cornwallis—they take but few Horses, but a number of Saddles &c., with an intention to mount a number of dismounted dragoons who are going with them. The Cork & English Fleets are, I expect, arrived by this. I hope and expect that all my letters are destroyed after they are perused” (DLC:GW; dateline partially in code; see also The Discovery of Major General Benedict Arnold’s Treachery, 25 Sept.–24 Nov., editorial note, and Document XIII with Major John André’s Capture and Execution, 23 Sept.–7 Oct., editorial note).

Also enclosed was that of Samuel Culper (Abraham Woodhull’s alias) to Tallmadge written at Setauket on the same date: “Your favour of the 5th Instant hath bene duly received—And observe the contents—I am pleased with your intention of apprehending George Howell. Pray be active and vigilant to secure our Country No mans charecter Stands in better light with the Enemy. And hath bene a particular freind of Tryons. And whilst rescued at his Native Town held a constant correspondence with Tryon & Coll Burch [Birch]. He never faild in his request for favours when asked for. Could obtain permission for five Thousand Pounds worth of goods at one time, When others could not for fifty You may rest assured that H: & F: Muirson are his Bosom freinds and know his heart: Not long Since H: Muirson told me he was very uneasy about him Said he had bene expectd back for Some time, asked me if I had not heard nothing about him, and desired if possible to enquire after him, Said this was the Second time he had bene out on the Service of Goverment And was afraid he would be found out He is largely in debt at New York—And his departure appeard like one fleeing for refuge but it was all to Cloak his villany—Arnolds affair hath now become an old Story, I am Sorry for the death of Major Andre but better So than to loose the Post, he was seeking your ruin—C. Jur is now with me and Shall refer you to his Letter for intelligence I was in hopes you might have come and Seen him—I have inclosed you a re[c]iept for fifteen gines. The other five pieces were two light and could not be of any Service to me two of whch Were Qurter Joes and have Sent them back again” (DLC:GW; underlines signify decoded text; see also Tallmadge to GW, 19 Sept., and n.3 to that document). For the code used in these letters, see Tallmadge to GW, 25 July 1779.

3Tallmadge presumably commented on two brothers, Heathcote Muirson (c.1755–1781) and Sylvester Muirson (d. 1804), from a Loyalist family in Setauket. Both men graduated from Yale; Sylvester in 1771 and Heathcote in 1776. Heathcote sided with the Patriots and was taken prisoner in October 1776 while serving with Brig. Gen. Benedict Arnold on Lake Champlain. He escaped from Forton Prison in England, returned to the United States, participated in a raid with Tallmadge in November 1780, and died from a wound received while assisting the French on a raid against Lloyd Neck, N.Y. (see Heathcote Muirson to Benjamin Franklin, 21 July 1778, in Franklin Papers description begins William B. Willcox et al., eds. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. 42 vols. to date. New Haven, 1959–. description ends , 27:131–33, and Tallmadge to GW, 25 Nov. 1780, DLC:GW). Sylvester fought for the British during the Revolutionary War, settled in England, became an officer in the British army, and eventually attained the rank of captain.

George Howell likely was the person mentioned in the memoirs of William Smith, royal chief justice of New York, in entries dated 26 and 27 July 1780: “It was reported Yesterday that a Man had come in with important Papers purloined from the President of the Congress. General Robertson says there is no more in it than that he had imployed a Person to visit Philadelphia and other Parts of the Country, who had got Access to Franklin’s and Adams’s Letters and transcribed Parts. … The Author of the Paper signed Birch is one Howel, a young Man of Southampton” (Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs [1971] description begins William H. W. Sabine, ed. Historical Memoirs from 26 August 1778 to 12 November 1783 of William Smith. . .. New York, 1971. description ends , 312; see also n.1 above, and Tallmadge to GW, 9 Sept., n.2). Connecticut residents and officials suspicious of Howell’s collusion with the British led to his imprisonment in Rhode Island, but he escaped from “goal in Providence” on 19 Nov. (William Greene to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 20 Nov., in Trumbull Papers description begins The Trumbull Papers. 4 vols. Boston, 1885-1902. In Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 5th ser., vols. 9–10; 7th ser., vols. 2–3. description ends , 3:156–57; see also Samuel Huntington to Thomas Mumford, 26 Aug., in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 15:620–22).

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