George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Vanderhovan, 6 November 1780

From John Vanderhovan

Elizabethtown [N.J.] November 6th 1780


at the Request of Collenel Ogden I Came to this place Saturday night1 But to Greate Disopointment I found Collenel Ogden was taken of Just Before I arrived this Accident of his is Intierly Owing to the trechery of Mr Able Hatfield which is allowed to Go from this place to Staten Island and Countenanced By the officers hear as he protends to Bring them Intelegance which he applyes to Genneral Skinner for who puts the words into his mouth that he is to tell them when he Returns this I Have Been an Eye witness to and theirefore Cannot Be Deceved in Him, he was On Staten Island and at Heaed Quarters With Major Delancy on thirsday Last Came Over on friday night with Mr Cornelius Hatfield who took Collenel Ogden to my Sertain Knolledg and he must have Concealed Him and his party all Day Saturday and Given them Intilegance wheare Ogden and Dayton Lay that night, thus you Se the profideous trechery of that family Uncase it Self.2

Sir I Reicd your Excellencys note and with it five Guineas as an Ecknolledgment as Mr Hendricks Says in his Letter to me which is the first and only Compenciation that Ever I Reiced for three years faithful Servitude in which time I Have Spared no pains nor Exspence to Serve my Cuntry at the Exspence of My whole fortain and Resk of my Life3 I have had two men to assist me Mr Abraham Banker and my Brother During that time and of Consequence mus pay theire Exspence when I Sent them On Business which I Could not obtain without them and it is imposable for me or any One Else to Keep Such Company as we must Do to Render Our Selves Capebel to Do your Exellency Service without Being at a Greate Exspence.

I am Sir Excedingly Surprised at a Letter Sent mr Hendricks of 3d november in which is a perticular Request to Know the troops and perticular Corps that Compose the troops in the imbarcation of 16th of Last month4 as Have5 Sent your Excellency the Exact account of all the troops Imbarked under the Command of Genneral Lesley and theire Convoy which was the Infentry and Granidears two Companies of Genl Robertsons New Levs and two of Genl Skinners with one of Col. Roger Morrises and one of Col. fanning the whole amount to near five thowsand they ware Joined By Some of Arberthnots fleet at the Hook which makes theire Convoy Uncertain to Us Hear,6 the troops that arrived in the fleet Do not amount to more then three thowsand men or theireabouts,7 as to the works on york Island that is near the town I Have Indeavoured to Give your Excelleny as well as I Could the Description of them, as to Brooklinfort I Depended On Mr Banker for the Draft of it But was Dasopointed By his Being taken Very Sick But I took a Look at it the Evening Before I Left york and fond it to Be A Larg S[q]uair work and not near finished and no Bum proof.8

Sir you will please to Exscuse the uncorect Scectch of the works and my not Answering your Request More fulley as I only Reiced it twenty four Hours Before I Set of for this place to Meet Collenl Ogden, But Your Excellency may Depend On having a trew Draft and an Exact account the first Safe Oppertunity, I have thaught Something of trying to Se your Excellency By Some Method or other and have mentioned it to Capt. Hendricks and Shall Leave it Intirely to his Management and advice.

Genneral Clinton was to Cross to Jemaca Long Island Last Saturday to take his winter Quarters Or at Least for A month theire Has Been Some move of a fooraging party But Seem to Be Done and no alterations But the wagons of the Gennerals and his Baggag is moved.9

pray Sir Exscuse the Blots and Imperfections of this Epistal as I am not provided with pen Inck or paper fit to make any writing with. I have the Honner to Be Sir with the Greatest Respect and Esteen your Excelencies Most Obediant Humel Sert

John Vanderhovan

ALS, DLC:GW. GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman wrote “from Colo. D——n” on the docket, meaning Col. Elias Dayton, an officer long engaged in espionage activities around New York City (see Intelligence Operations in the New York City Area, 17 May–24 June 1780, editorial note, especially n.23; see also Dayton to GW, 11 July, and n.1 to that document).

1Saturday was 4 November.

2For the capture of Col. Matthias Ogden and Capt. Jonathan Dayton, see General Orders, this date, and n.2.

Abel Hatfield was among the many members of the Hatfield family who lived near Elizabeth and on Staten Island, N.Y. (see Arthur St. Clair to GW, 31 Jan. and 11 Feb.).

3Capt. Baker Hendricks signed a receipt that GW had written on 18 Oct.: “Received, from George Washington the Sum of five Guineas for a Mr John Vandraven in the City of New York, which I promise to send by the first safe & convenient opportunity that offers” (Revolutionary War Receipt Book, 1776–1780, DLC:GW, ser. 5). The letter from Hendricks to Vanderhovan has not been identified.

4Tilghman had written John Hendricks from headquarters on 3 Nov.: “His Excellency has heard, from several quarters, that an embarkation, under the command of Sir Henry Clinton in person, is preparing at New York; but having no information of the kind from you, he is somewhat dubious of it, as he thinks a matter of such importance could not have escaped the observation of those you employ. You will be pleased to write to His Excellency by return of the Express, and give him any intelligence you may have gained. If you have not yet heard of the embarkation, you are to take the speediest means of getting information, and if it should be so, of the force, the Corps of which it is to consist—the time it is to sail—under whose command—the destination and the Convoy—all which you will communicate the moment you receive the particulars—His Excellency has never yet received an accurate account of the Corps which composed the embarkation of the 16th ulto tho’ it always has been one of his particular instructions to attend to that point. If you can get any information upon that head, you will let him know it. It is of the utmost importance that we should know with certainty and speedily whether there is any truth in the report of this present embarkation, you will therefore exert yourself to find it out” (DLC:GW; see also n.6 below).

Tilghman also wrote Dutch Reformed minister Theodorick (Dirck) Romeyn from headquarters on 3 Nov.: “His Excellency General Washington has been informed, within two days past, that another embarkation, under the command of Sir Henry Clinton in person, is preparing at New York. Should this be so, it is more than probable that you will have heard something of it, as the communication between Hackensack and Bergen is frequent—You will be good enough to let me know, by return of the Bearer, whether any thing of the kind has come to your knowledge; with any particulars which you may have collected. Should you at any time in future gain any intelligence⟨,⟩ which you may think material, you will oblige His Excellency and render essential public service by communicating it to him” (NN: Theodorick and John Romeyn Letters). Romeyn replied to Tilghman from Hackensack, N.J., on the same date: “I Was Just now honoured with Yours of this Day in Answer to which I must inform You that altho I have been informed that an Embarkation was upon the tapis at New York, Yet I have not been able to obtain either the certainty or the perticulars—I am this moment Informed that a certain person is now at the ferry below this place upon her Way from Bergen to this—by whome I hope to obtain the fullest and most authentic intelligence that I could wish for from that Quarter Which when I am in possession off I shall communicate to You immediately by one of the Millitia Horsemen.

“You may assure his Excellency that I shall ever think it my Duty and an Honour to bestow my Mite towards Obtaining the Object of the American Contest and rendering him service in the prosecution of this important End” (DLC:GW).

Romeyn again wrote Tilghman from Hackensack on 4 Nov.: “The Person referred too in my Note of Yesterday arrived at this Place last Evening she is a Lady of Cridit and informs—That on the Morning of the 2d Inst: there were 12 ships of War in the Harbour—That the Transports to a great amount were drawn up in the East River and an Embarkation of a considerable Body of Troops was thought would certainly take place in a Day or two—That in order to Man their ships of force & Transports a severe press had prevailed the beginning of this Week—The Blacks keeping out of the Way the Commandant had issued Orders for them to collect on the 1st Inst. under pretext of Embodying and sending them out into the Country to provide for themselves—but it was thought the whole was intended solely to have an oppurtunity of takeing them on shipboard—That the Inhabitants of Bergen could with no degree of precision ascertain the number of Troops about to Embark, or the Officer under whome—That no Provision Fleet had as Yet arrived in consequence of which The Army is order to supply their present Wants were oblidged to borrow of the Fleet—That the Quantity of fresh Provision &c. brought into New York by the Way of New Barbadoes Neck was large but that which came from the Sound by the Way of Long Island was immense—I am very sorry that I cannot at present Answer my expectation and his Excellencys wishes on the principal subject of the present—but perhaps I may have it in my power in a day or two—if so you may expect to hear from me again” (DLC:GW). For Romeyn, see Leiby, Hackensack Valley description begins Adrian C. Leiby. The Revolutionary War in the Hackensack Valley: The Jersey Dutch and the Neutral Ground, 1775–1783. New Brunswick, N.J., 1962. description ends , 84–85, 112–13, 229–31, 292–93, 300–301.

5Vanderhovan wrote “Havave” for this word.

6Ogden wrote Tilghman from Elizabeth, also on 3 Nov.: “I have been at this place this week past for the purpose assertaining some particular matters for the Marquis & on the affair I spoke to his Excellency of—Mr Hendericks desired me to peruse your letter & inform you that he knows nothing of a certainty with respect to your Questions—I have a person with me that came from N. York yesterday at 12 OClock—He is fully of the opinion that an embarkation is about taking place— ’tis said to reinforce Genl Lesly who has taken post at Virginia.

“There are a great number of ships watering, and fitting for sea, perhaps 300 sail great & small; beside 9 sail of the line, & 2 frigates that are making the most expeditious preparations.


Fig. 1. John Vanderhovan’s sketch shows British fortifications on either side of the East River in Brooklyn and New York City. (Library of Congress)

“I enclose the Letters signed Little D. shall give you my opinion of them when I return—my informant tells me he saw a brigade of em[p]ty waggon crossing at the ship yard & about three hundred Troops with their packs.

“I expect to be able to write you more particularly to morrow—you will recieve a paper of the 2nd by the express” (DLC:GW; the newspaper has not been identified; see also n.4 above). The enclosed letters from “Little D.,” which Vanderhovan used as an alias, have not been identified. For the British expedition under Maj. Gen. Alexander Leslie, see GW to Samuel Huntington, 17 Oct., n.2, and Nathanael Greene to GW, 31 Oct., n.4.

7For the troops that recently had arrived at New York, see John Jameson to GW, 31 Oct., n.2 (see also n.9 below).

8At this point in his letter, Vanderhovan sketched the map presented in Fig. 1. It shows British fortifications on either side of the East River in Brooklyn and New York City. Vanderhovan added remarks to his diagram. In Brooklyn, he notes “a small work on the Banck” as well as “A Small work on hight near wallabout.” He describes “Brooklin fort” as “a Long Squair work unfinished perced for 38 Guns But has only 14 Mounted and no Parrapets.” Vanderhovan also relates that “Cobbs hill” is “Just as when we had it.” He labels one structure as “Barracks the Guard” and another as “Brooklin Church.” In New York City, Vanderhovan outlines the “Fort” at the southern tip of Manhattan Island just behind “the Grand Batry.” “Braudway” is shown as a road running north from the fort with two emplacements for cannon to the east and two more to the west. Vanderhovan names or describes the British ships lying in the water west of the fort and east of Bedloe’s Island. Along the East River, Vanderhovan also marks the locations of “fly market,” “Brooklin ferry,” and “Corlers Hook Marsh.”

9Gen. Henry Clinton stayed in New York City at this period and had written to Lord George Germain on 30 Oct. to report the arrival of a fleet “with recruits and stores” on 15 October. He intended to “send to Charleston all the recruits belonging to the southern army and then, including the corps under General Leslie, Lord Cornwallis will have full 11,306 effective rank and file under his orders. Washington has not as yet detached a single man to the southward, and by all accounts from General Arnold Gates cannot have above 800 continental troops with him.

“General Washington still remains at or near Tapaan with a corps of 11,400 men under his immediate orders.” Clinton expressed no concern about the French at Rhode Island as long as “we remain superior at sea and can command the sound of Long Island.” A postscript added that many sick were among the troops “under the orders of Earl Cornwallis” (Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 18:217–18; see also n.7 above).

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