George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major Benjamin Tallmadge, 25 November 1780

From Major Benjamin Tallmadge

Fairfield [Conn.] Novr 25th 1780


I had the honor to receive Your Excellency’s orders of the 11th inst. on the 16th following,1 in Obedience to which a Detachment of Col. Sheldon’s dismounted Dragoons, under the Command of Capt. Edgar, were ordered to march the next day to Fairfield, to which Place I directed a number of boats to repair.2 The Troops arrived in the Vicinity of Fairfield on the Evening of the 18th, at which Place, by reason of a severe Storm & very blowing weather, we were detained ’till the 21st instt on the evening of which, at 4 oClock, I embarked the Troops in eight Boats. The whole in number, including the Crews, amounted to about eighty men. With a favorable wind we landed safely on Long Island, at a Place called the Old Mans, about 8 oClock the same Evening.3 After leaving about 20 Men with the Boats in Charge of Capt. Sutton,4 we began our march to put your Excellency’s orders in Execution; but a very severe Storm coming on, however it might have fa[v]ored an Attack on the Fort, obliged me to postpone it, as I was well aware that attention must be paid, as well to a favorable time for recrossing the Sound (which at this place is more than 20 miles across) as to attacking the Fort. I accordingly concealed the Troops ’till the Evening of the 22d when at 7 oClock we began our march across Long Island, and at 3 oClock the next morning were within 2 miles of Fort St George, at South Haven. By the most accurate information, I found that the fort and other Works had been entirely compleated but a few days before, & that the Garrison consisted of about 50 men. It may be necessary here to observe that the Works of Fort St George consisted of two large strong Houses, and a fort about 90 feet square, the whole connected together by a very strong Stockade or Line of Sharpened Pickets 12 feet long, the whole forming a compleat Triangle, & the Fort & Houses standing in the extrimities of the Angles. The fort consisted of a high Wall & a deep Ditch, encircled with a strong Abbatis, having but one Gate or sally-Port, which led directly into the Grand Parade within the Pickets. This fort had Embrasures for 6 Guns, tho’ but two were mounted. The Houses were strongly barricadoed. From this Description I found it necessary, as small as my Detachment was, to make three different Attacks at the same line. I accordingly detached Lt Jackson with 16 Men, with orders to advance as nigh the Fort, as he could undiscovered, & there to halt till the Alarm was given by the Advance Of the Detachment under my immediate Command. The Van of this Detachment, who carried Axes to beat down Obstructions, was led by Lieut. Brewster directly against the new house, while the remainder with Capt. Edgar & myself at their head, followed close after—Another small Division was directed to file off and surround the other House, Mr Simmons bringing up the rear, with directions to halt at the Place where the breach might be made, to prevent the Prisoners from escaping.5 Thus prepared, the Troops were put in motion precisely at 4 oClock, & to my very great disappointment, the Pioneers advanced within 20 Yards of the Works before they were discovered—The sentinel firing, as I expected, the different Detachments immediately rushed on, & passing all Obstructions, met at the same instant in the Centre of the Fort, where the Watch Word was given from all Quarters at the same time.6 The Guard in the fort was secured, but the two Houses contained the main body of the Garrison, from the Windows of which the Enemy began to fire. I immediately ordered the Troops into the Houses, the Doors of which were strongly bolted & barred, & which were very soon burst open, and in less than ten minutes the whole Garrison were our Prisoners. Being informed that a Vessel laid within View of the Fort, loaded With Stores, Rum, wine, Sugar, Glass &c. &c., I immediately detached a Party who boarded & took her. Thus Masters of the whole, my first Object was to demolish as much as possible, their Works &c. We accordingly set fire to the small Garrison buildings, Stockade, Abbatis &c., consuming at the same time all the Public Stores that could be collected, including a considerable Quantity of Ammunition and Arms, which the Troops, so much fatigued, & having so long a march to make back, could not carry. We tarried at the Fort from 4 to 8 oClock in the morning, when having destroyed as much of the fort &c. &c. as possible, we began our march back. The Vessel being aground, was burnt at the same time.

I have the Honor to enclose your Excellency a Return of the Prisoners taken at Fort St George.7 The Arms & other public Stores to a considerable Amount were chiefly destroyed. The Soldiers bro’t off a few Articles of Cloathing &c. taken in the Garrison, which tho’ small (as we endeavoured to keep them as light as possible that they need not fail on the march) I trust Your Excellency will permit to be distributed among them. I feel peculiarly happy that I can inform Your Excellency that we had not a Man killed in this Enterprise, & but one wounded, whom we bro’t off. The Enemies loss was seven killed & wounded, most of the latter mortally. The surprise was so compleat, that before they could rally they were all Prisoners—On Our Return I mounted ten Men on the Horses taken at the Fort, & while Capt. Edgar marched the Detachment & Prisoners across the Island, I filed off with Lieut. Brewster, to Coram, and set fire to the whole magazine of the Kings forage at that Place, supposed to contain more than 300 Ton, & joined the Detachment again in less than two hours8—By this time the Militia began to muster, but prudently avoided coming near us. Some Guns were fired at a Distance, but no damage received. By 4 oClock the afternoon of the same day, we reached our boats, & having embarked the Troops & Prisoners, arrived safe at this Place at 11 oClock on the Evening of the 23d—Thus in about 21 hours we performed a march of near 40 miles, took fort St George &c. &c., & in less than six hours more were safely landed at this Place.

I should be remiss in my Duty should I omit to observe that the Officers and Soldiers of the Detachment under my Command behaved with the greatest fortitude & Spirit, as well by sustaining the fatigues of so long a March, as storming the Enemies Works. Mr Muirson, a Volunteer, deserves Commendation with the rest, for advancing with a Part of Lieut. Jackson’s Detachment, over the Abbatis & Wall into the fort.9 In fine every order that was given, was executed with Alacrity & Precision.

I propose tarrying at this Place two days to recruit the Troops, many of whose feet are so sore that they cannot wear their shoes. The Prisoners I shall send off under a proper Guard, to West Point, unless I should receive Counter Order⟨s⟩ from your Excellency.10 The rest of the Troops will return to our former Command on the Lines—Some of the Prisoners, for particular reasons, were paroled on Long Island—I can forward a List of their Names to our Commissary of Prisoners, who can exchang⟨e⟩ or demand them as he may be directed11—I have the Honor to be, with great Esteem & Respect, Sir, Your Excellency’s most Obedt & Hble Servt

Benja. Tallmadge Major 2d L.D.

P.S. I have enclosed a rough Draught of the Fort for your Excellency’s information.12

The Standard of the fort will be sent forward with the Prisoners.13 N.B. The above Garrison drew their Provision & other stores from the Kings magazines.14

ALS, DLC:GW; copy, CtLHi.

1See GW to Tallmadge, 11 Nov., found at Tallmadge to GW, 7 Nov., n.7.

2Col. Elisha Sheldon had written Maj. Gen. William Heath from North Castle, N.Y., on 18 Nov. to report that “Major Tallmadge by a Special order of His Excellency General Washington, is now on a separate & private Command, with 40 of my Dismounted Dragoons and it is not probable that he will Join me again in less than 5 or 6 Days” (MHi: Heath Papers).

3Old Man’s Harbor is now Mount Sinai, New York.

Tallmadge later wrote about the landing: “I was obliged to go thus far East, to avoid a large body of the enemy which lay at Huntington and its vicinity, in our direct course from Stamford” (Tallmadge, Memoir description begins Memoir of Col. Benjamin Tallmadge, Prepared by Himself, at the Request of his Children. 1858. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends , 40).

4John Sutton captained a boat at Stamford, Conn. (see Tallmadge to GW, 28 Aug., n.1).

5Tallmadge possibly instructed Moses Simons (Simmons), who had fled from Southold, N.Y., to Connecticut in fall 1776 and served intermittently in the New York militia (see Mather, Refugees of 1776 description begins Frederic Gregory Mather. The Refugees of 1776 from Long Island to Connecticut. Albany, 1913. description ends , 563).

6The watchword was “Washington and glory” (Tallmadge, Memoir description begins Memoir of Col. Benjamin Tallmadge, Prepared by Himself, at the Request of his Children. 1858. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends , 41).

7Lt. Thomas Tredwell Jackson prepared the undated enclosure headed “Return of prisoners taken at, Fort st. George, in south Haven on the Morning of the 23rd November 1780, by a Detachment of Troops, under the Command of Majr Benja. Tallmadge,” which listed “1 half pay Lieut. Colonel[,] 1 half pay Captain[,] 1 Lieutenant—1 Surgeon[, and] 50 Rank & File” for “54 Total.” The return also noted “1 Garrison Standard” (DLC:GW, filed under 23 Nov. 1780).

8The Connecticut Courant, and the Weekly Intelligencer (Hartford) for 28 Nov. 1780 printed an extract from a letter with unidentified correspondents, written at Fairfield on 24 Nov., that summarized Tallmadge’s operation and described the destroyed forage as “500 tons of hay.” The Royal Gazette (New York) for 2 Dec. emphasized “rebel savageness and degeneracy” in its account of Tallmadge’s raid against “a body of respectable loyal Refugees belonging to Rhode-Island, and the vicinity thereabout, who were establishing a post, in order to get a present subsistence for themselves and their distressed families.” The report put “about 100 tons” of hay in the magazine at Coram, New York.

Samuel Culper (Abraham Woodhull’s alias) wrote John Bolton (Tallmadge’s alias) from Setauket, N.Y., on 28 Nov.: “I congratulate you on your Success within the bounds of Setauket—The burning the Forage is agreeable to me and must hurt the Enemy much it cannot be replaced and was what I advisd C. Brewster to do Some time ago but was opposed by a person of Some concequence in this place and So gave up the matter In order to continue your Success and endevours I rode yesterday above Sixty Miles, And now can informe you that the 17 D’gn at Hemp[s]tead about 200 Granediers at Newtown 1000 Hessians at Flus[h]ing Some few at Jaimaca 900 Yaugers and Anspach Germans Cantond from Henriks [Johann Hinrichs] a[l]ong the North Side of Hempstead Planes and Som to Oyster bay, About Sixty occupies the fort at the last Mentiond Place. about 200 Consisting of Ludloes & Major Coldens Jersey Volunters at Loyd Neck, From about 50 Refuges at and about Treadler farme near Smith Town possess a Small fort two Field Pieces, but are under no command each Man thinks himself equil to their Capt. Luke and are disagreeing Continualy Good Judges Say they can be taken at any time with ease and is though[t] they will leave that Quarter Soon if they Should not be attacked, The Woods affords a cover almost to their Works last Week the Enemy lost a Frigit going throug[h] Helgate bound to the Fleet at the east end and Sunk immediately and many of the Crew was drownd, I Anxious to Serve you I purpose if Possible to ride the circuit of these lines and returne on the 20 day of December at which time let C. Brewster Cross again, perhaps you may think the time long but Cannot Well be Sooner if you Should think propper to Send him about the 10 it will be [a]greeable and will write you all I can perhaps may hear Something [o]f importan[c]e, or you may wish to give me Some instructions which is ever agreable, I have had but a few miniuts to write And pleas excuse the imperfections you may discover. The intelligence is the best concerning the Enemy. … P.S. Sir am fully convinced by further information that the acount Sent you [o]f the number of the last imbarcation was very near the Matter, And do now assure you they have gone to Charles Town” (DLC:GW; underlines signify decoded text; see also GW to Tallmadge, 4 Nov.). For the code, see Tallmadge to GW, 25 July 1779. Culper’s intelligence regarding German troops encamped on Long Island was largely accurate (see Ewald, Diary description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends , 250–51). Culper probably refers to a farm associated with the Tredwell (Treadwell) family that was prominent in Suffolk County, New York. For the loss of the British frigate Hussar on the night of 23 Nov. 1780, see Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs 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 (1971), 349. In his report on the Hussar, Hessian major Carl Leopold Baurmeister indicated that “nine sailors lost their lives; the rest saved themselves by swimming to the shores close by” (Baurmeister, Revolution in America description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends , 398).


Fig. 2. Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge enclosed this drawing of Fort St. George in the report he sent detailing his successful raid on the Long Island fortification. (Library of Congress)

9Tallmadge commended Heathcote Muirson.

10When he wrote a friend from Fairfield on 26 Nov. recounting Tallmadge’s raid, Jackson noted that some prisoners “were paroled,” but “we have about forty, which I move off to West Point with tomorrow” (Pennypacker, General Washington’s Spies description begins Morton Pennypacker. General Washington’s Spies On Long Island and In New York. Brooklyn, 1939. description ends , 192–94, quotes on 194; see also n.13 below).

11No list of the paroled prisoners has been identified. Tallmadge apparently paroled wounded prisoners, and he wrote GW on 6 May 1781 that some “are actively in Arms against us” (DLC:GW).

12For the enclosed drawing of Fort St. George, see Fig. 2.

13See notes 7 and 10 above. Heath wrote GW from headquarters at West Point on 1 Dec.: “This will be presented by Lieut. Jackson of the 2d Dragoons, who has escorted up the Prisoners taken by Major Talmadge in Fort St George, on Long Island, on the morning of the 23d inst. Lieut. Jackson will also present your Excellency the Colours of the Fort.

“The Massachusetts & Connecticutt Lines arrived the last Evening” (LS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers; GW acknowledged this letter when he wrote Heath on 8 Dec.; see also GW to Heath, 26 Nov., and n.5 to that document).

14GW replied to Tallmadge from Morristown, N.J., on 28 Nov. 1780: “Both your letters of the 25th came to my hands this day. I received with much pleasure the report of your successful enterprise upon Fort St George and the Vessel with Stores in the Harbour—and was particularly well pleased with the destruction of the Hay; which must, I should conceive, be severely felt by the Enemy at this time.

“I beg of you to accept my thanks for your judicious planning, and spirited execution of this business—and that you will offer them to the Officers and Men who shared the honors of the enterprize with you—The gallant behaviour of Mr Muirson gives him a fair claim to an appointment in the Second Regimt of Dragoons, or any other of the State to which he belongs, where there is a vacancy, and I have no doubt of his meeting with it accordingly if you will make known his merit with these Sentiments in his favor.

“You have my free consent to reward your gallant party with the little booty they were able to bring from the Enemy’s Works” (ALS, NjMoHP; ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; for Tallmadge’s letter mistakenly dated 25 Nov., see Tallmadge to GW, 24 Nov., and the source note to that document). GW announced Tallmadge’s success in the general orders for 29 Nov. (see also GW to Samuel Huntington, 28 Nov. and 15 Dec.).

Heath wrote Tallmadge from headquarters at West Point on 1 Dec.: “I most heartily Congratulate you on your good fortune and Signal Success in takeing Fort St George and its Garrison, This enterprise my Dear Sir was Conducted with an address and Gallantry that does both you and the Detachment much honor, as the 2nd Dragoons have been a part of the Troops I have the honor immediately to Command, I have taken notice of your Success in the Orders of this Day and given you my thanks, I am confident you will receive those of the Commander in Chief and I hope those of Congress it is really a clever affair. … P.S. Since writing the above the enclosed from Genl Washington was Sent to me to be forwarded, to you” (MHi: Heath Papers).

Tallmadge subsequently wrote GW from Danbury, Conn., on 5 Dec.: “I had the Honor to receive Your Excellency’s very agreeable favor of the 28th ulto, the last Evening—It gives me the most singular satisfaction that my Conduct, in the late Expedition to Long Island, meets with Your Excellency’s Approbation. I shall be particular in making known the favorable Sentiments expressed by the Commander in Chief, to the Detachment which I had the Honor to Command” (ALS, DLC:GW). For narrative accounts of Tallmadge’s raid, see Hall, Tallmadge description begins Charles Swain Hall. Benjamin Tallmadge: Revolutionary Soldier and American Businessman. New York, 1943. description ends , 64–66, and Welch, Tallmadge description begins Richard F. Welch. General Washington’s Commando: Benjamin Tallmadge in the Revolutionary War. Jefferson, N.C., 2014. description ends , 90–99; see also Tallmadge, Memoir description begins Memoir of Col. Benjamin Tallmadge, Prepared by Himself, at the Request of his Children. 1858. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends , 40–42.

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