George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Mercereau, 27 November 1780

From John Mercereau

Piscatua [N.J.] November 27: 1780

Dear Sir

I Send you those Accounts, and what I have Been Able to Collect1 Monday Last 9 transports fell Down to Denisces2 with flat Boats with them to take troops on board to Joyn Simco this Expedition Last thursday Night a Small party went on the Island and found Simco Down on the Shore at tapins with his troops & 3 Cannon as soon as we got the Alarm we alarmd as far as Brunswick by ten O Clock that Night got the Shore and Roads as well garded as possible the alarm guns being fired I Believe Stopt them that Night the Next Night our Movement Stopt them, But they are Still att Richmond in Readyness have got 3 flat Boats there, Besides the Boats they had Before,3 if we Dont get Some help here with in a day or two I Expect we Shall Suffer I Believe they will be Over with Artilery and Cavelry Boath there is a great Deal of forrage & Stock in this Quarter if they Come in that Manner the militia Can Do Nothing with them as we have Nither Cannon Nor horse, I have Not been able to get the Marques Questions all Answered. Nor Cant till this Stir is Over and they are got Setled I Sent the Marquis an Account of the Number of troops on the Island wich he thinks was to Large by far but time will Show I fear the Marquis is Much Deceivd by Some person that he puts Confidence in by Reason thier knowing his intentions on the Other Side, as Soon as I Can get a Satisfactory Account I Shall Come up4 I Now have got a Description of the Most of the works on the Island which I Shall Shew when I Come up,5 Sir your Sincere friend and Servt.

John Mercereau


Mercereau had receipted for 59½ guineas received from GW on 16 Oct. “for secret services.” The sum represented payments to spies identified only with initials: 12 guineas to “D.H.” for “Service Done from 19 June to 19 August att Six Guinies per Month”; 8 guineas to “J.C.” for Service done from 19 June to 19 August att four Guinies per Month”; 16 guineas to “A.R.” for Service Done from 19 June to 19 October att four Guinies per Month”; and 16 guineas to “J.M.” for “Service Done from 19 June to 19 October att four guinies per Month.” Additionally, 7½ guineas went “to a Messenger for going att Sundry times to N.y” (Revolutionary War Receipt Book, 1776–1780, DLC:GW, ser. 5). “A.R.” presumably was Amicus Republicae (Abraham Bancker’s alias), and “J.M.” likely was Mercereau himself. “J.C.” may have been John Cork (see Bakeless, Turncoats, Traitors and Heroes description begins John Bakeless. Turncoats, Traitors and Heroes. Philadelphia, 1959. description ends , 181, 243, 357).

1Mercereau enclosed an intelligence report written at New York on 21 Nov.: “I wrote you and Mercrue this morning By Mr Mor but for fear of Accident I Send you this about twelve oclock the thirty Seventh and Sixty hors are now on Board and Ready for to Sail they are to Be Joined By Simco with his Ridgment and Cavltry and theirr Intentions I Belive are to Destroy the forrage in woodbridg what they Cannot Carry of[f] O[ne] Battallion of Seventy sixth Are Under Order to Imbarck But have not Mooved” (DLC:GW).

Mercereau enclosed another intelligence report from “P.I.” dated 24 Nov.: “I wrote you two Days ⟨mutilated⟩ I Did not Like to trust him Verry well But ⟨mutilated⟩ Greate Reason to Believe that they ment to Give you a Dash and no oppertunity offered But By him if he Delivered it Safe pray Send me word the next opprity their intentions was Greately frusterated Last night By Being A Larmed that they Marquis was on his way to attack the Island this was Braught them By One Lyon from Newarck we have had a Verry Busey Day all Day And I Thaught Best not to Send my Brother Out till this matter was Somewhat over and Do not thinck it will answer for me to Come and See you while this Star is for fear of Being Stoped or Some accident the thirty Seventh ware at the narrows when they fired the Alarm Guns and Crossed amediately As they had flat Boats Laying Ready for that purpose wheather they will Retire Back or not I Do not Know or Stay on Staten island all the Militia ware Ordered Under Arms hear By Seven oclock this mornin And Kept till twelve Clinton and Genl fillops [Phillips] Both was on the moove Down to the Island and a number of troops from hear But all Returned Before Sunset.

“they Seem to Be Greately Alarm⟨e⟩d at the menuvers of the marquis Exspresses ware Sent to Kings Bridge amediately on the firing of the allarm Guns and it was talked that washington was Going to make a Grand and General attack, But I Seem to thinck that altho all this Rant is made About the Marquis they have Som Secret Design and Some Exspidition on foot Several Hors vessels Seem to Be preparing to take Horses on Board and the forty second who have Been Doing Duty in town are Relived By the hessians from hell gate yestirday theire fore I advise you to Keep a Good Look out and try if you Cannot Stop Mootry Kinsey from fetching so mutch pork to Cal[vi]n Simeon and So Good Inteligance the next oppertunity I intend to See you my Self what I wanted Communicate to you when I appointed to meet you is over and I have not Been Able to Do you the Service I Exspected. … N.B. Govenor Francklin Has Recid orders from his Magesty to Imbody All the Refugees By them Selves And an Order to Sir henry Clinton to furnish them with Arms and Ammunition And two Ships Such as the Govenor Shall Demand for any Exspidition I am told that the Govenor has Layed a plan Before he Commander in chief of Some Exspidition which is to Be Set On foot this winter and that the Commander in chief has approoved of the Same and that they have appointed a board of war and will Be Gin to imbody them next week But this is all Report and you may form your Own oppinyon of the matter” (DLC:GW; see also The Aborted Attack on the Northern Approaches to New York City and the Feint on Staten Island, 9–24 Nov., editorial note).

William Franklin had received authorization to organize Loyalist military ventures and obtain support from Gen. Henry Clinton. Others joined Franklin on a board to administer operations. Considerable friction accompanied its establishment (see George Germain to Clinton, 21 April, in 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 , 18:79–80; 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 , 193, 237–38; and the entries for 6, 10, 17, 20–21, 24 Nov. in Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs description begins William H. W. Sabine, ed. Historical Memoirs . . . of William Smith, Historian of the Province of New York. 2 vols. New York, 1956–58. description ends [1971], 344–50; see also Skemp, William Franklin description begins Sheila L. Skemp. William Franklin: Son of a Patriot, Servant of a King. New York, 1990. description ends , 235–48).

2The transports apparently went on Monday, 20 Nov., to Denyse Point on Long Island, N.Y., and then to Staten Island, in response to an alarm that proved to be false (see Simcoe, Operations of the Queen’s Rangers description begins John Graves Simcoe. Simcoe’s Military Journal: A History of the Operations of a Partisan Corps, Called the Queen’s Rangers, Commanded by Lieut. Col. J. G. Simcoe, during the War of the American Revolution . . .. 1844. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends , 158).

3Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe had placed his Queen’s Rangers on Staten Island on alert because of intelligence, even though he thought “the report to be a gasconade” (Simcoe, Operations of the Queen’s Rangers description begins John Graves Simcoe. Simcoe’s Military Journal: A History of the Operations of a Partisan Corps, Called the Queen’s Rangers, Commanded by Lieut. Col. J. G. Simcoe, during the War of the American Revolution . . .. 1844. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends , 156–58, quote on 156–57).

4Major General Lafayette had written Mercereau from the Light Infantry camp on 8 Nov. directing him to “immediately Send in Confidential Men, and Get More Exact Answers to the que[s]tions Mentionn’d in the Note which I delivered to you.

“You don’t tell me if My letter to Mr La F—— has been Given to himself Nor when he has Receiv’d it—As Soon as you get Some particular Accounts please to Come with the greatest dispatch. … I Can’t send Any Monney to your man Until he is more particular” (Lafayette Papers description begins Stanley J. Idzerda et al., eds. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790. 5 vols. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977-83. description ends , 3:221; Lafayette’s note to Mercereau has not been identified; see also Lafayette to GW, 8 and 14 Nov.).

5Mercereau presumably refers to British defenses on Staten Island.

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