George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Captain Roger Welles, 13 December 1780

To Captain Roger Welles

[New Windsor, 13 Dec. 1780]


You are to take the command of the Guard Boats, already in the River as well as of the Detachment ordered from the Connect Line to reinforce them.1

In the first instance, you will procure from West Point, light Boats sufficient to transport the reinforcement, & pay particular attention Yourself to have them repaired in the best Manner, the Oars Muffled, & every Other necessary provided. Those Boats now employed in this service, if out of repair, should be refitted in the same Manner.2

The object of your command is, to prevent a surprize by Water, of our Posts below, including3 that of Dobbs’ Ferry; & to communicate the earliest intelligence of any Movements of the Enemy to Majr Genl Heath &ca4—For this purpose, you will keep One or two of the Boats as far down as the Slote,5 the remainder at Kings Ferry or the intermediate space establishing signals, to give Notice of an Alarm. You may occasionally go down the River with all the Boats, at Your Own discretion.

In case of an attempt upon the Block House at Dobbs Ferry while you may be down the River6 you will assist in the defence of the post not by shutting yourself in the Work but by annoying the enemy without in such a manner as may be concerted with the Officer within.7

You will not fail to report to me once a week, the best information you can obtain of the State & disposition of the Enemy’s fleet & Army at New York & its dependencies—transmitting such News Papers, or other intelligence, as you may procure to Head Quarters.

The greatest attention & vigilance will be necessary, in having your Men & Boats always in readiness for action; to prevent a surprize, which is ever disgraceful. And in having your Command well supplied, not suffering8 any Marauding or plundering of the Inhabitants under pretence of their being Tories & to prevt as much as possible all kind of Supplies going to the Enemy & traffic with the City.9 Given under My hand at Head Quarters New Windsor this 13th Day of Decr 178010

Go. Washington

Df, in David Humphreys’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

Roger Welles (1753–1795) served as lieutenant in Col. Samuel Blachley Webb’s Additional Continental Regiment from January 1777 until his promotion to captain in April 1780. He transferred to the 3d Connecticut Regiment in January 1781, received a wound at Yorktown, Va., that October, and remained in the army until the end of the war.

2GW’s aide-de-camp David Humphreys wrote Q.M. Gen. Timothy Pickering from headquarters at New Windsor on 15 Dec.: “If the Boats which were with the Army have not yet been brought on to Kings-Ferry, His Excellency requests no time may be lost in having it done, by impressing Teams, or other the most efficacious means; and that they may be forwarded to Murderers Creek immediately, to be laid up there, together with such Boats as may be sent from West Point in consequence of the General Order of the [11th] Inst.—Which he requests may be carried into execution without delay, lest the River should be frozen, & the Boats finally lost.

“Should there be any among the first Mentioned Boats, that are fit for the service of Guard Boats, they are to be delivered to Capt. Welles’ Order—And in the Meantime the General desires, the Bearer an Officer of Capt. Welles detachment may have direction to collect & take for that service, such Public Whale Boats, or other light Boats, as may be on the River above this place” (DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 26386; the draft in DLC:GW is dated 16 Dec.; see also n.2 with the document referenced at n.1 above; n.10 below; and William Heath’s first letter to GW, 18 Dec.).

3Humphreys first wrote “but especially” at this place on the draft. GW struck out those words and wrote “including” above the line.

4Humphreys first wrote “me” at this place on the draft. GW struck out that word and wrote the previous four words above the line.

5GW refers to Tappan Slote, New York.

6GW inserted the previous seven words on the draft above the line.

7After the word “post” on the draft, Humphreys first wrote “or covering the retreat as circumstances may require governing yourself by my Orders given to the Commanding Officer of that Garris⟨o⟩n with whom you may previously make arrangements for the purpose.” Those words were struck out, and revised text interlineated. GW wrote from “not” to “manner” and Humphreys completed the sentence.

For the fortification at Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., see Nathanael Greene to GW, 23 Sept., and n.6; see also GW to John Mauritius Goetschius, 7 Oct., and n.2 to that document.

8Humphreys wrote and then struck out “on any pretext whatever” at this place on the draft.

9GW wrote the previous twenty words on the draft.

10Humphreys wrote Maj. Gen. William Heath from headquarters at New Windsor on this date: “I have the honor to acquaint you, by command of His Excellency, that Captain Welles has received instructions from him, respecting the Guard Boats on the River; which he is directed to communicate to You; and to request you will be pleased to order four or five of the lightest & best Boats at West Point or its dependencies, to be furnished for this Service” (MHi: Heath Papers; see also n.1 above). Heath wrote Pickering from West Point on this date: “A number of Boards are much wanted at this Post in particular to finish a Store designed for securing a large Quantity of Beef. …

“The Commander in Chief has been pleased to appoint Capt. Welles of the Connecticut Line to the Command of the Guards at Kings ferry Capt. Welles informs me that the Boats there are insufficient in number, and out of repair, Some Boards nails &c. are wanted there is none of the former here, will you please to order What may be necessary delivered to the bearer of this” (MHi: Heath Papers; see also n.2 above and Heath to GW, 20 Dec.). Pickering discussed boards in the latter portion of his letter to Heath written at Newburgh, N.Y., on 16 Dec.: “I had some boards collected with which to build an office, which I am distressed for: but have now ordered all of them to be sent to West Point for the sole purpose of fitting the building intended for the reception of the beef, ageeably to your request. The number of the boards I do not know exactly: but there will be Need of great œconomy” (MHi: Heath Papers; see also Heath’s first letter to GW, 18 Dec., n.1).

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