George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General William Heath, 25-29 January 1781

To Major General William Heath

New Windsor Jany 25th[–29] 1781

Dear Sir,

The abilities of the author of the inclosed letter, and his talent for enterprize, are unknown to me; I am unable therefore to advise with respect to the project he contemplates.1 If he has spirit & address equal to the execution of it, and is possessed of sufficient prudence to receive discretionary orders it will be perfectly agreeable to me that you should give them.

The Colonel is not, I think, an object—the other would be a great one—& if executed cleverly, would give reputation proportionate to the brilliancy & importance of the stroke; but it ought not to be attempted by a bunglar, because a miscarriage cuts off hope from a future attempt—as even a successful one on the Colo.—would render any effort to surprize the General fruitless.

The propriety therefore of the Enterprize depends upon the object, and the talents of the Officer. the last of which from your own knowledge, or such as you can obtain by enquiry, you will be better enabled to judge of than I. I am Dr Sir—with esteem & regd Yr Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

29th Jany P.S. The above was wrote before I set out for Jersey—upon my return last Night I found a letter from Captn Sumner expressing a wish to leave the Service2—I therefore think it ineligable to hold up an idea to him that his project is agreeable. I am. &ca

G. W——n

ALS, MHi: Heath Papers; ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The postscript appears only on the ALS, and GW signed the cover.

1The enclosed letter from Capt. Job Sumner has not been found, but Sumner had written a private letter to Heath from Verplanck Point, N.Y., on 22 Jan.: “By two Deserters from near Kings Bridge immediately, I learn that Mr. Kniphausen has about 2000 Men with him, that he still lives in Morrise’s large House, and has only a Serjeant and twelve Men to his Guard, that not far from his Quarter’s a Colonel lives, who has only 6 Men; and that he is near a Mile from any Troops—they say, that the Intentions of Colo. Humperyes are well known and reported among them, & that Mr. Clinton’s Guard is ogmented in consequence of it, they think, but they are certain, that neither the Guard of Kniphausen, or the Colonel is altered, and that they know of no new Movements being in agitation.” Sumner then requested permission to execute “a Plan” to capture the colonel, promising “that no dangerous Risque shall be run. … P.S. whether my request is agreable, or not, the utmost secrecy may be relied on” (MHi: Heath Papers). For the failed attempt to capture Gen. Henry Clinton and Lieutenant General Knyphausen, see GW to Roger Welles, 13 Dec. 1780, and to David Humphreys, 23 Dec.; see also Heath to GW, 1 Jan. 1781, and n.4.

2Sumner’s letter to GW was dated 24 Jan. (see GW to Sumner, 23 Feb., n.2).

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