George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 28 February 1781

From Major General William Heath

West point Feb. 28. 1781.

Dear General,

I am honored with your’s of yesterday. Am happy to hear that the prospect of a supply of provisions is so favorable. The fatigue-men, and if possible, six carpenters shall be sent the day after to morrow, to work on the logs above Newburgh.

I some days since reduced the troops on the lines from two, to one hundred rank and file;1 and in consequence of your pleasure, signified in yours of the 23d, I gave orders for reducing them to fifty rank and file.2 I have this day had a Committee from the inhabitants below, representing the great danger to which they must be exposed, in case the detachment is reduced to fifty men; as in such case Colo. Delancey will venture with his corps to ravage Crompond & it’s vicinity at present full of cattle, grain, &c. This will oblige the inhabitants friendly to our cause, to remove further back, consequently the travelling by King’s ferry will become unsafe. They request, that if after all that is said, the detachment must be reduced to fifty men, that the hundred may remain until they can address the Legislature now sitting at Albany to raise a body of militia for their defence. I think Major Maxwell may remain where he is, with a hundred men, without any hazard to these posts, as he is at all times ready to move, and can reach this place as soon or sooner than the enemy by land, or in case they come by water, before they can pass the points and debark. It will cover the country, give protection and quiet to the inhabitants and their property, render travelling safe by King’s ferry, and save the expence of raising a corps of militia. If your Excellency approves of it, he shall remain; if not, the detachment shall be reduced to fifty rank and file.3 Major Maxwell has orders in case the enemy come up in force either by land or water, to repair to this place with all possible dispatch, with his whole detachment.

Justice Honeywell informs me, that a man came up from Philips’ the last night, who reports that there is great confusion in New York, both among the soldiery and inhabitants—that it was said, six regiments were to embarke last thursday,4 their destination not known—that it was reported in the city, that a fleet of French merchant men had arrived in Chesepeak, but that they dared not go up, on account of Arnold’s being above, but the consternation, and confusion indicated something more formidable than Merchantmen5—that it was said the Hessians were to do the duty on the lines at Kings bridge—that all Delancy’s corps were called into Morrisania, &c. I have the honor to be, With the highest respect, Your Excellency’s Most obedient servant,

W. Heath

P.S. We have several soldiers taken down with the small pox; they will be removed, and all possible care taken to prevent a spread of the infection.6 Two or three persons, who are supposed to have taken it, I have permitted to be inoculated—the latter are of the Connecticut line.


LS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers.

1Maj. Hugh Maxwell began a letter to Heath from Crom Pond, N.Y., on 23 Feb.: “According to your Direction of the 20th I have Selected one Hundred men and arranged them in two Companies” (MHi: Heath Papers). For the directions, see Heath to GW, 20 Feb., n.2.

2Heath wrote Maxwell from West Point on 24 Feb.: “I have been honored with a Letter from His Excellency the Commander in Chief advising me to reduce the detachment on the Lines to a Patroling party of 50 men under the Command of an active Captain, I would therefore have you on receipt, hereof Select out 50 of the most robust hardy and best clothed men, properly officered” (MHi: Heath Papers; see also GW to Heath, 23 Feb.).

4The previous Thursday was 22 February.

5British major Frederick Mackenzie, stationed in New York City, noted preparations for an embarkation of troops in his diary entries of 17, 18, 23, and 26 Feb., and reports from arriving vessels about French ships in Chesapeake Bay were received in New York City on 18, 19, 20, and 21 Feb. (see Mackenzie Diary description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 2:473–76, and Ford, Journals of Hugh Gaine description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed. The Journals of Hugh Gaine, Printer. 1902. Reprint. [New York] 1970. description ends , 2:110–11).

6Heath wrote in his memoirs for 16 March: “The small-pox at this time made its appearance in the vicinity of the army, and several soldiers were taken down with that distemper” (Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 292). He also wrote Col. Alexander Scammell from West Point on 22 March that “the Small Pox is in almost all parts of the Country around us” (MHi: Heath Papers). For concerted efforts to inoculate soldiers, see Heath to GW, 25 March (DLC:GW).

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