December 10, 1776

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The Congress prepares and publishes an address to the American people.  It is a plea for military support against the advancing British army.  “What a pity it is then that the rich and populous city of Philadelphia should fall into the enemy’s hands.”

General Washington is uncertain whether General Charles Cornwallis will cross the Delaware above here or below from Trenton.  He also writes to General Charles Lee at Chatham, New Jersey, once again requesting that he join him to save Philadelphia:  “I last night received your favor by Colo. Humpton & were it not for the weak and feeble state of the force I have, I should highly approve of your hanging on the Rear of the Enemy and establishing the Post you mention; But when my situation is directly opposite to what you suppose it to be, and when Genl Howe is pressing forward with the whole of his Army except the Troops that were lately embarked & a few besides left at N. York, to possess himself of Philadelphia, I cannot but request and entreat you & this too by the advice of all the Genl Officers with me, to march and join me with your whole force with all possible expedition. The utmost exertions that can be made, will not be more than sufficient to save Philadelphia, without the aid of your force, I think there is but little if any prospect of doing it. I refer you to the Route Majr Hoops would inform you of. The Enemy are now extended along the Delaware at Several places. By a prisoner who was taken last night, I am told that at Penny Town there are two Battallions of Infantry—3 of Grenadiers, The Hessian Grenadiers, 42d of Highlanders & 2 Others—Their object doubtless is to pass the river above us or to prevent your joining me. I mention this that you may avail yourself of the information. do come on, your arrival may be happy & if it can be effected without delay may be the means of preservg a City whose loss must prove of the most fatal consequence to the Cause of America. I am &c.

pray exert your influence & bring with you All the Jersey Militia you possibly can, Let them not suppose their State is lost or in any danger because the Enemy are pushing thro it. if you think Genl Sinclair or Genl Maxwell would be of Service to command em I would send either.”

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December 9, 1776

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Governor Trumbull asks:  “Is America to be lost?”  He opens a strong plea to Massachusetts urging the New England states to meet to discuss their finances, defense, and “to bring about a general reformation of the people.”  In the meantime, the state begins moving militia and supplies to Rhode Island to counter the arrival of the British fleet.

General Henry Clinton informed Lord Germain in London that he had landed his troops and was in the possession of this city “without the least opposition.”

In the meantime, George Washington writes to Congress about his movements and his concern for the defense of Philadelphia.  “I did myself the honor of writing to you Yesterday, and informing you that I had removed the Troops to this Side of the Delaware, soon after, the Enemy made their Appearance, and their Van entered, just as our Rear Guard quitted.  We had removed all our Stores except a few Boards. From the best Information, they are in two Bodies, one, at and near Trenton, the other some Miles higher up, and inclining towards Delaware, but whether with intent to cross there, or throw themselves between Genl Lee and me is yet uncertain.  I have this Morning detatched Lord Stirling with his Brigade to take post at the different landing places, and prevent them from stealing a March upon us from above, for I am informed if they cross at Coriels Ferry or thereabouts, they are as near to Philadelphia as we are here. From several Accounts, I am led to think, that the Enemy are bringing Boats with them, if so, it will be impossible for our small Force to give them any considerable Opposition in the Passage of the River, indeed they make a Feint at one place, and by a sudden Removal carry their Boats higher or lower before we can bring our Cannon to play upon them.

Under these Circumstances, the Security of Philadelphia should be our next Object. From my own Remembrance, but more from Information (for I never viewed the Ground) I should think that a Communication of Lines and Redoubts might soon be formed from the Delaware to Schuylkill on the North Entrance of the City. The Lines to begin on the Schuylkill side about the Heights of Springatsbury and run Eastward to Delaware upon the most advantagious and commanding Grounds. If something of this kind is not done, the Enemy might, in Case any Misfortune should befall us; march directly in and take Possession. We have ever found that Lines, however slight are very formidable to them, they would at least give a Check till people could recover of the Fright and Consternation that naturally attends the first Appearance of an Enemy.

In the mean time every Step should be taken to collect Force not only from Pennsylvania but from the most neighbourly States, if we can keep the Enemy from entering Philadelphia and keep the Communication by Water open, for Supplies, we may yet make a Stand, if the Country will come to our Assistance, till our new Levies can be collected.  If the Measure of fortifying the City should be adopted, some Skillful person should immediately view the Grounds and begin to trace out the Lines and Works. I am informed there is a French Engineer of eminence in Philadelphia at this time.”

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December 8, 1776

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From the Falls of the Delaware, across from Trenton, New Jersey, General Washington reports his further retreat to congress:  “Colo. Reed would inform you of the Intelligence which I first met with on the Road from Trenton to Princeton Yesterday. Before I got to the latter, I received a Second express informing me, that as the Enemy were advancing by different Routs and attempting by One to get in the rear of our Troops which were there & whose numbers were small and the place by no means defensible, they had judged it prudent to retreat to Trenton—The retreat was accordingly made, and since to this side of the River.  This information I thought it my duty to communicate as soon as possible, as there is not a moments time to be lost in assembling such force as can be collected and as the object of the Enemy cannot now be doubted in the smallest degree. Indeed I shall be out in my conjecture (for it is only conjecture), if the late imbarkation at New York, is not for Delaware river, to cooperate with the Army under the immediate command of Genl Howe, who I am informed from good authority is with the British Troops and his whole force upon this Route.  I have no certain intelligence of Genl Lee, although I have sent frequent Expresses to him and lately a Colo. Humpton to bring me some accurate Accounts of his situation. I last night dispatched another Gentn to him—Major Hoops, desiring he would hasten his march to the Delaware in which I would provide Boats near a place called Alexandria for the transportation of his Troops. I can not account for the slowness of his March.  In the disordered & moving state of the Army I cannot get returns, but from the best accounts we had between Three thousand & 3500 Men before the Philadelphia Militia and German Batallion arrived, they amount to about Two thousand.”

Meanwhile, Benjamin Franklin writes to Congress to apprise then that he has arrived in France:  “Our Friends in France have been a good deal dejected with the Gazette Accounts of Advantages obtain’d against us by the British Troops. I have help’d them here to recover their Spirits a little, by assuring them that we shall face the Enemy, and were under no Apprehensions of their two Armies being able to compleat their Junction. I understand Mr. Lee has lately been at Paris, that Mr. Deane is still there, and that an underhand Supply is obtain’d from the Government of 200 brass Field Pieces, 30,000 Firelocks, and some other military Stores which are now shipping for America, and will be convoy’d by a Ship of War. The Court of England, Mr. Penet tells me (from whom I have the above Intelligence) had the Folly to demand Mr. Deane to be deliver’d up, but were refus’d. Our Voyage tho’ not long was rough, and I feel myself weakned by it: But I now recover Strength daily, and in a few days shall be able to undertake the Journey to Paris. I have not yet taken any publick Character, thinking it prudent first to know whether the Court is ready and willing to receive Ministers publicly from the Congress; that we may neither embarras her on the one hand, or subject ourselves to the Hazard of a disgraceful Refusal on the other. I have dispatch’d an Express to Mr. Deane, with the Letters I had for him from the Committee, and a Copy of our Commission, that he may immediately make the proper Enquiries, and give me Information. In the mean time, I find it is generally suppos’d here that I am sent to negociate, and that Opinion appears to give great Pleasure, if I can judge by the extream Civilities I meet with from Numbers of the principal People, who have done me the Honour to visit me. I have desired Mr. Deane, by some speedy and safe Means to give Mr. Lee Notice of his Appointment. I find several Vessels here laden with military Stores for America, just ready to sail: On the whole there is the greatest Prospect that we shall be well provided for another Campaign, and much stronger than we were the last. A Spanish Fleet has sail’d, with 7000 Land Forces, Foot, and some Horse. Their Destination unknown, but suppos’d against the Portuguese in Brasil. Both France and England are preparing strong Fleets, and it is said that all the Powers of Europe are preparing for War, apprehending a general one cannot be very distant. When I arrive at Paris, I shall be able to write with more Certainty.”

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December 7, 1776

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Commodore Lambert Wicks in USS Reprisal with Benjamin Franklin aboard arrives in Nantz, France, on this day.  Wrotes Stacy Schiff in A Great Imrpvisation:  Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, “Franklin knew that his name had been a passport in France for years.  As early as 1769 friends reported that they wre welcomed everywhere with open arms on his account; distinction was the best recommendation a man could claim in Paris.  It introduced where titles failed.  If Franklin knew he was vilified in London as the insidious ‘chief of the rebels’ he would have known too the effect of that epitaph on his stock in France.  Nowhere was his compound status as emblem, as thinker, as chief rebel on better display…  ‘You know that Dr. Franklin’s troops have been defeated by those of the King of England.  Alas!  Philosophers are beaten everywhere.  Reason and liberty are poorly received in this world,” wrote Voltaire.  And Franklin’s symbolic power only increased as he crossed the ocean.  Unwittingly, Congress sent France a sort of walking statue of liberty.”

Congressional President John Hancock writes the four New England states urging troops be sent to reinforce General Schuuyler in northern New York.

In Tapppan, New York, a force of Tories and British marauders known as “cowboys” pillatged the town.

Join us at Bow Tie Tours for Philadelphia’s Best Historical Walking Tours.  Our “Independence Tour Extraordinaire” includes tickets to Independence Hall, as well as numerous other sites, such as 2nd National Bank, Graff House, Carpenter Hall, and Christ Church.  If you are interested in learning about George Washington, join us for our Valley Forge Tour.  For Civil War buffs, come see Gettysburg.  Or, for the true history buffs, contact us about taking part in our historical vacation packages.

 

 

December 6, 1776

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Major General Robertson orders that soldiers are not to pull down houses, fences, or damage the property of any person whatever under severe penalty.

George Washington writes the following letter to John Hancock, the President of the Congress:  “I have not received any intelligence of the Enemy’s movements since my Letter of Yesterday; from every information, they still remain at Brunswic, except some of their parties who are advanced a small distance on this side. to day I shall set out for Princeton myself, unless something should occur to prevent me, which I do not expect.

By a Letter of the 4th Inst. from a Mr Caldwell, a Clergyman & a Staunch friend to the Cause & who has fled from Eliz. Town & taken refuge in the Mountains about Ten miles from thence, I am inform’d that Genl or Lord Howe was expected in that Town to publish pardon & peace. His words are, “I have not seen his Proclamation, but can only say, he gives 60 days of Grace & Pardons from the Congress down to the Committee. No one man in the Continent is to be denied his Mercy.[”] In the language of this Good man, the Lord deliver us from his mercy.”

Major General William Heath writes to George Washington about a citing of General Clinton’s ships travelling toward Rhode Island.  I have Just received Intelligence that on the 4th Instant about Sun sit Seventy Sail of ships of war and Transport with Troops on Board Sailed with a fair Wind Down the Sound towards New England, Probably to Rhode Island.

I have Sent an Express to Governor Trumbull, and to Massachusetts Bay, and have Desired Governor Trumbull to Send an Express to Rhode Island, I have at this Post, Three Regiments of General Parsons’s Brigade and Three of General Clintons, and a number of Convalisents Lame and Rag[g]ed left By General Lee, General Clinton is pushing the obstructions in the River, any orders from your Excellency to move the Troops or any Part of them shall be Instantly obeyed, by him who has the Honor to be with the greatest respect

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December 5, 1776

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In New York a British officer writes about the 5,000 American prisoners being held.  “Many of them are such ragamuffins as you never saw in your life.  I cannot give you a better idea of them than by putting you in mind of Falstaff’s recruits, or poor Ton in King Lear, and yet they have strained every nerve to cover their nakedness by dismantling all the beds.”

General Washington writes to Congress that he is moving supplies and men across the Delaware to Pennsylvania protected by a rear guard in Princeton commanded by Lord William Stirling (William Alexander) and General Adam Stephens.  He then made a long plea for a standing army instead of the militia:  I shall now, having removed the greatest part of the above Articles, face about with such Troops as are here fit for service, and march back to Princeton and there govern myself by circumstances and the movements of Genl Lee. At any event the Enemy’s progress may be retarded by this means, if they intend to come on, & the Peoples fears in some measure quieted, if they do not. Sorry I am to observe however, that the frequent calls upon the Militia of this State—the want of exertion in the Principal Gentlemen of the Country—or a fatal supineness and insensibility of danger, till it is too late to prevent an evil, that was not only foreseen, but foretold, have been the causes of our late disgraces. If the Militia of this State had stepped forth in Season, and timely notice they had, we might have prevented the Enemy’s crossing the Heckenseck, although without some previous notice of the time & place it was impossible to have done this at the North River. We might with equal probability of success, have made a stand at Brunswic on the Rariton; but as both these Rivers were fordable in a variety of Places, (knee deep only) it required many men to defend the passes & these we had not. At Heckenseck our force was insufficient, because a part was at Elizabeth Town, Amboy & Brunswick, guarding a Coast which I thought most exposed to danger—and at Brunswic, because I was disappointed in my expectation of Militia, and because on the day of the Enemy’s approach, and probably the occasion of it, the term of the Jersey & Maryland Brigades service expired, neither of which would consent to stay an hour longer.

These among Ten thousand other Instances might be adduced to shew the disadvantages of Short inlistments & the little dependance upon Militia in times of real danger; But as yesterday cannot be recalled, I will not dwell upon a Subject which no doubt has given much uneasiness to Congress, as well as extreme pain and anxiety to myself. My first wish is, That Congress may be convinced of the impropriety of relying upon the Militia, and of the necessity of raising a larger standing Army than what they have voted. The saving in the article of Stores, Provisions and in a thousand other things, by having nothing to do with Militia unless in cases of extraordinary exigency, & such as could not be expected in the common course of events, would amply support a large Army, which well officered would be daily improving, instead of continuing a destructive, expensive, disorderly Mob.

I am clear in Opinion, that if 40,000 Men had been kept in constant pay since the first commencement of Hostilities, and the Militia had been excused doing duty during that period, the Continent would have saved Money. When I reflect on the losses we have sustained for want of good Troops, the certainty of this is placed beyond a doubt in my mind. In such case the Militia, who have been harrassed & tired by repeated calls upon them, and farming & manufactures in a manner suspended, would upon any pressing emergency have run with alacrity to Arms, Whereas the cry now is, they may be as well ruined in one way as another, & with difficulty are obtained. I mention these things to shew, that in my Opinion, if any dependance is placed in the Militia another year, Congress will be deceived. When danger is a little removed from them, they will not turn out at all—When it comes Home to ’em, the well affected instead of flying to Arms to defend themselves, are busily employed in removing their Families & Effects, whilst the disaffected are concerting measures to make their submission & spread terror & dismay all around to induce others to follow the example. daily experience & abundant proofs warrant this information.”

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December 5, 1776

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General Washington writes to the Board of War not to bring three ranking British prisoners to Trenton for passage to New York, because they would report to William Howe the condition of the American Army.

Washington writes to John Hancock, as well, in regards to his continued concern over General Lee’s failure to join his army with Washington’s:  “Since I had the honor of addressing you Yesterday, I received a Letter from Genl Lee. On the 30th Ulto he was at Peeks Kills, and expected to pass the River with his division two days after. From this intelligence you will readily conclude, that he will not be able to afford us any aid for several days. The report of Genl Sinclair’s having Joined him with Three or four Regiments, I believe to be altogether premature, as he mentions nothing of it. It has arisen, as I am informed, from the return of some of the Jersey & Pensylvania Troops from Ticonderoga, whose time or service is expired. They have reached Pluckemin where I have wrote to have ’em halted and kept together, if they can be prevailed on, till further orders.”

Meanwhile, Charles Lee writes to Washington about, among other things, his concern over his horse:  “I have receiv’d your pressing letter—since which intelligence was sent me that you had quitted Brunswick—so that it is impossible to know where I can join you—but ⟨a⟩ltho I shou’d not be able to join you at all the service which I can render you will I hope be full as efficacious[.] the Northern Army has already advanced nearer Morris Town than I am—I shall put myself at their head tomorrow—We shall upon the whole compose an Army of five thoushand good Troops in spirits—I shoud imagin, Dr General, that it may be of service to communicate this to the Corps immediately under your Command—it may encourage them and startle the Enemy—in fact this confidence must be risen to a prodigious heighth, if They pursue you, with so formidable a Body hanging on their flank, or rear—I shall cloath my People at the expence of the Tories—which has a double good effect—it puts them in spirits and comfort and is a correction of the iniquity of the foes of Liberty.  It is paltry to think of our Personal affairs when the whole is at stake—but I entreat you to order some of your suite to take out of the way of danger my favourite Mare which is at Hunt Wilsons three miles the other side of Princeton.”

Join us at Bow Tie Tours for Philadelphia’s Best Historical Walking Tours.  Our “Independence Tour Extraordinaire” includes tickets to Independence Hall, as well as numerous other sites, such as 2nd National Bank, Graff House, Carpenter Hall, and Christ Church.  If you are interested in learning about George Washington, join us for our Valley Forge Tour.  For Civil War buffs, come see Gettysburg.  Or, for the true history buffs, contact us about taking part in our American History Vacation Packages