June 14, 1776


Congress orders Major General Philip Schuyler to confer with Six Nations Indians (Mohawk, Oneida, Tuscarora, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca) and “engage them in our interest upon the best terms that can be procured” and to proceed to erect a fortification at Fort Stanix, New York.

Major General John Sullivan with 2500 men decides to evacuate Canada and make a stand at Ticonderoga.  The British fleet occupied Sorel in about 2 hours.

Charles Lee writes to Benjamin Franklin on his ideas to create an army and prepare for war:  “I am very happy that my letter to Lord Thanet meets with your approbation. I send you here some crude notions of what ought be adopted.  1st  A solemn league and covenant defensive and offensive to be taken by every man in America, particularly by those in or near the Sea Port Towns; all those who refuse, to have their estates confiscated for the public use, and their persons remov’d to the interior par[t of] the Country with a small pension res[erved?] for their subsistance.2dly  New York to [be] well fortify’d and garrison’d or totally destroy’d.  3dly  No Regiments to be rais’d f[or any?] particular local purposes, but one general g[reat?] Continental Army adequate to evry purpose. South Carolina may be excepted from its distance and peculiar circumstances.4thly.  The Regiments to be exchang’d those who are rais’d in one Province to serve in another rather than in their own, viz. the New Englanders in New York the N. Yorkers in New England and so on. This system will undoubtedly make ’em better Soldiers.5thly.  A general Militia to be establishd and the regular Regiments to be formd by drafts from the Militia or their substitutes.  6thly.  A certain portion of lands to be [assign]ed to evry Soldier who serves one campaign [a d]ouble portion to him who serves two, and so on.7thly.  A strong flying camp to be kept about Hampton Bay, another about Annapolis and Charles Town in S. Carolina to be well watch’d and guarded.  8thly.  The greatest [pains?] to be taken and no expence to be spar’d in securing the Indians to our interest.  These measures may appear bold but I am sure they will be efficacious and decisive decision is the onset[?] of success. I wish I had time to write a longer letter, and I wish my pen was better to be more legible.”

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April 5, 1776


General Charles Lee arrived in Williamsburg, Virginia, and wrote to General Washington as follows:  “I most sincerely congratulate you, I congratulate the Public on the great and glorious event—your possession of Boston—it will be a most bright page in the annals of America, and a most abominable black one in those of the Beldam Britain—go on, My Dr General, crown yourself with glory and establish the liberties and lustre of your Country on a foundation more permanent than the Capitol Rock—my situation is just as I expected. I am afraid that I shall make a shabby figure without any real demerits of my own—I am like a Dog in a dancing school—I know not where to turn myself, where to fix myself—the circumstances of the Country intersected by navigable rivers, the uncertainty of the Enemy’s designs and motions who can fly in an instant to any spot They chuse with their canvass wings throw me, or wou’d throw Julius Cæsar into this inevitable dilemma—I may possibly be in the North, when as Richard says, I shou’d serve my Sovereign in the West—I can only act from surmise and have a very good chance of surmising wrong—I am sorry to grate your ears with a truth, but must at all events assure you, that the Provincial Congress of N. York are Angels of decision when compar’d with your Countrymen the Committee of Safety assembled at Williamsburg. Page, Lee, Mercer and Payne are indeed exceptions, but from Pendleton, Bland the Treasurer & Co.—libera nos Domine1—I shall not trouble you with a detail of the Army, ordinance stores, but compendiously say that the Regiments in general are very compleat in numbers, the Men (those that I have seen) fine—but a most horrid deficiency of Arms—no intrenching tools, no guns (âltho the Province is pretty well stockd) mo⟨mutilated⟩ service—had I only eight eighteen Pounders I wou’d immediately at all events take post on Crany Island, by which measure I shoud drive out the Enemy and exclude em from the finest and most advantageous Port in America—I have order’d with this view the Artificers to work night and day—if I succeed I shall come in for a sprig of lawrels—this essenstial measure might have been effected long ago, but the same apathy and oblique squinting towards what the milk and water People call reconciliation; the prodigious flattering prospect open’d by the appointment of Commissioners were strong arguments against the expence of gun carriages and intrenching tools—but this is not all They have distributed their Troops in so ingeneous a manner, as to render evry active offensive operation impossible—an equal number of their Battalions are station’d on the different necks—They say, very acutely, that as the expence is equal, the security ought to be equal—I cannot help perswading myself that their object will be to take possession of Williamsburg—not only from it’s tempting advantageous situation commanding in great measure two fine rivers and a Country abundant in all the necessaries for an army; but the possession of the Capital woud give an air of dignity and decided superiority to their arms, which in this Slave Country where dominion is founded on opinion ⟨multilated⟩ a circumstance of the utmost importance—perhaps I may be mistaken—but the surmise is not irrational[.] I have calld three Regiments down the Country—You will excuse, My Dr General, the blots and scratches of this letter—for the Post is just going out—by the next I will inform You of the steps We have taken for the security of this place—I have been desir’d to recommend Colonel Grayson as a Man of extraordinary merit He sets out soon to make application to the Congress for an establishment—if We have, as We must, a Continental Hospital in the Southern department Dr McClurg I suppose will be the Man to direct it—I need not mention his qualifications—they are so well known7—I beg You will make some body write to me from time to time, indeed I think I may modestly insist on Mr Palfrey’s Pen being employ’d often in this service—adieu, Dr General…”

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February 28th and 29th, 1776


General George Washington’s troops prepare to move ahead on the proposed occupation of Dorchester Heights.  Writing to Burwell Bassett, he writes, “We are preparing to take possession of a post (which I hope to do in a few days—if we Can get provided with the means) which will, it is generally thought bring on a rumpus between us & the enemy, but whether it will or not—time only Can show—It is believed by many that the troops are preparing for a removal from Boston—it being Certain that they are watering & fitting up their vessels for the reception of the Crew, & have actually put some of their heavy ordnance on board; but whether this is for deception or to prepare against orders that may arrive, I know not.”

General Charles Lee writes to George Washington from New York, regarding Washington’s last letter urging him to travel to Canada (which he has been ordered to do by Congress as well) to help Benedict Arnold.  Dr General – I am now so far recover’d tho far from well, that I shall set out in two days—the stripping Ticonderora so intirely of it’s heavy Cannon is a most unfortunate circumstance, as the transportation of ’em from this place is a busyness of monstrous difficulties expence and labour—The Congress have as yet not taken the least step for the security of this place—the instant I leave it, I conclude the Provincial Congress and Inhabitants in general will relapse into their former Histerics.”

Lee continues on to explain the scarcity of his letters to Washington, a matter that Washington has chided him over.  “I have this moment receiv’d yours of the 22’d—it is a sort of reprim⟨and⟩ for not having more exactly inform’d you of the occurrencies here—I do assu⟨re⟩ you, General, that I have wrote fully and frequently—it is true, I believe two Posts have carried no letters from me, but I wou’d not trouble you when I had nothing material to communicate—I shall not intrench myself behind the parade of great busyness, (for my first busyness tis to be attentive to my General,) nor shall I make a plea of the loss of Palfrey, since whose departure I have been oblig’d to write with my own hand even, the most trifling note—but in fact, tho I confess I am naturally remiss, I have not neglected my duty in this point—I have suffer’d no safe opportunity to escape me—but enough of this—I sha⟨ll⟩ now give you a detail of what We have been doing and in what circumstances We are—Our, force including the Minute Men, amoun⟨ts⟩ to about seventeen hundred Men—Ward’s Regt which is the stron⟨gest,⟩ I have station’d in long Island—They are employ’d in making fascines and preparing other materials for constructing three redouts, one of which will in great measure (in correspondence with a battery which I have sunk opposite to it in the City) will secure the entrance of the East River—Waterbury’s and Stirlings Regts are quarterd in the City—the former in the upper Barracks, the latter in the lower—two hundred Minute Men are likewise lodg’d in the Town—Drakes Regt of Minute Men and one more Company (in all about two hundred) are station’d at Horn’s Hook which commands the pass of Hell Gate—They are employ’d in throwing up a redout to contain three hundred Men—as to the Town, having few hands and the necessary duty being hard—I have been able to effect little—I have indeed thrown down the side of the Fort next the Town to prevent it’s being converted into a Citadel for the use of the Enemy—it was absolutely impossible to be moulded into any thing which coud annoy their Ships—I have likewise thrown a traverse or barrier across the Broad Way two hundred yards in the rear of the fort with four pieces of Cannon to prevent the enemy lodging themselves in the remains of the Fort and repairing it—it is likewise my intention to barricade all the streets leading into the Broad Way both on the right and left to secure us against being taken in reverse—Batteries are to be erected ⟨on⟩ the eminence behind Trinity Church to keep ⟨the⟩ir Ships at so great a distance as not to injure the ⟨to⟩wn—as We are surrounded by navigable Waters, I consider enclos’d Works as rather dangerous—it was therefore my intention to throw up a great number of large Fleches or Redans at certain distances one behind another—so as to render it a disputable Field of Battle against any force. Kings Bridge being a most important pass—without the command of which We cou’d have no communication with Connecticut I had resolv’d to make as strong as possible such were my schemes, but as the Congress have not furnish’d the Force which I was taught to expect from Philadelphia We have not had it in our Power to effect more than I have related—Governor Tryon and the Asia still continue betwixt Nutten and Bedlow’s Islands—it has pleas’d his Excellency in violation of the compact—He had made to seize sevral vessels from Jersey laden with flour it has, in return pleas’d my Excellency to stop all provision from the City and cut of all intercourse with him—a meas⟨ure⟩ which has thrown the Mayor Council and Tories into agonies—the propensity or rather rage for paying Court to this great man is inconceivable—They cannot be wean’d from him—We must put wormwood on his paps, or They will cry to suck as are in their second childhood—Capt. Smith is just return’d from Fort Constitution—He gives a most terrible account of it—the expence of its construction has been enormous, its defects both in point of situation laying out finishing, &ca are numerous—He has made the pl⟨an⟩ of another which will command, as far as I can judge from it on ⟨paper⟩ the River effectually9—I have now related as minutely as necess⟨ary⟩ our situation—as I shall set out very soon it will probably be my last from this place—I must intreat once more, Dr General, that you will spare us a company of Artillery.”

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February 22, 1776


Many members of Congress question New York’s failure to mobilize troops.   The body resolves to request the province to explain what efforts had been made to raise the four battalions for their own defense.  New York has the reputation of having many loyalists.

George Washington writes to General Charles Lee – “Dear Sir – I fully expected by the Two last Posts to have received your favours, with an account of the measures you have been & are pursuing for the defence of New York, & of such Occurrences as you might have thought worthy of Notice; As I did not, nor got several other Letters which I expected, I cannot but suppose, they have been Intercepted at some of the Offices, or by some Accident prevented coming to my hands—I need not mention my Impatience to hear from you, and beg that you will write me by every Opportunity.”  This will become a running theme between the two, as General Lee often chooses to run his command as if it were independent, and to inform Washington of his actions when and if this becomes convenient, or simply can no longer be put off.

Meanwhile, Washington is informed that John English, who was a member of Captain Waterman’s company in Colonel Benedict Arnold’s regiment, had been found guilty in a Court Martial for abandoning his company in order to join another, that of  Colonel Varnum, evidently in order to receive double pay.  It is ordered that he receive ten lashes, which General Washington approves.

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February 19, 1776


In Charleston, South Carolina, the Provincial Convention, apprehensive of a British attack, votes to summon militia to defend the city.

Meanwhile, John Adams writes to General Charles Lee:  “My dear Sir – The Congress have seen such a Necessity of an able Commander in Canada, as to destine you to that most arduous Service. I tremble for your Health, yet I hope the Campaign will rather promote it than otherwise.  We want you att N. York. We want you at Cambridge. We want you in Virginia. But Canada seems of more Importance than any of those Places. And therefore you are sent there. I wish you as many Laurells as Wolf and Montgomery reaped there, with an happier Fate, Health and long Life, after a glorious Return.  But I am ashamed to go on, in such a Strain, when writing to you whose Time is so much better employed than in reading it, when I took up my Pen only to introduce to your Acquaintance a Countryman of yours and a Citizen of the World, to whom a certain Heretical Pamphlet called Common sense, is imputed. His Name is Paine. He is travelling to N. York for his Curiosity and wishes to see a Gentleman, whose Character he so highly respects.  A luckier a happier Expedition than yours to N. York never was projected. The whole Whigg World is blessing you for it and none of them more than your Friend and sert.”

It is perhaps useful to take a step back and look at what is going on here.  George Washington has been sent to the Boston area and was chosen as the Commanding General of the army.  Charles Lee, however, has his adherents, both political and otherwise.  Despite Lee’s strong philosophical credentials which come from many of his writings claiming loyalty and support for the American cause, his birth in Europe bars him in the eyes of congress of leading the army.  However, his Whig credentials – i.e., his democratic impulses – are seen as stronger than Washington’s by many who are concerned that any Commanding General who receives the accolades that are beginning to stream in for Washington cannot help but become a tyrant.  Beyond that, Washington is beginning to show that he requires a stronger role by the congress, and that he needs an army with more than one year enrollments.  Lee believes in an army of the people, unlike any European army, that will be strengthened, not weakened, by the democratic impulses of the colonies.

And so, when John Adams writes that “the whole Whigg World is blessing you” he is not exactly saying that he would support him over Washington, but he is bringing these political issues into the discussion.  Lee knows as well as anyone what he needs to do in order to gain a larger role, perhaps the leading role, in the army, and that is to win.  Therefore, his role in the possible defeat of the British in Canada is as important to him personally as it is to the Colonies.

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February 14, 1776


In Salem, North Carolina, the Moravians note that in Cross Creek the Governor’s party was very strong, and the King’s Standard had been raised.

In Richmond, Virginia, Minutemen are being divided into companies and are preparing to march to Guilford and beyond amongst alarm and confusion.

Charles Lee writes to George Washington:  “You must pardon me Dr General, for a liberty I have taken—You know that Sears was to collect our Volunteers in Connecticut—but He thought He coud not succeed unless He had some nominal Office and rank—I accordingly most impudently by the virtue of the power deputed by You to me (which power you never deputed) appointed him Adjudant General with rank of Lt Colonel for the expedition it can have no bad consequences, the Man was much tickled, and it added spurs to his feet—He is a creature of much spirit and public virtue and ought to have his back clapp’d—with respect to the Canada expedition which You indirectly propose to me,5 I have only one answer to make—wherever I can be of most service, there I shou’d chuse to be—I have indeed just at this instant one objection which is I am not without apprehensions that facing the Cold may throw me into a relapse so as not only to render me unfit for service there but evry where else—I am indeed much better, but extremely tender I begin to walk—it has been a damn’d attack—a constant violent fever attending it, I neither eat nor slept for eight days—but my fever is pass’d and I begin to eat—a week I hope will set me up—sevral Members of the Congress have indicated a desire I shou’d go to Canada, I have explain’d to em my apprehensions, but assur’d ’em most honestly of my willingness—but in fact unless They expedite an Army and some heavy Artillery it will be in vain to trouble their heads about a General—Colonel Richmore who lately left Montreal tell’s us that what few Troops are now there will infallibly return home early in April—He is gone to the Congress and I hope will give em (as He is capable) the necessary lights6—but whatever steps They take be assurd, Dr General, that I am with the greatest readiness prepar’d to receive and execute yours and their commands; Canada is I confess, if I am only tolerably accoutre’d a glorious Field which Must flatter the ambition of, Yours Most sincerely…”

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February 12, 1776

In North Carolina, Patriots and Tories continue to mobilize their forces.  The Committee of Safety orders the militia to assemble in the districts north of Cross Creek.


Meanwhile John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, wrote to Washington about their efforts in supporting Charles Lee in his efforts to protect New York City.  “I yesterday morng Rec’d an Express from General Lee, requesting an Augmentation of Troops, Congress immediately directed one Battalion of Minute Men from New Jersey in Addition to Lord Stirling’s Battalion, & one Battalion of Associators from this City to proceed to New York & be under the Command of General Lee, the latter Commanded by Coll Dickinson who very chearfully step’d forth, & both Battalions will immediately March.  Colonell Bull the Bearer of this Takes Charge of Two hundred & fifty Thousand Dollars for the use of your Army; I beg leave to Recommend him to your Notice.”

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