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CHAP. IV: rized that instead of leaving him entirely under the control of the local government, a committee of three from their own body,
oblige them to deposit at least the value of one half of their respective property in the hands of the Continental Congress, as a security for their good behaviour. And, lastly, to administer the strongest oath that can be devised to act offensively and defensively in support of the common rights. I confess that men so eaten up with bigotry as the bulk of them appear to be, will not consider themselves as bound by this oath : particularly as it is in some measure forced, they will argue it is by no means obligatory—but, if I mistake not, it will be a sort of criterion, by which you will be able to distinguish the desperate fanaticks from those who are reclaimable. The former must of course be secured and carried into some interior parts of the Continent, where they cannot be dangerous. This mode of proceeding, I conceive, (if any can) will be effectual—but whether it meet with the approbation or disapprobation of the Congress, I most humbly conjure them not to attribute the proposal to arrogance or self-conceit, or pragmatical officiousness, but, at worst, to an intemperate zeal for the public service. Notwithstanding the apparent slimness of the authority, as I am myself convinced that it is substantial, I think it my duty to communicate a circumstance to Congress: I have with me here, Sir, a deserter from Captain Wallace's ship before New Port. It is necessary to inform you that this Captain Wallace has the reputation of being the most imprudent and rash of all mortals, particularly when he is heated with wine, which, as reported, is a daily incident; that in these moments he blabs his most becret instructions even to the common men. This deserter, then, informs us that the Captain a few months ago assembled the sailors and marines on the quarter deck, and assured them, by way of encouragement, that they were to proceed very soon to New York, where they were to be joined by His Majesty's most loyal subjects of White Plains, Ploughkeepice, and Long Island, and at the same time bestowed abundantly his curses on the Admiral and General for their dilatoriness and scandalous conduct in not availing themselves sooner of the invitation they had received from the worthy gentlemen. The Congress will make what comments they please on this information, which I must repeat I thought it my duty to communicate. Upon the whole, Sir, you may be assured that it is the intention of the ministerialists to take possession, and immediately, of New York. The intercepted letters,
was detached to consult with him and the council of safety CHAP. IV. respecting the defence of the place, and he was instructed to obey the directions of that committee.
the unguarded expressions of their officers in their interviews with ours in the lines, but above all the manifest advantages resulting to their cause from this measure, put their intention beyond dispute. With submission, therefore, to the wisdom of Congress, it behoves them, I should think, not to loose a moment in securing this important post, which, if in the hands of the enemy, must cut the Continent in twain, and render it almost impossible for the northern and southern colonies to support each other. This crisis, when every thing is at stake, is not a time to be over complaisant to the timidity of the inhabitants of any particular spot. I have now under my command a respectable force, adequate to the purpose of securing the place, and purging all its environs of traitors, on which subject, I shall expect with impatience the determination of the Congress. Their orders I hope to receive before or immediately on my arrival.
This instant the inclosed express from the Provincial Congress of New York, was delivered into my hands; but as these gentlemen probably are not fully-apprised of the danger hanging over their heads, as I have received intelligence from the camp that the fleet is sailed, and that it is necessary to urge my march, I shall proceed with one division of the forces under my command to that city. A moment's delay may be fatal. The force I shall carry with me is not strong enough to act offensively, but just sufficient to secure the city against any immediate designs of the enemy. If this is to give umbrage, if the Governor and Captain of the man of war are pleased to construe this step as an act of positive hostility, if they are to prescribe what number of your troops are, and what number are not to enter the city, all I can say is that New York must be considered as the minister's place, and not the Continent's. I must now, Sir, beg pardon for the length of this letter, and more so, for the presumption in offering so freely my thoughts to the Congress, from whom it is my duty simply to receive my orders, and as a servant and soldier, strictly to obey; which none can do with greater ardour and affection than,
Your most obedient humble Servant."
To the Hon. John Hancock, Esq. President
of the Continental Congress.
As might well have been expected from the experience and talents of General Lee, his opinions guided both the committee sent for his government and the council of safety, and whatever he suggested they directed him to execute. It was determined to fortify some commanding part of the city, to be occupied by two thousand men; to erect inclosed batteries on both sides of the water near Hell Gate, so as to protect the town against pirates through the sound, and at the same time to secure a communicasion with Long Island, where it was determined to form a strong fortified camp
for three thousand men; and to make the defences of the highlands as respectable as possible, which were immediately to be garrisoned by a battalion of regular troops.
General Clinton arrived almost at the same instant with General Lee, but without any troops. He gave out that none were coming; that no hostilities were contemplated against New York, and that he was himself, merely on a visit to his friend Tryon. “ If it be really so,” added General Lee, in his letter containing this communication, « it is the most whimsical piece of civility I ever heard of.” General Clinton did not affect to conceal his objects, but declared that he was to proceed to North Carolina, where he expected the small force he should carry with him, would be joined by five regiments from Europe.
The fortifications of New York were prosecuted with vigor, and Captain Parker, finding his threats entirely disregarded, no longer uttered them, but avowed his wish to save a town which contained so many loyal inhabitants.
About the middle of February, the severe cold set in and the CHAP. IV. ice became sufficiently firm to bear the troops. General Washington was now disposed to execute the bold plan he had formed, of attacking the enemy in Boston. Several conside. Plans for atrations concurred in recommending this hazardous enterprize. There being no prospect of a sufficient supply of powder to force them out by regular approaches, and bombardment; the very great importance attached to a destruction of the present army, before reinforcements should arrive from Europe, an event not to be produced without the command of the water. Should the town be taken by regular approaches; the certainty that he must soon lose the present advantage afforded by the ice, of moving on an extensive plain, and thereby approaching the town by a less dangerous direction; the confidence he felt in the courage of his troops; all disposed him to risk an immediate assault, although he had not ammunition to cover the advance of his army with artillery. A council of war, however, summoned on the occasion, was almost unanimous against the measure, and it was therefore abandoned, though with reluctance. The want of ammunition for their artillery was a principal inducement to this opinion. It is probable, the attempt might not have succeeded. It must certainly have been attended with considerable loss. The advice of the council, however, seems to have been adopted with regret. In communicating their opinion to Congress the General observed, “ Perhaps the irksomeness of my situation may have given different ideas to me from those which influence the gentlemen I consulted ; and might have inclined me to put more to the hazard than was consistent with prudence. If it had this effect, I am not sensible of it, as I endeavoured to give the subject all the consideration a matter
CHAP. IV. of such importance required. True it is, and I cannot help
acknowledging, that, I have many disagreeable sensations on account of my situation; for to have the eyes of the whole Continent fixed on me, with anxious expectation of some great event, and to be restrained in every military operation for want of the necessary means to carry it on, is not very pleasing ; especially as the means used to conceal my weakness from the enemy, conceals it also from our friends, and adds to their wonder."
Towards the latter end of February, there were various appear-, rances among the British troops in Boston, indicating an intention to evacuate that place. In the opinion that New York must be their object, General Washington pressed General Lee to hasten as much as possible the fortifications around that city, and his preparations 'to receive the enemy; but as these appearances * might be entirely deceptive, and he had now received a small supply of powder, he determined to prosecute with vigour a plan he had formed, to force General Howe either to come to an action, or to abandon the town of Boston.
Since the allowance of a bounty, recruiting had been rather more successful. The effective regular force, engaged for the year now amounted to something more than fourteen thousand men. In addition to these troops, the Commander in chief called out about six thousand of the militia of Massachussetts, and thus reinforced, he determined to take possession of, and fortify the heights of Dorchester, from whence it would be in his power greatly to
annoy the ships in the harbour, and the soldiers in the town. The taking of this position he hoped, and was convinced,