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The American Revolution
Revolutionary War: Northern Front, 1775-1777
George Washington on British Intentions for 1776

On April 23, 1776, Congress requested General Washington's opinion about whether it was necessary to send more troops to Canada and whether he could safely spare them from the army in New York. In the first document below, Washington responds to Congress's request. What is Washington's sense of the strategic situation at this point? In the second document, Washington is still unclear about British intentions. How does he describe these difficulties? The third and fourth documents inform the Congress that the British have arrived in the New York area. What is Washington's sense of the situation now?

View the original documents by clicking on the links below. All these documents can be found in the George Washington Papers. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.


New York, April 26, 1776.

I had wrote thus far, before I was honored with your favor of the 23d Instant; in obedience to the order therein contained, I have directed six Regiments more, for Canada, which will embark as soon as Vessels and other necessaries can be provided; these Regiments will be Commanded by General Sullivan; I will give him instructions to join the Forces, in that Country under General Thomas as soon as possible.

With respect to sending more Troops to that Country I am really at a Loss, what to advise, as it is impossible at present, to know the designs of the Enemy. Should they send the whole force under General Howe up the River St. Lawrence to relieve Quebec and recover Canada, the Troops gone and now going will be insufficient to stop their progress, and should they think proper to send that or an equal force this way from Great Britain, for the purpose of possessing this City and securing the navigation of Hudson River, the Troops left here will not be sufficient to oppose them, and yet for any thing we know, I think it not improbable they may attempt both, both being of the greatest importance to them if they have men.

New York, May 5, 1776.

The designs of the Enemy are too much behind the Curtain, for me to form any accurate opinion of their Plan of Operations for the Summers Campaign; we are left to wander therefore in the field of conjecture, and as no place, all its consequences considered, seemed of more Importance in the execution of their grand Plan, than possessing themselves of Hudsons River; I thought it advisable to remove, with the Continental Army to this City, as soon as the Kings Troops evacuated Boston, but if the Congress from their knowledge, information, or believe, think it best for the general good of the Service, that I should go to the Northward, or elsewhere, they are convinced I hope, that they have nothing more to do, than signify their Commands. With great respect, I have the Honor etc.

New York, July 3, 1776.

Sir: Since I had the honor of addressing you and on the same day several Ships more arrived within the Hook; making the number that came in them, 110, and there remains no doubt of the whole of the Fleet from Hallifax being now here. Yesterday Evening 50 of them came into the Bay and Anchored on the Staten Island side. Their views I cannot precisely determine, but am extremely apprehensive, as a part of them only came, that they mean to surround the Island and secure the whole stock upon it. I had consulted with a committee of the Provincial Congress on the Subject, and a person was appointed to superintend the business and to drive the Stock off. I also wrote to Brigadier General Herd and directed him to the Measure, lest it might be neglected, but am fearful it has not been effected.

Our reinforcements of Militia are but small yet: Their amount I cannot ascertain, having not been able to procure a return. However, I trust, if the Enemy make an Attack, they will meet with a repulse, as I have the pleasure to inform you, that an agreeable Spirit and willingness for Action, seems to Animate and prevade the whole of our Troops.

As it is difficult to determine what Objects the Enemy may have in contemplation, and whether they may not detach some part of their force to Amboy and to ravage that part of the Country if not to extend their views farther; . . .

Esteeming it of Infinite Importance, to prevent the Enemy from getting fresh Provisions and Horses for their Waggons, Artillery &ca. I gave orders to a party of our Men on Staten Island, since writing General Herd, to drive the Stock off without waiting for the assistance or direction of the Committee there, lest their slow mode of transacting business might produce too much delay, and have sent this morning to know what they have done. I am this Minute informed by a Gentleman that the Committee of Elizabeth Town, sent their Company of Light Horse, on Monday to effect it, and that some of their Militia was to give their aid Yesterday; he adds he was credibly told last Night, by part of the Militia coming to this place, that Yesterday Evening they saw a good many stock driving of the Island and crossing to the Jerseys. If the business is not executed ere now, It will be impossible to do it. I have the Honor &ca.

New York, July 6, 1776.

Sir: When I had the honor to address you on the 30th. Ulto., I transmitted a copy of a Letter I had received from a Gentleman a Member of the Honorable General Court of Massachusetts Bay, suggesting the improbability, of succours coming from thence in any reasonable Time, either for the defence of this place, or to reinforce our Troops engaged in the Canada expedition. I am sorry to inform you, that from a variety of Intelligence his apprehensions appear to be just, and to be fully confirmed. Nor have I reason to expect, but that the supplies from the other two Governments, Connecticut and New Hampshire, will be extremely slow and greatly deficient in number. As it now seems beyond Question, and clear to demonstration, that the Enemy mean to direct their Operations and bend their most vigorous Efforts against this Colony and will attempt to Unite their two Armies, that under General Burgoyne, and the one arrived here. I cannot but think the expedient proposed by that Gentleman is exceedingly just and that the Continental Regiments now in Massachusetts Bay, should be immediately called from thence and be employed, where there is the strongest reason to believe their aid will be indispensably necessary. The expediency of the Measure I shall submit to the consideration of Congress, and will only observe as my Opinion, that there is not the most distant prospect of an attempt being made where they now are, by the Enemy, and if there should, that the Militia that can be assembled upon the shortest Notice, will be more than equal to repel it; They are well armed, resolute and determined, and will instantly oppose any Invasion that may be made in their own Colony.
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View the original documents by clicking on the links above. All these documents can be found in the George Washington Papers. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.