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Roxbury, April 16, 177T.
LET the present letter begin with mentioning, that the repr** sentativcs of the freemen of the state of North-Carolina elected and chosen for that purpose, assembled in Congress at Halifax, and after a third reading, ratified their form of goverment, with a declaration of rights prefixed, on the 18th of last December.
When gen. Washington retreated with a handful of men acros* the Delaware, he trembled for the fate of America, which nothing but the infatudtwn.of the enemy could have saved*. Though they missed the boats with which thrv expected to follow him immediately into Pennsylvania, yet Trenton and the neighbourhood could have supplied them with materials, which industry might Jiave soon constructed into sufficient conveniences for the trans* portation of the troops, over a smooth river, and of no great extent in some places. But they were put into cantonments for the present, forming an extensive chain from Brunswick totlie Delaware} and down the banks of the Delaware for several miles, so as to compose a frpntat the end of the line, which looked over to Phi* ladeiphia. Mr. Merccrau was employed by the American general to gain intelligence, and provided a simple youthf, whose apparent defectiveness in abilities prevented all suspicion, but whose lidelityand attention, with the capacities he possessed, constituted him an excellent spy : he passed from place to place, mi»ed with the soldiers, and having performed his business, returned with an account where they were cantoned, and in whatnumbers. Gen. Fermoy was appointed to receive, and communicate the information to the commander in chief: upon the receipt of it, he cried out, "Now is our time to clip their wings while they are so spread. " But before an attempt could lie-made with a desirable prospect of success, [Dec. 2).] gen. Washington was almost ready to despair, while he contemplated the probabte' state of his own troops within the compass of ten days. He could not count upon those whose time expired the first of January :-and expected, that as soon as the ice was formed, the tnemy would pass the Delaware. He found his numbers on en
* The general's words in his own letter.
t After having tieen employed Come time in similar services, the enetaf gTewfurpicious of him, and upon that, without proof, put him into prifop,, where h: was ftarved to death,
■tjuiry less than he had any conception of; and while he eommu- li* nicated the fact, thus charged his confidant—"For Heaven's sake r; keep this to yourself, as the discovery of it may prove fatal to us." .1 Col. Reed wrote the next day from Bristol, and proposed to the' general the making of a diversion, or something more at or ahout Trenton, and proceeded to say, "If we could possess ourselves again of New-Jersey, o« any considerable part, the effect would be greater than if we had not left it. Allow me to hope you will consult your own good judgment and spirit, and let not the goodness of your heart subject you to the influence of the opinions of. men in every respect your inferiors. Something must be attempted before the sixty days expire which the commissioners have allowed; for, however many may affect to despise it, it is evident a very serious attention is paid to it; and I am confident, that unless some more favorable appearance attends our arms and cause before that time, a very great number of militia officers ^ere, will follow the example of Jersey, and take benefit from,, ifc.^ Qur cause is desperate1 and hopeless if we do not strike some stroke. Our affairs are hastening apace to ruin if we do not retrieve them by some happy event. Delay with usT is near equal t«. a total defeat. We must not suffer ourselves to- be fulled into, security and inactivity because the enemy does not cross the riyer. The love of my country, a wife (formerly miss De Berdt) and four children in the enemy's hands, the respect and attachment I have to you, the ruin and poverty that must attend me and thousands of others, will plead my excuse for so much freedom The general on the 23d answeied, "Necessity, dire necessity will —nay, must justify any attempt. Prepare, and in concert with Griffin, attack as many posts as you possibly can with a prospectof success. I have now ample testimony of the enemy's intentions to attack Philadelphia, as soon as the ice will afford the means of conveyance. Our men are to he provided with three days provision, ready cooked, with which and their blankets they are to march. One hour before day is the time fixed upon fur our attempt upon Trenton. If we arc successful, which Heaven grant I and other circumstances favor, we may push on. I shall direct everyfwry and ford to be well guarded, and not a soul suffered to pass without an officer's going down with thepermit."
.The origin of the present distress was stated in a letter of the same date, from a member of congress to lus friend, in these words, "The causes of our, present unhappy situation have long been known; the consequence* of them were often foretold, and the measures execrated by some of the best friends of America; but an obstinate, partiality (in the New-England delegates) to the habits and customs of one part of this continent, has predominated
nated in the public councils, and too little attention has been paid to others. It has been my fate to snake an ineffectual opposition to all short enlistments, to colonial appointments of offcers, and other measures pregnant with mischiefs; but these things either suited the genius and habits, or squared with the interests of some states that had sufficient influence to prevail; and nothing is now left but to extricate-ourselves from difficulties as well as we can.” Colonel Griffin, unacquainted both with the plan and the time for attacking Trenton, crossed over from Philadelphia into the Jerseys, unknown to general Washington, and being joined with a few of the Jersey militia, proceeded to Mount-Holly, which induced colonel Donop to quit Bordentown; he returnéd however to his station before the attack upon colonel Rall. The commander in chief would have comprehended in his plan, a diversion for count Demop by general Putnam; but the latter gave such a representation of the militia, of the confusion that prevailed, and of his apprehensions of an insurrection in Philadelphia, in case of his absence, that it was laid aside. The question for independency had been carried in Pennsylvania by a great majority; but that did not lessen the bitterness of those who opposed it, among whom were most of the quakers. These coalesced with the royalists of other denominations, and coinosed so formidable a party in the city, that it was dangerous, in the present crisis, to withdraw the militia serving in it on the side of the American cause. The plan was, to have crossed the Delaware in three divisions, one from the neighborhood of Bristol, which miscarried by a strange inattention to the tide and state of the river, so that it was impossible for the horses and cannon to land on the Jersey shore, through the heaps of ice cast upon it with the change of the tide —a second at Trenton ferry, under gen. Erwing; but the quantity of ice was so great, that though he did every thing in his power to effect it, he could not get over; and finding it impossible to embark his artillery, he was obliged to desist—the third and principal, was commanded by gen. Washington, assisted by generals Sullivan and Greene, and col. Knox of the artillery. It was meant to attack early on the morning of the 26th, from the supposition that the festivity of the preceding day would make surprise more easy, and conquest more certain. On the evening of the 25th, gen. Washington orders the troops, which are about 2400, to parade at the back of M'Kenky's ferry, that they may begin to cross as soon as it grows dark; for he imagines that he shall throw them all over, with the necessary artillery, by twelve o’clock, and arrive at Trenton, nine miles below,
by five. The quantity of ice made in the night, impedes the boats, and it is three before the artillery gets over, and near four before the troops take up their line of march, which makes the general despair of surprising the town, as they cannot reach it before full day-break; but as there is no making a retreat without being discovered and harassed, he determines to push on at all events Colonel Rail" has received information of an intended attack, and that the 25th at night is thought to be the time fixed upon. His men are paraded and his picket is looking out for it. Captain Washington,* commanding a scouting party of about fifty foot soidiers, has been in the Jerseys about three days, without effecting any exploit. He therefore concludes upon marching toward frenton; advances, and attacks the picket. He exchanges a few shot, and then retreats. As he is 'making for the Delaware, on his return to Pennsylvania, he aieets with general Washington's troops. [Dec. 26.] Conjecturing their design, he is distressed with an apprehension that by the attack he has alarmed the enemy, and put them on their guard. The enemy, on the other hand, conclude from it, after if while, that it is all the attack which is intended; and so retire to their quarters and become secure; many get drunk. General Washington forms his detachment into two divisions; one takes the lower road to Trenton, while the other, with the general, marches along the upper or Penningtonf road. The upper division arrives at the enemy's advanced post exactly at 8 o'clock; ind in three minutes after, the fire in the lower road announces the arrival of the other division. When the enemy's picket]: discovers, in the grey of the morning, the advance of the general's troops, they suppose it to be only the scouting party returned. The out guards make but a small opposition; though they behave well for their number, keeping up a constant retreating fire behind houses. The main body forms; the Americans press the men hard, and soon get possession of half their artillery. , Finding, from the position of their enemy, that they are surrounded, and must inevitably be cut to pieces if they make any further resistance, they agree to lay down their arms, to the number.of 23 officers and 886 men.
'General Greene and col. Knox (elected by ballot a brigadier the next day, before the news had reached congress) would have
* Since colonel of horfe. ; i" In the maps it ii put down Pennington : but the Jerfey inhabitant? in Ccmram, would not know the place meant, utilsfs you calltd it Penny-town.
% What relates to the attack upon the picket, $oc. was confirmed to me, Auguft ii, j78c, at New York, by the Rev. Mr. Van Arfdclen, who had the story from the Htfiun officer commanding the picket.
Vol. U. Lf persuaded
persuaded the commander in chief to have pushed on and improved the alarm given to the enemy, to which he was inclined; bat the generality of the officers were against it, and his excellency did not then think he could answer going contrary to the judgment of a majority of a council of war. He has since regretted his not seizing the golden opportunity.
Seven of the enemy's officers were wounded, beside col. RaH mortally. Theie were about thiity others killed and wounded. The regiments of Rail, Lossbcrg and Knyphauscn, were obliged to-surrender. The light-horse, chasseurs, a number of privates, with a-few officers, in all to the amount of abuut 600, escaped by the road leading to Bordentown. The Americans lost about two men; beside two or three frozen to death. Captain Washington, who assisted in securing the artillery, was wounded in both hands. The Americans took in all, 918 prisoners; as many muskets, bayonets and cartouch bf>xes; 12 drums and 4 colours—an ample compensation tor all the sufferings of the preceding night, though they were not trifling. The weather was sleety, snowy and intensely cold, and the road slippery. A more disagreeable, severe, wintry night, is seldom to be met with, even in America.
In the evening gen. Washington repassed the Delaware, carrying with him the prisoners, their artillery and colours—and elevated hopes that this successful attack would draw after it a train of the most beneficial and important consequences. It has excited not less astonishment in the British and auxiliary quarters, than it has done joy in those of the Americans. The Hessians will be no longer terrible; and the spirits of the Americans will rise amazingly. But before this happened, a small party in the neighborhood of Quaker-town had Mown to arms, with a resolution not to lay them down more, while they had enemies near them; being provoked to it by the insufferable behavior of some British light-horsemen.
Though gen. Cadwaliader did not pass over the Delaware at the time intended, yet the day after the surprise [Dec. 27.] he crossed about two miles above Bristol, with 1500 men, imagining that gen. Washington was still on that side. Receiving intelligence that the enemy had left Mount Holly, he determined upon proceeding to Burlington (even after learning that the successful troops had re-crossed) and upon marching the next day to Bordentown; which was accordingly done, the enemy going offin the utmost confusion on the alarm of his approach. The day he crossed, 500 men were sent from Philadelphia, who passed over to Burlington on the morning of the 28th; in the evening gen. Mifflin sent over 300 more, and soon followed with a further