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General Lee to New-York Committee of Safety



Stamford, January 23, 1776.

SIR: Yesterday, on the road, I had the honour of receiving yours, and ought to make you a thousand apologies for not having answered it immediately; but the circumstance of being on the road, together with the necessity of finishing some despatches to General Washington, and to the Continental Congress, rendered it almost impossible.

I should certainly, sir, have apprized you of my march, had I not concluded that you would have learnt it time enough from the Congress. The letter which I have from the General, directed to the Chairman of the Committee of Safety, I was ordered to deliver with my own hand.

With respect, sir, to the alarms of the inhabitants, on the suspicion that my business was to commence active hostilities against the men-of-war in your harbour, I can assure you that they may be perfectly easy—such never was the intention of the General, and I hope you will believe that I never entertained a thought of transgressing the letter of my instructions. The motive of the General for detaching me was solely to prevent the enemy from taking post in your city, or lodging themselves in Long-Island, which we have the greatest reason to think, sir, is their design. Some subordinate purposes were likewise to be executed, which are much more proper to be communicated by word of mouth than by writing; but I give you my word that no active service is proposed, as you seem to apprehend.

If the ships-of-war are quiet I shall be quiet, but I declare solemnly, that if they make a pretext of my presence to fire on the town, the first house set in flames by their guns shall be the funeral pile of some of their best friends; but I believe, sir, the inhabitants may rest in security on this subject.

I am convinced, and every man who considers a moment must be convinced, that the destruction of the seaport towns would, if possible, be a severer stroke to the Ministry, and their instruments, than to the inhabitants themselves. The seaport towns are the only holds they have on America; they are considered as the pledges of servitude; the menacing destruction to them may be of admirable use to them, but the real destruction of them must extinguish all hopes of success.

In compliance, sir, with your request, I shall only carry with me into town a force just strong enough to secure it against any designs of the enemy until it shall please the Continental Congress to take measures for its permanent security. The main body I shall leave on the western frontiers of Connecticut, according to your directions.

I hope, sir, and persuade myself, that the Committee and inhabitants can have no objection to this plan. If Mr˙ Tryon and the captains of the ships-of-war are to prescribe what numbers are, and what numbers are not to enter the town, they are absolute dictators to all intents and purposes. The condition is too humiliating for freemen to put up with.

You take pains to assure me, sir, that your Congress and Committee are not less zealous in the cause of American liberty, than any representative body on the Continent. I give you my word, sir, that this assurance was unnecessary. I am not one of those who have entertained a bad opinion of the virtue of New-York, or made it


my business to asperse them; on the contrary, I have condemned loudly the illiberal, impoliticly and unjust reflections I have heard frequently thrown out. I should not have taken the liberty of troubling you with the opinion, good or bad, which an unimportant individual like myself may entertain of so respectable a body as your Committee, or Congress, had not this particular paragraph of your letter thrown the temptation in my way.

I am, sir, your most obedient, and devoted servant,


To Peter Van Brugh Livingston, Esq˙, Chairman of the Committee of Safety.