Primary tabs

Letter from John Page to General Lee



Williamsburgh, July 12, 1776.

MY DEAR GENERAL: Your kind concern for my health made me happy, and the high approbation you express of my publick conduct highly gratified my pride. I had the pleasure of receiving your letter, which did me so much honour, about the 9th of last month. I was then at Mr˙ Harrison' s, near Petersburgh, where I had gone with Mrs˙ Page for the recovery of her health. Our trip happily has answered our wishes, and we are once more fixed at Williamsburgh. It is now four weeks since we have received any certain account of the situation of affairs in either of the Carolinas. Even your letter to Brigadier Lewis, countermanding the march of the troops, did not arrive here till four weeks after it was written. The regiments had just begun their march; but had they not been scattered abroad on distant stations, and badly provided with necessaries for such an expedition, they would have reached the place of their destination before your express could have stopped them. It will be worth your while to examine into the occasion of this. I thought it a matter of so much importance to have such orders communicated with despatch, that I advised the Brigadier to send an express to you immediately, to inform you of the unaccountable delay that yours had met with, and to recommend it to you to establish a post throughout your district; but he was preparing for an expedition against Gwin' s Island. The Brigadier set out last Monday on his way to our camp, attended by the Colonels Woodford, Stephens, Bucknor, Weedon, and some others, intending to examine into the strength of the enemy, and submit the propriety of an attack to a council of war. They reached the camp that night, and the next day, finding that the Dunmore had changed stations with the other, and had exposed herself very prettily to the very place where we had been preparing a battery for the Otter, they determined not to lose this good opportunity of beginning their cannonade, in which they might severely and principally chastise the noble Earl. At eight o' clock, A˙ M˙, Captain Arundel and Lieutenant Denny saluted the Dunmore and Otter with two eighteen-pounders; the very first shot at the Otter, though a full mile from our battery, struck her, as it is supposed, between wind and water, for she did not return the fire, but was towed off on the careen. The Dunmore fired a broadside, and then was towed off, having received four shot through her sides. Whilst she was in tow she received a fifth through her stern, which raked her. Scarcely a shot was fired which did not do execution in some part of the fleet. A schooner lost one of her masts. Whilst Lieutenant Denny was firing on the fleet, their battery on the Island began to play on him, and a ball passed through the embrasure; on which he immediately turned his cannon on their battery, (for he had taken the precaution to have scope enough to take in the fleet, and that part of their battery.) and fired three times successively into their embrasure, which three rounds completely silenced that part of the battery;


the other part, facing our lines on the haven, was almost as soon silenced by our battery erected against it with four nines and three six-pounders. Part of their camp was a little exposed to both of our batteries, which fired a few rounds into it. This fire was as well directed as that against their ships, for it beat down many of their tents, and threw their camp into the utmost confusion. When this was discovered, the Brigadier ordered canoes to be brought down to enable the men to pass over into the Island; for, unhappily, we had not a boat on the shore: these could not be procured till the next day, when a smart cannonade began between the batteries; but as soon as our men had manned their boats, their fire ceased, and they retired with precipitation to their boats, and escaped safely to their ships, having first broken off the trunnions, &c˙, of their cannon. There were three tenders up the haven, which could not pass our batteries; these they abandoned; they endeavoured to burn one, but our men boarded it, and extinguished the flames. I understand that all these tenders have their swivels in them; but it is reported that they had thrown the guns overboard. We are now in possession of the Island. The fleet has retired, but is in sight. This might have been a complete affair, if proper measures had been preconcerted, and the whole well conducted. Our men, however, behaved well; our artillery was admirably served, and we have disgraced and mortified our enemies. In this affair we lost not a man; but, most unhappily, poor Captain Arundel was killed by the bursting of a wooden mortar, with which he was endeavouring to throw shells into the fleet. His loss is irreparable. He behaved with great spirit and activity, and was so hearty in our cause, that he is universally lamented.

Colonel Stephens is just returned from Gwin' s Island; he says the enemy carried off all their cannon from their batteries, except one six-pounder, which they spiked. They left six carriage guns in one of the tenders; several negroes and a few whites were taken; two negroes and one soldier of the Fourteenth Regiment deserted to us. The prisoners inform that Lord Dunmore' s mate was cut in two by a double-headed eighteen-pounder, which also took off one man' s arm and another' s leg, and drove a splinter into his lordship' s leg. Tom Byrd was ill of a fever, and was carted off to a boat just before our people landed. They were obliged to burn two fine small vessels that day, and at night, in the mouth of the river, they burnt also a large ship, supposed to be the Dunmore, as she was not with the fleet next morning. The Fowey, it is said, was with the fleet, but did not choose to come within reach of our guns. The Roeluck was at the mouth of the Rappahannock. The Colonel says when he came away the whole fleet had sailed, and were out of sight, and it was uncertain where they are gone — supposes to Maryland. They went off in a bad plight, without biscuit or water. Their works were found of excellent construction and considerable extent; they were preparing to build houses and a wind-mill; they had made a vast collection of materials for different works; their tents, which they moved off, except one markee, which was left in their hurry, and through which a cannon-ball had passed, were capable of containing about seven or eight hundred men. From many circumstances it is evident they meant to stay there a considerable time.

I have been interrupted in writing, and before I could return to my scrawl, I had the happiness to receive your letter of the 3d of July. I most heartily congratulate you on your success: it was a most glorious affair — a noble defence! The British Navy has been happily checked in her proud career, and has received a most just and complete chastisement. What must the King think now? The whole Continent in arms against him, seven hundred and fifty of his favourite Highlanders in our possession, and his fleets repulsed and disgraced along our coasts for two thousand miles! I hope he will repent, and be contented to put up with the loss of America, or, if he does not, that he may meet with repeated disappointment.

The Marylanders were roused by the resolve of our Convention, and have lectured their Representatives so well, that they have unanimously voted for Independence — they have no occasion for our Riflemen on that account. However, I can assure you, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland there has been a considerable insurrection of Tories, insomuch that Colonel Fleming has been obliged to march with


a hundred and twenty men to quell them. We have not yet heard the event of that affair.

I have just now received another letter from you, and am delighted with your description of the bravery of Colonel Moultrie and the garrison of Fort Sullivan. It is not flattery, my dear General, when I tell you that most of us here attribute the glorious display of bravery on that day to the animating presence of a commander, who, independent of his great military abilities and experience, appeared to be the evil genius of Clinton, who had followed him, and from whose presence he had seemed to retire and retreat along the coast, from Boston to Charleston. All that I could do, as there were not gentlemen enough in town to make a Council, was to desire Brigadier Lewis to send immediately to North Carolina all the powder that could be spared out of the magazine. About four thousand pounds will be sent.

I am, most sincerely, yours, JOHN PAGE.

To Major-General Lee.