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Josiah Quincy to General Washington



Braintree, October 31, 1775.

MAY IT PLEASE YOUR EXCELLENCY: My worthy and dear friend Dr˙ Franklin, the Hon˙ Mr˙ Bowdoin, Dr˙ Winthrop, and Dr˙ Cooper, were the last week so kind as to honour me with a friendly visit. The conversation naturally turned upon the savage cruelty we are daily suffering from the unrelenting vengeance of a tyrannical Government. In the course of it, the stopping up the harbour of Boston, as one salutary measure, was thought well worthy the attention of our State pilots; and upon my saying I had once, if not more than once, hinted the scheme to your Excellency, they desired me to communicate my sentiments to you once more, in writing, especially as I had lately received a letter from the Honourable John Adams, Esq˙, in Philadelphia, in answer to one of mine, which seemed to throw new light upon the subject. This, Sir, I beg may be a sufficient apology for transmitting to you the following extracts of those letters, with what has further occurred to my mind since they were wrote. In my letter I thus write:

"In my former letter I said, ‘the harbour might be blocked up, and both seamen and soldiers made prisoners at discretion;’ which seems to you incredible. Please to read, at your leisure, the following explanation: There are but two channels through which ships of burden can safely pass to and from Boston. One of them runs between the west head of Long-Island and the Moon, (so called,) and is about a mile across. This is too shallow for any ship of war above twenty guns. The other is called the ship channel, and runs between the east head of Long-Island and the south point of Deer-Island, and is something better than a mile from side to side. This, the only channel through which capital ships can pass, leads, outward bound, through the Narrows between Gallop' s Island and Lovell' s Island, where the channel is not wider than the length of a fifty-gun ship. In the opening between Gallop' s Island and George' s Island is Nantasket Road, where one frigate is always stationed, to guard the Narrows from being stopped up. Upon these facts I thus reason:

The Moon-Island communicates, at low water, with Squantum Neck, almost dry shod. A defensible fort, therefore, may be so placed upon Squantum as to cover the retreat, not only from the Moon, but from Squantum to the main. One upon the east head of the Moon, and another on the west head of Long-Island, secure that passage, and cover the retreat from the latter to the former. Another upon the summit in the middle of Long-lsland covers the shore on both sides, so as that no force can land without being greatly annoyed, if not entirely prevented. Another strong fort, with heavy cannon, at the east head of Long-Island, would command not only the ship channel that runs by it, but the Narrows and Nantasket Road, so that no ship could remain there with safety; and consequently we might, by sinking hulks in the Narrows, prevent any ship of force from going out or coming in. If the passage through the Narrows is not stopped, I am sensible that a ship, with a fresh gale of wind and flood tide, which is rapid between Long-Island and Deer-Island, might run through without any great hazard; but, after the east head of Long-Island is fortified, I can foresee nothing to hinder


the Narrows being reduced to such a depth of water as that no vessel of force can pass through there. This being effected, as I said above, both seamen and soldiers, if they do not escape by a timely flight, must become prisoners at discretion. I have been told there is, in one of the late English Magazines, an accurate draught of the harbour, which, upon examination, will enable you to determine, with precision, the bearings and distances from island to island, and the depth of water between them; and, consequently, whether such a scheme is practicable or not."

Mr˙ Adams, in answer, writes thus:

"I am much obliged by your kind explanation of your opinion, that the harbour might be blocked up. I must confess, although I was born so near it, I never understood before the course of the channel, and the situation of the harbour, so well. I have carefully compared your description of Squantum, the Moon, Long-Island, Gallop' s Island, Lovel' s Island and George' s, the Narrows, and Nantasket Road, with ‘A Plan of the Town and Chart of the Harbour of Boston, exhibiting a View of the Islands, Castle Fort, and Entrances into the said Harbour,’ which was published in London last February. This plan I knew to be inaccurate in some particulars, and the chart may be so in others; but by the best judgment I can make, upon comparing your facts with the chart, and considering the depths of water marked on this chart, I think it extremely probable, with you, that nothing but powder and cannon are wanting, to effect the important purposes you mention — that of making soldiers and sailors prisoners at discretion.

Dr˙ Franklin' s row-galleys are in great forwardness; seven of them are completely manned, armed, &c. I went down the river the other day, with all of them. I have as much confidence in them as you have. But the people here have made machines, to be sunk in the channel of Delaware River. Three rows of them are placed in the river, with large timbers, barbed with iron. They are frames of timber, sunk with stone — machines very proper for our channel in the Narrows."

Dr˙ Franklin says they may be made in the form of a chevaux-de-frise, and used to great advantage.

I have wrote to Mr˙ Adams for a model of the machines he mentions, with explicit directions how to sink and secure them from being weighed or destroyed by the enemy' s ships. For my own part, since I have read what my friend has wrote, I am more than ever convinced of the practicability of not only securing the harbour, but relieving the Town of Boston, by making the present possessors of it our prisoners, and that without shedding much more human blood, provided we can once possess and fortify Long-Island.

I doubt not your Excellency will readily agree with me, that these are become objects of much greater importance, since the destruction of Falmouth demonstrates the malicious resolution of our barbarously civilized enemies, to destroy all the rest of our maritime Towns if they can.

If your Excellency should think the above sentiments worthy of your attention, and, for maturing your judgment, conclude it necessary to take an ocular view of the harbour and islands, please to accept of my cordial invitation to refresh or repose yourself at my house, where my happiness will be in proportion to the freedom with which you receive the friendly salutations of your Excellency' s most obedient humble servant, JOSIAH QUINCY.



* I had wrote largely to Mr˙ Adams upon the subject, but have not copied it, for fear of being tedious.