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New-York Committee of Safety to the President of Congress



In Committee of Safety for the State of New-York,

Fishkill, November 20, 1776.

SIR: I have the honour to enclose you resolutions of the Committee of Safety, respecting the more effectual obstruction of Hudson river. No object appears to them of more importance, when they consider either the safety of this State, the supply of the Continental Army, or the preservation of the communication between the Southern and Eastern States. Experience has evinced that if the navigation had been rendered impassable opposite to Fort Washington, it must have been attended with infinite advantage; among which, even the security of the garrison, and military stores at that fort is not the most considerable; indeed, it is no presumption to suppose that after the fruitless attempt of the British Army to penetrate the country through the White-Plains, they must have closed the campaign, at least in this quarter, with disappointment and disgrace. Their success in reducing the fort revived their spirits; and the evacuation of Fort Lee in consequence of it opened a passage for them into the defenceless parts of New-Jersey.

In projecting the obstruction between Anthony' s Nose, on the eastern shore, and Fort Montgomery, we endeavoured to avail ourselves of the model of that which had proved effectual in the river Delaware, and were assisted by the advice and experience of Captain Hazelwood. But the great length of the chain, being upwards of eighteen hundred feet, the bulk of the logs which were necessary to support it, the immense weight of water which it accumulated, and the rapidity of the tide, having baffled all our efforts, it separated twice after holding only a few hours; and we have too much reason to despair of its ever fully answering the important


purpose for which it was constructed. A like disappointment, we are informed, happened at Portsmouth; the chain intended to obstruct the navigation of that harbour proved equally ineffectual.

These considerations have induced us to explore the depth of the river throughout the Highlands, in which a Committee of Convention have been assisted by General George Clinton. The distance and depth of water at the north entrance, which, on this experiment, is found to be the fittest place, will be seen by the enclosed plan. It is proposed, with the approbation of the honourable Congress, to obstruct the navigation in this part by caissons, which it is conceived will be very practicable. The Convention wish on account of General Washington' s distance from this place, and the multiplicity of business with which he is encumbered, that the direction of this work may be committed to Major-General Schuyler, who we believe every way qualified to ensure its success. Timber and stone can be conveniently procured; and when the campaign terminates, the troops cantoned in this part of the country may be employed in rotation to assist in the work. But no time is to be lost in preparing the materials, and we shall wait with anxiety for the determination of the honourable Congress on a subject which, in the opinion of the Committee, is of the utmost moment to the United States, If the enemy persevere in their plan of subjugating these States to the yoke of Great Britain, they must, in proportion to their knowledge of the country, be more and more convinced of the necessity of their becoming masters of Hudson' s river; which will give them the entire command of the water communication with the Indian nations, effectually prevent all intercourse between the Eastern and Southern Confederates, divide our strength, and enfeeble every effort for our common preservation and security. That this was their original plan, and that General Carleton and General Howe flattered themselves with the delusive hopes of uniting their forces at Albany, every intelligence confirms; and it appears to the Committee that they will not give up this grand object until they shall finally relinquish the project of enslaving America. The Committee take the liberty to submit these reflections to the honourable Congress. If they are well founded, an early and vigorous preparation to oppose the progress of the enemy in this quarter must be indispensable, and the defence and security of Hudson' s river, the principal object of that preparation.

We are informed that some merchants in the Eastern States are pursuing the scheme of transporting flaxseed to France, to be shipped, as it is apprehended, from thence to Ireland. If it is necessary to make Great Britain feel the distresses of the war, by obstructing the manufacture of linen, this project will demand the attention of Congress; and, in the opinion of this Committee, nothing less than the entire prohibition of the exportation of flaxseed will afford an adequate remedy. Another very important advantage must arise from such a measure — it will encourage the linen manufacture in these States, to which, of all others, they are the most competent. However severe the sudden reverse of fortune which we have lately experienced, however melancholy the loss of our metropolis, sea-coast, and four of our counties, and the aspect of that part of our State which has been plundered and desolated by a retreating enemy — barbarous beyond all description — and however great the number of our ruined friends who are left naked and destitute in an inclement season, a country without commerce, or the means of affording them clothing, — I have the satisfaction to assure you that the fortitude of this State, and their zeal for the glorious cause in which we are engaged, is not abated; on the contrary, we are prepared to meet even severer misfortunes, with a spirit and firmness becoming the generous advocates for liberty. Unhappy am I to add, that amidst all our suffering the Army employed for the protection of America have not refrained from embittering even the calamities of war. At a time when the utmost resources of this State were laid open to their wants, and the members of Convention personally submitted to the labour and fatigue which were necessary on a sudden emergency, and after frequent losses of provisions and barracks, to supply two numerous armies, augmented by the Militia, with every article which they required, the court-house and the remains of the village at the White-Plains, which had been spared on the retreat of our forces, was, after the enemy had in their turn retired,


wantonly destroyed, without the orders and to the infinite regret of our worthy General. Besides, in spite of all his Excellency' s efforts, wherever our troops have marched, or been stationed, they have done infinite damage to the possessions and farms, and pilfered the property of the people. I am directed, sir, to submit it to the honourable Congress, whether some effectual remedy ought not to be provided against such disorderly and disgraceful proceedings. The soldier who plunders the country he is employed to protect is no better than a robber, and ought to be treated accordingly; and a severe example ought, in the opinion of the Committee, to be made of the officer who, without any necessity, or his General' s permission, set fire to the court-house and other buildings at the White-Plains. He is guilty of the crime of arson, and if he cannot be punished by the articles of war, ought to be given up to the laws of the land. If so glaring a violation of every sentiment of humanity should be passed over in silence, if the Army is not seasonably restrained from such acts of barbarity, the consequence must be fatal to the cause of a people whose exalted glory it is to be advocates for the rights of mankind against the tyranny and oppression of lawless power. The resolutions which the Committee of Safety have passed upon this subject are herewith transmitted.

I have the honour to be, with great respect, sir, your most obedient and very humble servant.

By order:


The Honourable John Hancock, Esquire, President of the Congress of the United States of America.