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Letter to General Lee


Die Solis, 9 ho˙ A˙ M˙, January 21, 1776.

The Committee met pursuant to adjournment.

Present: Pierre Van Cortlandt, Esq˙, Chairman, Colonel McDougall, Colonel Brasher, Mr˙ Tredweil, Mr˙ Brewster, Mr˙ Sands, Mr˙ Clarke, Mr˙ Scott.

The Committee were informed by some of their members, that many of the inhabitants are removing their families and effects from this city, at great expense. That the inhabitants are alarmed by the confident reports, that General Lee is at New-Haven, or on his way thither, with a considerable body of troops. The Committee are of opinion, that it may occasion great difficulties and inconveniences to the inhabitants of this city, should any body of forces arrive here for active service; and it would tend to the peace and happiness of the inhabitants, for this Committee to obtain some information on that subject.

Thereupon a draft of a Letter to Major-General Lee, was read and approved of, and is in the words following, to wit:

In Committee of Safety, New-York, January 21, 1776.

SIR: The inhabitants of this city are much alarmed at various confident advices of your destination, with a considerable body of forces for active service here; confident, however, as those advices may appear to the people without doors, we cannot readily credit them, as we conceive it most probable, that were you preparing to execute any plan of that kind, it would be preceded by some intimations to us on the subject, from the Continental Congress, General Washington, or yourself. We, therefore, should not have troubled you with this application, had it not been to procure such information from you, as may enable us, in a prudent use of it, to allay the fears of our inhabitants, who, at this inclement season of the year, will continue, as they have already begun, to remove their women and children, and which, if continued, may occasion hundreds to perish for want of shelter.

This Committee, and the Congress, whose place we fill in their recess, are, we flatter ourselves, as unanimously zealous in the cause of America, as any Representative body on the Continent; so truly zealous, that both the one and the other will cheerfully devote this city to sacrifice, for advancing that great and important cause. But, to acquit ourselves in the judgment of the Continent, which, in point of publick aid, is deeply interested in the preservation of this metropolis, and to our constituents, who expect our prudent care of their lives and properties, we think it our indispensable duty to inform you, that, though we have advices that General Washington has been informed of the arrival of a large quantity of powder among us, we have not a sufficiency to enable you to act hostilely against the ships-of-war now in port. Our whole quantity of publick powder is less than three tons. No works are erected to annoy the enemy in their present situation. Should it be practicable at this juncture to erect hasty works for that purpose, to what shift are we to betake ourselves, after our trifling supply of ammunition shall be expended? The commencement of hostilities, for which we are now so unprepared, will preclude the possibility of a supply, even for our musketry, in the ensuing campaign. The strict guard against the exportation of ammunition from the foreign ports in Europe, we have great reason to fear, will cut off all hopes of supply from that quarter, as well to us, as the Continental Congress. We have sent sundry adventures thither, some of which have failed; for this reason we are daily pushing adventures to the West-Indies, with the article of provisions, as a necessary expedient in the present uncommon


scarcity of bullion. The ships-of-war give no interruption to our vessels despatched on those adventures, a favour we cannot expect should hostilities begin. And even should we be fortunate enough to oblige the ships-of-war to quit this port, by expending the little powder we have, (an event which our most sanguine hopes cannot promise us,) the attention of our enemies will effectually prevent our expected importations. For those reasons, we conceive that a just regard to the publick cause, and our duty, to take a prudent care of this city, dictate the impropriety of provoking hostilities at present, and the necessity of saving appearances with the ships-of-war till, at least, the month of March. Though we have been unfortunate in our disappointments, with respect to some of our adventures, yet be assured, sir, we have not been idle. Our intrenching tools are almost completed to a sufficient number; we are forming a magazine of provisions, for five thousand men, for a month, in a place of safety, and at convenient distance from this city. We have provided ourselves with six good brass field-pieces, have directed carriages to be made for our other artillery, and are raising a company of artillery for the defence of the Colony, on the Continental establishment. These things, when accomplished, with other smaller matters, and with the arrival of some gunpowder, the prospect of which is not unpromising, will enable us to face our enemies with some countenance. We, therefore, ardently wish to remain in peace for a little time, and doubt not we have assigned sufficient reasons for avoiding, at present, a dilemma, in which the present entrance of a large body of troops into this city, will, almost certainly, involve us. Should you have such an entrance in design, we beg, at least, that the troops may halt on the western confines of Connecticut, till we shall have been honoured by you with such an explanation on this important subject, as you conceive your duty may permit you to enter into with us, the grounds of which you will easily see ought to be kept an entire secret, and to assure you, that we are, with great respect and esteem, sir, your most obedient servants.

By order of the Committee.

To Major-General Lee.

Ordered, That a copy thereof be engrossed, and signed by the Chairman, and transmitted by Garret Vandenbergh, as an Express for that purpose.

That particular instructions be given to Vandenbergh to inquire on the road at proper stages for Major-General Lee. If he should meet him at any stage, or come near him, to deliver him the Letter with which he is charged. That if Major-General Lee was not at New-Haven, and in Connecticut, he should proceed to him with the Letter. But, that if General Lee had departed the Colony of Connecticut, he should return with the said Letter to this Committee.