WASHINGTON, George (1732-1799), President. Letter signed ("G:o Washington"), as Commander in Chief, to General Artemas Ward, New York, 4 July 1776. 1 page, folio, closed tears at horizontal creases, browned. Free frank by William Ellery.
JULY 4, 1776: "THE ENEMY HAVE LANDED UNDER COVER OF THEIR SHIPS AND TAKEN POSSESSION OF STATEN ISLAND"
WASHINGTON--NOT YET AWARE OF THE DECLARATION--PLEAS FOR ARMS FROM BOSTON, AS HE GIRDS FOR THE BRITISH BLOW AGAINST NEW YORK. "The distress we are in for want of Arms induces me again to urge your sending on all such as can possibly be spared with the greatest expedition. The enemy have landed under cover of their Ships and taken possession of Staten Island from which in all probability they will soon make a decent [Sic] upon Us. The Arms would have sent to Norwich and from there to Water to this place provided there is no Risque, otherwise by land."
General William Howe had landed 9,000 of his troops on Staten Island on 2 July. Official news of Independence and the Declaration did not reach the Continental camp until the 9th of July, when Washington issued this general order: "The Hon....Continental Congress, impelled by the dictates of duty, policy and necessity, having been pleased to dissolve the Connection which subsisted between this country and Great Britain, and to declare the United Colonies of North America, free and Independent States: The several brigades are to be drawn up on this evening in their respective parades, at Six O'clock, when the declaration of Congress, shewing the grounds and reasons for this measure, is to be read with an audible voice" (Fitzpatrick, 5:245).
Washington knew this would be a needed moral boost, but the military situation remained dire. In the following weeks, a fleet of 150 ships under Richard Howe brought more troops from England, augmented by still more reinforcements from Charleston. By August the British had some 30,000 infantry, and about 10,000 seamen prepared to crush the American rebellion. It was the largest expeditionary force the Crown ever sent overseas, and they far outmatched the 20,000 ragged troops in Washington's command, both in terms of numbers and experience.
The fighting in New York stretched from August to November, with one American defeat and retreat following close upon another: from Long Island to Harlem Heights, from Fort Washington and Kingsbridge to White Plains and Fort Lee. The only American successes were the skilful retreats that Washington executed from Brooklyn to Manhattan, then northward out of the city, to keep his meager fighting force intact. The British commanders did not force the issue. They settled into occupied Manhattan while Washington took his dwindling force to Morristown, New Jersey for the winter. They were sure of crushing Washington's army, and the American rebellion with it, in their own good time. (Philip D. Sang, sale Sotheby's New York, 3 June 3, 1980, $30,000)