WASHINGTON, George, President. Letter signed ("G:o Washington") as Commander-in-Chief, Continental Army, to Col. [Elias] Dayton, the body of the letter in the hand of Tench Tilghman, Washington's aide-de-camp, Head Quarters, Morris Town [New Jersey], 31 May 1780. 1 full page, folio (four words of postscript on verso), a few minor spots, otherwise fine.
WASHINGTON CONFIRMS REPORTS OF THE FALL OF CHARLESTON TO THE BRITISH
Writing from the Continental Army's camp at Morristown (where the army had endured a winter even harsher than that at they had faced at Valley Forge in 1778), Washington comments on unidentified bad news published by the notorious New York Tory printer, James Rivington, properietor of the very widely circulated New York Gazetteer. Dayton has evidently written to Washington to express his doubts concerning certain reports published there (now to be a reference to the surrender of the large American army at Charleston to the enemy). Washington himself had received news of "this unfortunate event" the same day, and had sent to Congress a copy of the same Rivington newspaper (see Fitzpatrick, 18:454). The General responds to Dayton: "I most sincerely wish that your suspicions of the truth of Rivington's publications may prove well grounded, but I confess it bears too many marks of authenticity. Should you receive any further confirmation of your opinion be pleased to let me have it." Washington was not willing to reveal, even to a trusted officer like Dayton, the fact that Rivington, whose printing shop was at the corner of Wall and Queen Streets in Manhattan, had been operating since the British took New York in 1776 as an American secret agent. In addition to his publishing concern, Rivington was the proprietor of a popular coffee-house frequented by many high-ranking British officers; both facilitated the collection of much useful information on troop movements, officers' postings and more. Rivington's espionage continued until the British evacuated New York, but remarkably, was kept a secret even after the end of the war and was only revealed in 1959. Perhaps his most successful coup as an agent was the theft of the British navy's complete signal book, which was passed on to Admiral de Grasse at a crucial later point in the war, just before Yorktown.
Washington goes on to comment about Dayton's own situation, observing that "It was always my intention that your own regiment should remain with you at Elizabeth Town [New Jersey, close to the British lines], and I mentioned it to Genl. Maxwell," especially since, he adds, "A compleat Corps is more to be depended upon that one composed of detachments." In a long postscript, the Commander advises: "You should without loss of time be making your arrangements for defence, in case the enemy should make an attempt after you. A strong Stone House was mentioned by Mr. Caldwell, which might be put in a situation to receive you if attacked, and which might be depended untill a support could be brought up."
Charleston had been cut off and beseiged by a large British army under Clinton since early May; on the morning of 12 May the American garrison, some 5000 strong, commanded by General Benjamin Lincoln, surrendered and were taken prisoner. Published in Writings, ed. J.C. Fitzpatrick, 18:461.