Letter from Henry Laurens to Richard Caswell
Laurens, Henry, 1724-1792
Volume 13, Pages 234-236
HENRY LAURENS, PREST. CONGRESS TO GOV. CASWELL.
[From Executive Letter Book.]
Philadelphia, 26th Sept. 1778.
I had the honor of addressing your Excellency under the 5th Inst., since which I have received none of your Excellency's favors. This will convey an act of Congress of the 25th for the immediate defence of South Carolina and Georgia to which I beg leave to refer. The apprehension which gave rise to this act springs from a private verbal message sent to me by Robt. Williams, Esq., a native of South Carolina, a Practitioner of the Law, a man of good understanding, and of a very respectable, general character, possessor of a large Estate in that Country, but more attached to his private interests, than zealous for the establishment of our Independence, and held to be a friend and favorite of the Ministers of Great Britain. This Gentleman's communication which I received three days ago, imported that he had on or about the 19th Inst. learned from Gov. Johnston that an attack by an army of ten thousand troops, and a sufficient number of the Ships of the Line, was intended upon South Carolina at Charles Town and Beaufort, Port Royal or both—that Gov.
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Johnston obtained permission for him and several other unstaunch Carolinians to proceed to Charlestown under a Flag of Truce. Mr. Williams anxiously pressed a very ridiculous request, “that I would not give him up as the author of this important discovery”, which strongly implied a degree of treachery and no less a degree of artifice. Is it likely that Gov. Johnston would have informed Mr. Williams the Plans intended by the commanders of the British Land and Sea forces? It is possible he may have entrusted him with the secret for valuable considerations, the flag vessel may contain skilful engineers, in the habit of Mariners and she may return with such intelligence as may greatly facilitate the meditated execution, how shall we account for Mr. Williams's breach of confidence? Only by supposing that in any event he means to secure his own Estate, and wishes to meet a more hospitable reception in Charles Town than his fears had indicated without this harbinger. The recovery of South Carolina and Georgia is a project of the first magnitude to Great Britain in her present circumstances, it is consistent too, with the declared intentions of her Ministers from the commencement of the present war “that those Provinces should be the dernier resort.” The subduing those States in the approaching November, unless in the meantime an ample aid shall be supplied by their Northern neighbors will certainly be no difficult work. The expected plunder of an abundance of provisions, Merchandize, many thousand of negroes, great quantities of cannon and warlike stores, horned cattle, sheep, Hogs and Horses, an immense value of Indigo, and upwards of 200 sail of Ships and other vessels appear to be a sufficient temptation to the Enterprise. I have lately examined upwards of 30 Deserters from Byron's fleet, and many other persons from New York, all of whom concur in opinion that an abandonment of that city and Port, is intended; but none pretend to know whither the forces are to be transported. The most intelligent person among those informants, intimated that the enemy had contrived to circulate whispers of their designs so contradictory in terms as to leave the truth undiscoverable, he had been much on board the Eagle man of War, and altho' he professed his ignorance in general, he had collected so much from various conversations as had induced him to believe the enemy intended a complete evacuation of New York, and Rhode Island;
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that Halifax would be strengthened by our part of the troops. The West India Islands by a second part, and the remainder cross the Atlantic for reinforcing Great Britain and Ireland. A sensible correspondent in General Washington's camp gives me as his opinion that the destruction of Count de Estaing's squadron will not be left unessayed. If your Excellency will have patience to hear my private sentiments, I will add that Sir Henry Clinton is taking every necessary step for a sudden removal when he shall receive orders from Whitehall, expected about this time, by the August Packet, and there is no place more inviting than South Carolina, an attempt therefore upon that State is most to be dreaded especially as the Expedition may be made consistently with a voyage to the West Indies, consume but little time, and success be the means of securing a twelve months food for the most populous of all the Islands, and for many political considerations which will in a moment strike your Excellency's mind. Gen'l Washington's camp was on the 19th Inst. at West Point. We know nothing of transactions at Rhode Island except the return of Sir Henry Clinton to New York from thence, and from thence the successful descent of Gen'l Gray upon Bedford and Martha's Vineyard. It is said that about 50 empty transports came out of Sandy Hook and steered Southerly in view of Egg Harbor four days ago, and that the enemy have landed about 5000 Troops at Hackensack. These I regard only as reports. This Instant came in two seamen who left New York the 21st. They say the Iris to which one belonged has lost upwards of 50 seamen by desertion. The other from the Conqueror reports near 100 Deserters from that ship, both confirm the accounts of intended evacuation. The Packet was not arrived—all the Men of War have lost men in proportion, as these fellows aver. They add that the fleet in general were extremely sickly, provisions extremely dear and scarce, and repeat the landing at Hackensack, and that the Troops as well as seamen were inclined to desert. I have the honor to be with the highest esteem & regard Sir,
Your Excellency's Mo. Ob. Servt.