Letter from John Christian Senf to Horatio Gates
Senf, John Christian
Volume 14, Pages 688-690
COL. JOHN CHRISTOPHER SENF TO MAJ. GEN. GATES.
Portsmouth, Octr. 12th, 1780.
Honourable Major General Gates.
I have arrived, the 6th, at Williamsburg, (60 miles of Richmond,) and the 7th at Yorck (12 miles). Genl. Nelson wishing to have the plan of Yorck and my Opinion about that place, I took, the 8th and 9th, the plan and view'd, in Company with General Nelson, the Situation round about it. Yorck consist about of 50 Houses, and is a very defensible Spot of Ground, as well by Water as by Land, if proper Use made of it. There has been, with very great Expences, an extensive Battery erected to no great Service, and if of Service, by no Means defensible in the rear. There is not less Water than Six fathoms from Cap Henry to York, and good Navigation. The Distance from Wind Mill point at Yorck straight over the River to the point of Gloster (a little town) is not much above three-quarters of a Mile, and good high ground on both Sides. The River above those two points begins to be broad again from One to two Miles, and Ships of the Line
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may go 8 or 9 miles up and lay with Safety. (The L'Enfant, a French 74, lay'd last Winter at Yorck). Troops may be easier accommodated there than any where near Hampton Road. As soon as I can I will send you the plan. The 10th I proceded, with Genl. Nelson, to Hampton, a place of about 40 Houses, (22 Miles from Yorck,) took the plan of it, and inform'd myself of the Situation. This place is defended by a small Bar, where nothing can go over what draws more then 6 or 7 feet Water, which may be done at three different places. The Entrance of that little Harbour is defended by a small Battery of 4 Guns. Two armed Virginia State Boats are stationed there, under the Command of a Comodore Barren, which go some time in the Bay cruissing. If the Ennemy think it necessary they may land above and below this place to take it. The 11th we crossed in an Armed Boat Hampton Road, entered Elisabeth River, (where no large Ships can lay,) and arrived at Portsmouth in the Afternoon (18 miles from Hampton). But as the French Consul, Mons. D'Anmour, who had been for some time at Cape Henry, had pass'd us on Our passage from Hampton, and I desiring to see him, I went next morning alone back to Hampton, overtook the Consul on his road going to Richmond, convers'd with him, and return'd to Portsmouth. I got following intelligence, with which likewise the Consuls will agree: A Captain Cook, Master of a Skooner, who had been taken prisoner by two of the Enemy's Boats and set on land of the Eastern Shore, says that he saw, the 1st of this Month, a fleet of 60 Sails off the Capes, and had their Course to the Southern; that he were chas'd the next day by Seven large Ships, under French Colours, most a Shore, where they quited and stood Southerly, and the next Morning he were taken prisoner. It is here supposed that this are the troops who have been embarqued at New York. Some of the people think they are gone to Cape fear.
The Consul has been all this time at this post, but at such a distance from the Cape, as Boats to sent out to Sea for to look out, and being sick, he could not see much, in Case any Ships had pass'd.
The 11th, in the Evening, a Ship, called the Renown, sailed from St. Eustatia the 24th last month, comanded by Capt. Lewis. arrived in Hampton Road. I went abord, and the Captain gave
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me following Intelligence: That a French Fregatte arrived at Martinico, which parted with Count d'Estaing's fleet off the Western Islands, says that Count d'Estaing sailed the 6th of August, with 26 Ships of the Line and 90 Transports, from Brest for the West Indias; That an English Merchant fleet of 47 Sails, under which were 5 East India Men, were taken in the beginning of August off the Madeiras by the Combin'd fleet. The Captain likewise informs me that he saw, the Afternoon he came in, three Ships and 4 Skooners, and that One of the Ships chaz'd him.
Portsmouth consist, of about 25 Houses; the rest have been burnt. Norfolk, which lays right opposite, has been an extensive place, but is all burnt down. Since the fire there have been about 15 Houses built up again. The Fort is destroy'd, except four Guns are remounted to prevent Privateers from doing Mischief. No Soldiers in this Quarter, except a few Militia. There is some trade carried on in this place, but very little to what it has been.
In my next Letter I shall inform You of the Situation all about this Place, and the Number of defiles. Genl. Nelson, who gives me all possible Assistance, presents his Compliments to You; wishes You would be so kind to inform him of the Newes in Your Quarters, that he could be able to take his Measures accordingly.
I remain, with the greatest respect,
Your faithfull Servt. and sincere friend,
JN. CHRISTR. SENF.
My best Compliments to all the Gentlemen of Your Family.