Description

    American Revolution: A Spy Reports on the Charleston Expedition of 1780 This is a very fine content manuscript letter, one page, 7.25" x 7", [near New York, circa December 27, 1779] which reports the departure of a British expeditionary force under General James Clinton and Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot, the force that later captured Charleston, South Carolina in May 1780. Addressed on verso to "Jonas Crane Newark, [N.J.]," the anonymous informant, who collected information while in British-occupied New York, reported that "Gen. Clinton sailed with 8000 Men, last Thursday [Dec. 23], said for Rhode Island -- last Saturday Eveng. Lay wind bound at [blank space] off Long island..." However, Clinton was actually en route to Charleston rather than Rhode Island. This false information was likely an intentional strategy to deliberately deceive the Americans in regards to actual British plans. The correspondent further states that "-- Arbuthnot's & his Fleet are absolutely sent for to the West Indies --" A statement which corresponds with other intelligence received by Washington at the time. General Samuel Parsons reported a similar account in a letter to Washington in which he was "inform'd that forty sails of transport fell down to the Narrows last Fryday [sic] said to be a fleet for England with Troops have been sailing down every day since..." Parsons also recounted a convention among the British officers that chose General Knyphausen to command the New York Garrison, and "on firing a Signal Gun it was observed that...Sr. Harry Clinton was to take his Passage in the Ship, this morning a large Fleet fell down to the Hook..." Parsons thus concluded that there would be two fleets in operation for two different purposes (Samuel Parsons to George Washington Dec. 23, 1779, Washington Papers, Ser. 4, Library of Congress)

    Washington and his staff were dependant upon such operatives throughout the region to provide critical information regarding British movements. Unfortunately, those operatives were occasionally misinformed. In this case, our operative was correct in regards to the very large sailing fleet, and nearly guessed the correct infantry compliment (8,700) and identified the commanders -- if not their intentions -- correctly. The combined fleet under Arbuthnot and Clinton clear the bar at Sandy Hook on Monday, December 27, (Boatner, p. 106). In this report, the operative also provided valuable information concerning the British garrison "... left in New York 1 Hess[ian] Regt. The New Scotch Regt. Of Artillery -- on the main Battery 27 Guns of 24 Pounders 1 smaller g[un]. 3 pc. Of field Artillery - 6 pounds - nor Mortars but a vast Number of Shells -- They have nearly finished the Battery between Bayards Hill and the North River -- No talk of any Movements this Way -- left New York Yesterday Monday about 12 Clock..." The lack of enemy movement "this Way" (i.e. toward Washington's position) would have allowed the Continental Army to rest slightly more easily as they began their winter cantonment at Morristown, New Jersey. Unfortunately, the rebel forces at Charleston were not so fortunate.

    Original spy reports from the American Revolution are seldom encountered in the marketplace. Provenance: Mary Benjamin, 1950. Contemporary loss to portion of letter resulting in a rough margin, light soiling, expected folds, else very good. Ex. Henry E. Luhrs Collection.


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    Auction Dates
    October, 2007
    25th-26th Thursday-Friday
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