Samuel Blachley Webb Autographed Signed Letter: December 5-6, 1777
Samuel Blachley Webb, 1753-1807
Stony Brook University acquired the letter by purchase from Seth Kaller, Inc., on May 22, 2015.
Scope, and Content Note
This original manuscript letter was authored and signed by Samuel Blachley Webb on December 5-6, 1777. Two weeks before the Continental Army’s encampment at Valley Forge, Samuel Blachley Webb gives thanks for his own winter supplies and discusses the failure, for want of troops, to take British-held Long Island. The attack had been delayed after Connecticut’s governor failed to replace troops sent to assist “General Washington” in Pennsylvania. Webb asks incredulously “are we with this handfull to offer Battle to three times our numbers – & they strongly intrenched” before laying out the unused battle plan and hints of future action. In an attempt on Long Island five days after this writing, Webb was captured by the British in Setauket and held for over three years.
Autograph Letter Signed, “Sam. B. Webb,” to Thomas Mumford, Norwalk, CT, December 5, and December 6, 1777, 7¾ x 12¾ in., 4 pp.
Arrangement and Processing Note
Processed by Kristen J. Nyitray in May 2015. Finding aid updated by Kristen J. Nyitray in April 2019.
Restrictions on Access
The collection is open to researchers without restriction.
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Samuel Blachley Webb Autographed Signed Letter, December 5-6, 1777, Special Collections and University Libraries, Stony Brook University Libraries.
Samuel Blachley Webb (1753-1807) commanded an infantry company from Wethersfield, Connecticut, that left for Boston upon hearing news of the skirmish at Lexington. The company fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill, where Webb was wounded but commended for gallantry. In June 1776, he became George Washington’s private secretary and aide-de-camp, and in that role, he wrote Washington’s order to print and distribute the Declaration of Independence. He served with Washington in the Battles of Long Island (August 1776), White Plains (October 1776), and Setauket (August 1777), and crossed the Delaware River with Washington during the famous Christmas assault on Hessian mercenaries at Trenton in December 1776. After the battle, he returned to Connecticut and raised an infantry company, the 3 rd Connecticut Regiment, primarily with his own funds.
In this letter to Thomas Mumford,Webb jumps from thanking the Connecticut merchant for procuring “Shoes and Stockings” for his regiment to a discussion of troop strength, then back to procuring “hydes” for more shoes. He then discusses at length the situation on British-held Long Island: Colonel Meigs’s three failed attempts to reach the island by whale boat, the loss of the element of surprise, and, however obliquely, future plans to harass the British there. Webb speculates that he might be heading east towards Mumford, in which case he can provide in person the “particulars which time (nor prudence) will not permit me to communicate on paper.” Instead, just five days after he wrote this letter, Webb joined General Samuel Parsons’s expedition to Long Island and was captured by the British. He was finally released in a prisoner exchange in 1780 and rejoined his regiment in February 1781.
Towards the end of the letter, Webb expresses some concern that there has been little news from Washington’s army in Pennsylvania, and that “every thing seems stagnated in that quarter”: Cornwallis had re-crossed the Delaware River, American general Nathanael Greene had returned to camp, and British transports had reached Philadelphia. He is convinced, however, that “our worthy commander I haven’t a doubt will yet out General” the enemy. Washington and his troops were in Pennsylvania, looking for an opportunity to oust the British from Philadelphia, which they had occupied since late September. (As Webb indicates, his own troops had been “reduced to a handfull by the repeated calls of General Washington” for men to aid in the Philadelphia campaign.) On December 4, unbeknownst to Webb, British general William Howe and a contingent of troops had set out from Philadelphia in a last attempt to destroy Washington’s army before the winter encampment. The action was unsuccessful and, after a series of small skirmishes, Howe and his men returned to Philadelphia on December 8.
After his release, Webb was promoted to Brigadier General. In 1781, he arranged Washington’s meeting with Rochambeau where they planned the end game for the Revolutionary War. In 1789, Webb was one of the very small group of officials who accompanied George Washington to his inauguration. After the war, Webb was a founder of the Society of the Cincinnati, and held the Bible on which George Washington took his first oath of office.
Thomas Mumford (1728-1799) was a merchant and financier from Groton, Connecticut. He was an active member of the Sons of Liberty and one of eleven who organized the taking of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775. His son Giles served in Webb’s regiment and was also captured during the Long Island foray, but released in 1779.
Webb, Samuel Blachley, -- 1753-1807 -- Correspondence.
United States -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783.
United States -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783 -- Sources.
Mumford, Thomas, -- 1728-1799 -- Correspondence.
United States. -- Continental Army. -- Connecticut Regiment, 9th.
Mumford, Thomas, -- 1728-1799.
Webb, Samuel Blachley, -- 1753-1807.
Quarters in Norwalk Dec. 5 1777
My Dear Sir:
Your obliging favor of the 8 th Nov. r was this Evening handed me, acknowledging the Recpt of mine of the 8 th of October – since which I have wrote you two, which I hope are safe to hand, many thanks are due both from me & my soldiers for your kind care in procureing the Shoes and Stockings you mention, a remittance shall be made as soon as money is drawn, or before should you be in need of it
– I happened in Company with our good General Parsons when I received your letter, it made me unhappy that it was quite out of my power to assist M r. Chester in regard to the Hydes, proper Officers being appointed to take care of & dispose of those Articles – however General Parsons says “I feel myself interested as well as you & and if it is in my power Chester shall have some” – by this it appears he may not leave us without obtaining a few. – You ask me or rather you wish to hear of some important movements in this quarter (I left the above at 7 o’clock this Evening tis now XI. – company came in which prevented my proceeding, which is generally the case, however I must beg your acceptance of my letters by piecemeals - the subject I was upon I intend to close although. I debar myself from sleep.)
How can you my friend – or any other Gentleman expect to hear of anything of consequence being done in this quarter, – have we not during the whole Cam. Campaign been most shamefully neglected, a moments reflection will lead you to say, Yes, perhaps you may not have my Idea’s ‘tis therefore I am led to tell you, that long before the loss of Fort Montgomery we were reduced to a handfull by the repeated calls of General Washington, & agreeable to his advice the Militia from this State were call’d to supply the place, they came – but too late – after a Months requisition. –a plan was lately formed for reducing the several Garrisons on Long - Island making a descent on Staten Island and a feignt towards Fort Independence –this could not be done but by the assistance of Connecticut, & this before the 1 st of Dec. r as the Brigade of Massachusetts Militia was then to return home, – Jersey had already cooperated in the plan & had her troops ready – the Governor and Council of Connecticut were call’d on but absolutely refused her aid, – some days after the Massachusetts Brigade were dismissed – Col o. Ely’s Regt made their appearance – but without the knowledge of any Gen l. Officer in this department till they arrived at this place –and we are now reduced to Gen l. Parson’s Brigade consisting of (short of) a 1,000 and Col o. Ely's Regt. – what then can our friends expect of us, are we with this handfull to offer Battle to three times our numbers – & they strongly intrenched – unreasonable – I must bid you good night & close in the morning
Saturday Morn. g 6 th Dec. r I have been with M r. Chester to General Parsons about the Hydes, he will exert him himself to procure a number, but as yet remains uncertain whether he can effect it. – he has this moment dispatch’d a light Horse to Danbury on the Subject, M r. Chester waits his return.
After what I have said you will naturally wish to know some outlines of what probably may be our future movements, – A party of about 200 Men was drafted about a week since the command of Col. Meiggs to cross from Maroneck in whale boats to Hempsted Harbour from thence to proceed to Herricks and attack Col. Crugers Regiment, with my Regiment I was ordered to this place, where Transports were ready, and with part of Col o Ely’s Regiment to cross over to, or near Huntington, General Parsons with us, on our arrival there, I was to make a forc’d March to the Westward support Col o. Meigs – cover his retreat, or take command, proceed to Jamaica and made a second attack on about 200 of Delaney’s Brigade at that place, – this as occasion might require, Col. Meiggs has already made three different attempts but the weather so boisterous that he was obliged to return, – this has made the matter so public that I know not whether any further attempts will be made, a few days will determine, should we land ‘tis more than probable we shall march to the Eastward and land at or near New London – in this case I trust I shall have the happiness of seeing you, when I can give you many particulars which time (nor prudence) will not permit me to communicate on paper, – if we are finally defeated in this attempt – where we shall go from this I am unable to say – our troops require much rest, they have truly had had a most harassing Campaign, particularly my Regt, which has even been separated from the Brigade and continually moving from Pillar to Post, – but should we retire to Winter Quarters the Country would cry out against Us, and say we left them exposed to the Ravages of the Enemy, if we stay on the frontier by Spring our Regiments will be so reduced by continual fatigue that we shall be totally unfit to take the Field, of two evils we are to choose the least, – our commanders ought – and no doubt are the best Judges, – at any rate my situation is such that I must e’re long retire to settle my Acc. ts – Most of my officers shall have a chance of a few days furlow, among them you may expect your Son. –
We are surprised at hearing no particulars from our Southern Army, of moment, every
thing seems stagnated in that quarter – Lord Cornwallis has recrossed the Delaware
– General Green has returned to Gen
l. Washingtons Camp – this is our last intelligence, ab
t. Eight days. – Some of the Enemy's transports have got up to Philadelphia, – we think
it not possible the two Armies can be inactive long, it cannot be, our worthy commander
I haven’t a doubt will yet out General them. Should any thing of consequence turn
up & an opportunity offer, you may depend on haveing it from me, – make my Respects
&c acceptable to your good family and friends, – accept this hasty Scrawl from my
Dear Sir, Your
Affec t. friend & obliged Serv t.
Sam. l B. Webb
Thom. s Mumford Esq r.
Worthington Chauncey Ford, Family Letters of Samuel Blachley Webb, 1764-1807 (Cambridge,
MA: University Press, 1912).
D. Hamilton Hurd, History of New London County Connecticut…(Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis, 1882).
Cuyler Reynolds, ed. Genealogical and Family History of Southern New York and the Hudson River Valley, volume 3 (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing, 1914).
Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography