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Note: this letter was originally damaged, which is why there are some words in parenthesis. Question marks mean that a specific word or phrase was most likely written in the text, but there is little way of knowing.

Dear Sir,

Lest the Enemy should in some degree avail themselves of the Knowledge (for I do not doubt but that they are well informed of every thing we do) I did not care to be so particular in the General orders of this day, as I mean to be in this Letter to You.

As mutch time then would be lost (in Case the Enemy should attempt [?] crossing the River at any pass within your guard of [?] it) in first sending [?] you notice, and the [troops to] wait for Orders what to do, I would advise you to examine the whole River, from the upper to the lower Guard of your district [?], and after forming an Opinion of the most probable Crossing places, have those well watch’d, and direct the Regiments or Companies most Convenient to repair as they Can be formed, immediately to the point of attack, and give the Enemy [?] all the Opposition they possibly Can. Every thing in a manner depends upon the [defense at Water's] Edge, in like Manner one Brigade is to support one another without loss of time, or waiting orders from me—I would also have You fix upon some Central Spot convenient to your Brigade, but in the rear a little, and on some Road leading to Philadelphia for your unnecessary Baggage, [Waggons] & Stores, that in case your opposition should prove ineffectual [?], these things may [not fall], but be got off[?] & proceed over Nehsameny Ferry [?], or Bridge, towards [?] Germain town agreable to the determination of the [?] Board of Officers the other day. [Let me intreat you] to Cast about to find out [some person who can be] engaged to Cross the River as a [Spy,] that we may if possible, obtain some knowledge of the Enemy’s situation, movements, & intention; particular [inquiry to] be made by the person sent, if any preperations are [?] makeing to Cross the River, whether any Boats are building, & where, Whether any are coming across Land from Brunswick[?] Whether any great Collection of Horses are made, and for what purpose &c. Expence must not be Spared in procuring such Inteligence, and will [readily][?] be paid by me—We are in a neighbourhood of very disaffected people; equal Care should therefore be taken that one of these persons do not undertake the business in order to betray us.

As your [numbers] are rather small endeavour [?] to shew them, now & then; to the best advantage. an appearance might be made with those you have as if fresh Troops were coming in, and if you stop all Intercourse but such as is carried on [?] to the other side by your own permit [?], it will take a little time to discover the deception [?] and every hour gain’d is of service in our present Situation.

If possible get some person into Trenton—& let Him be satisfied if any Boats are Building at that place and on Croswicks Creek.

I am with respect Sir Yr Most Obt Servt

Go: Washington


Transcript courtesy of Founders Online

Consider the following questions:

  • Why would Washington be worried about British troops crossing the Delaware? [For reference, Washington was writing this after the battles of Brooklyn, New York City, Manhattan, White Plains, and the Jersey Palisades].
  • After Ewing read this letter, he passed it to Mercer, Stephen, and Stirling - other generals in the Continental Army. Why might he do that?
  • Why is communication important, especially amongst leaders?
  • This letter has some areas that are damaged, making it hard to transcribe. What do you think the missing pieces say in this letter? (Whenever there is a missing word, there is usually a [?] next to it in the transcript).

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George Washington wrote this letter to Brigadier General James Ewing on December 14, 1776 - twelve days before the Battle of Trenton. Washington was concerned that the British troops would cross the Delaware River and attack the Continental Army. So, Washington asked Ewing to send a spy to determine the approximate location and movements of the British forces. 

This letter has sustained some damage, making it difficult to read in parts.