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OBSTRUCTIONS OF THE HUDSON.
crossed over to Fort Constitution, on the Jersey shore, of which General Greene had charge, and, accompanied by him, extended his reconnoitrings down to Paulus Hook, to observe what was going on in the city and among the enemy's ships. Greene had recently been promoted to the rank of major-general, and now had command of all the troops in the Jerseys. He had liberty to shift his quarters to Baskingridge or Bergen, as circumstances might require; but was enjoined to keep up a communication with the main army, east of the Hudson, so as to secure a retreat in case of necessity.
The security of the Hudson was at this time an object of great solicitude with Congress, and much reliance was placed on Putnam's obstructions at Fort Washington. Four galleys, mounted with heavy guns and swivels, were stationed at the chevaux-de-frise, and two new ships were at hand which, filled with stones, were to be sunk where they would block up the channel. A sloop was also at anchor, having on board a machine, invented by a Mr. Bushnell, for submarine explosion, with which to blow up the men-of-war; a favorite scheme with General Putnam. The obstructions were so commanded by batteries on either shore, that it was thought no hostile ship would be able to pass.
On the 9th of October, however, the Roebuck and Phoenix, each of forty-four guns, and the Tartar of twenty guns, which had been lying for some time opposite Bloomingdale, got under way with their three tenders, at eight o'clock in the morning, and came standing up the river with an easy southern breeze. At their approach, the galleys and the two ships intended
to be sunk, got under way with all haste, as did a schooner laden with rum, sugar, and other supplies for the American army, and the sloop with Bushnell's submarine machine.
The Roebuck, Phoenix and Tartar, broke through the vaunted barriers as through a cobweb. Seven batteries kept up a constant fire upon them, yet a gentleman was observed walking the deck of the second ship as coolly as if nothing were the matter.* Washington, indeed, in a letter to Schuyler, says "they passed without any kind of damage or interruption;" but Lord Howe reports to the admiralty that they suffered much in their masts and rigging, and that a lieutenant, two midshipmen, and six men were killed, and eighteen wounded.
The hostile ships kept on their course, the American vessels scudding before them. The schooner was overhauled and captured; a well-aimed shot sent the sloop and Bushnell's submarine engine to the bottom of the river. The two new ships would have taken refuge in Spyt den Duivel Creek, but fearing there might not be water enough, they kept on and drove ashore at Philipps' Mills at Yonkers. Two of the galleys got into a place af safety, where they were protected from the shore; the ather two trusted to outsail their pursuers. The breeze freshened, and the frigates gained on them fast; at 11 o'clock began to fire on them with their bow-chasers, at 12 o'clock overreached them, which caused them to bear in shore; at half past one the galleys ran aground just above Dobbs' Ferry, and lay exposed to a shower
Col. Ewing to the Maryland Comm. of Safety.
AGITATION ALONG THE HUDSON.
of grape-shot. The crews, without stopping to burn or bilge them, swam on shore, and the enemy took possession of the two galleys, which were likely to be formidable means of annoyance in their hands.
One express after another brought Washington word of these occurrences. First, he sent off a party of rifle and artillery men, with two twelve-pounders, to secure the new ships which had run aground at Yonkers. Next, he ordered Colonel Sargent to march up along the eastern shore with five hundred infantry, a troop of light-horse and a detachment of artillery, to prevent the landing of the enemy. Before the troops arrived at Dobbs' Ferry, the ships' boats had plundered a store there, and set it on fire.
To prevent, if possible, the men-of-war already up the river from coming down, or others from below joining them, Washington gave orders to complete the obstructions. Two hulks which lay in Spyt den Duivel Creek, were hastily ballasted by men from General Heath's division, and men were sent up to get off the ships which had run aground at Philipps' Mills, that they might be brought down and sunk immediately.
It is difficult to give an idea of the excitement caused by this new irruption of hostile ships into the waters of the Hudson, or of the various conjectures as to their object. They might intend merely to interrupt navigation, and prevent supplies coming down to the American army. They might be carrying arms and ammunition for domestic enemies skulking about the river, and only waiting an opportunity to strike a blow. They might have troops concealed on board with intent to surprise the posts in the Highlands, and cut off the VOL. II.-24
intercourse between the American armies. To such a degree had the spirit of disaffection been increased in the counties adjacent to the river, since the descent of the Rose and Phoenix, by the retreats and evacuation which had taken place, and so great had been the drain on the militia of those counties for the army of Washington, that, in case of insurrection, those who remained at home and were well affected, would be outnumbered, and might easily be overpowered, especially with the aid of troops landed from the ships.
While this agitation prevailed below, fugitive river crafts carried the news up to the Highlands that the frigates were already before Tarrytown in the Tappan Sea. Word was instantly despatched to Peter R. Livingston, president of the Provincial Congress, and startled that deliberative body, which was then seated at Fishkill just above the Highlands. The committee of safety wrote, on the spur of the moment, to Washington. "Nothing," say they, "can be more alarming than the present situation of our State. We are daily getting the most authentic intelligence of bodies of men enlisted and armed in order to assist the enemy. We much fear that they, co-operating with the enemy, may seize such passes as will cut off the communication between the and us, army and prevent your supplies. We beg leave to suggest to your Excellency the propriety of sending a body of men to the Highlands or Peekskill, to secure the passes, prevent insurrection, and overawe the disaffected."
Washington transmitted the letter to the President of Congress on the 12th. "I have ordered up," writes he, "part of the militia from Massachusetts, under
AGITATION ALONG THE HUDSON.
General Lincoln, to prevent, if possible, the consequences which they suggest may happen, and which there is reason to believe the conspirators have in contemplation. I am persuaded that they are on the eve of breaking out, and that they will leave nothing unessayed that will distress us, and favor the designs of the enemy, as soon as their schemes are ripe for it." In fact, it was said that the tories were arming and collecting in the Highlands under the direction of disguised officers, to aid the conspiracies formed by Governor Tryon and his adherents.
As a further precaution, an express was sent off by Washington to Colonel Tash, who, with a regiment of New Hampshire militia, was on his way from Hartford to the camp, ordering him to repair with all possible despatch to Fishkill, and there hold himself at the disposition of the committee of safety.
James Clinton, also, who had charge of the posts in the Highlands, was put on the alert. That trusty officer was now a brigadier-general, having been promoted by Congress, on the 8th of August. He was charged to have all boats passing up and down the river rigidly searched, and the passengers examined. Beside the usual sentries, a barge, well manned, was to patrol the river opposite to each fort every night; all barges, row-boats, and other small craft, between the forts in the Highlands and the army, were to be secured in a place of safety, to prevent their falling into the enemy's hands and giving intelligence. Moreover, a French engineer was sent up to aid in strengthening and securing the passes. The commanding officers of the counties of Litchfield and Fairfield in Connecticut, had, likewise,