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“Delay with us is now equal to a total defeat”.

December 22, 2011

Bristol, 22d December 1776

Dear Sir:

Pomroy, whom I sent by your order to go to Amboy and through the Jerseys and round by Princeton to you, returned to Burlington yesterday. He went to South Amboy, but was not able to get over; upon which he came to Brunswic, passed on to Princeton, and was prevented from going to Pennington, upon which he returned to Burlington by way of Cranbury.

His intelligence is, that he saw no troops, baggage wagons, or artillery going to New York, except about eight wagons, which he understood had the baggage of some of the light horse, who had been relieved and were going into quarters. At Cranbury he saw sixteen wagons going down to South Amboy for the baggage of about five hundred men, who were to quarter about Cranbury, being enlisted forces commanded by one Laurence. At Brunswic he saw four piece of cannon; the number of men he could not learn, but they did not exceed six or eight hundred. Princeton, he says, was called head-quarters, and there he saw a very considerable body of troops coming out of the College, meeting-house and other places where they quartered.  He understood they were settled in their winter quarters, and had given over further operations till the spring. In Burlington County  he found them scattered through all the farmer’s houses, eight, ten twelve and fifteen to a house, and rambling over the whole country.

Colonel Griffin has advanced up the Jerseys with six hundred men as far as Mount Holly, within seven miles of their head-quarters at the Black Horse. He has written over here for two pieces of artillery and two or three hundred volunteers, as he expected an attack very soon. The spirits of the militia here are very high; they are all for supporting him. Colonel Cadwalader and the gentlemen here all agree, that they should be indulged. We can either  give him a strong reinforcement, or make a separate attack; the latter bids fairest for producing the greatest and best efforts. It is therefore determined, to make all possible preparation today; and, no event happening to change our measures, the main body here will cross the river tomorrow morning and attack their post between this and the Black Horse, proceeding from thence either to the Black Horse or the Square, where about two hundred men are posted, as things shall turn out with Griffin.  If they should not attack Griffin as he expects, it is probable both our parties may advance to the Black Horse, should success attend the intermediate attempt. If they should collect their force and march against Griffin, our attack will have the best efforts in preventing their sending troops on that errand, or breaking up their quarters and coming in upon their rear, which we must endeavour to do in order to free Griffin.

We are all of opinion, my dear General, that something must be attempted to revive our expiring credit, give our cause some degree of reputation, and prevent a total depreciation of the Continental money, which is coming on very fast; that even a failure cannot be more fatal, than to remain in our present situation; in short, some enterprise must be undertaken in our present circumstances, or we must give up the cause. In a little time the Continental army will be dissolved. The militia must be taken before their spirits and patience are exhausted; and the scattered, divided state of the enemy affords us a fair opportunity of trying what our men will do, when called to an offensive attack. Will it not be possible, my dear General, for your troops, or such part of them as can act with advantage, to make a diversion, or something more, at or about Trenton? The greater the alarm, the more likely the success will attend the attacks. If we could possess ourselves again of New Jersey, or any considerable part of it, the effects would be greater than if we had never left it.

Allow me to hope that you will consult your own good judgment and spirit, and not let the goodness of your heart subject you to the influence of opinions from men in every respect your inferiors. Something must be attempted before the sixty days expire which the commissioners have allowed; for, however many affect to despise it, it is evident that very serious attention is paid to it, and I am confident that unless some more favourable appearance attends our arms and cause before that time, a very large number of the militia officers here will follow the example of those of Jersey and take benefit from it. I will not disguise my own sentiments, that our cause is desperate and hopeless, if we do not take the opportunity of the collection of troops at present, to strike some stroke. Our affairs are hastening fast to ruin if we do not retrieve them by some happy event. Delay with us is now equal to a total defeat.  Be not deceived, my dear General, with small, flattering appearances; we must not suffer ourselves to be lulled into security and inaction, because the enemy does not cross the river. It is but a reprieve; the execution is the more certain, for I am very clear that they can and will cross the river, in spite of any opposition we can give them.

Pardon the freedom I have used. The love of my country, a wife and four children in the enemy’s hands, the respect and attachment I have to you, the ruin and poverty that must attend me, and thousands of others will plead my excuse for so much freedom. I am with the greatest respect and regard, dear sir

Your obedient and affectionate humble servant

Joseph Reed

Visit for a listing of activities December 27 – 31 commemorating Trenton’s role in turning the tide of America’s War for Independence.

Contact us anytime for tours of New Jersey’s historic capital city.

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