Morgan Memos – Reconnaissance for General Washington
I about fell out of my chair the other night while I was surfing! Well, that statement wouldn’t have made any sense 20 years ago but it does now. I was on the Library of Congress web site, though I don’t recall how I ended up there, and did the simple query, “James Morgan”. The top four search responses left me astonished and speechless.
In June 1778 in the midst of America’s Revolutionary War against Britain, the British, under Lieutenant General Henry Clinton, were evacuating Philadelphia and marching toward Sandy Hook in order to get onto ships to sail across Raritan Bay to the British stronghold of New York City. General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the American forces, was determined that the British were not going to get away from the American forces without a fight and was looking for an opportunity to attack them. On June 28, he did just that but only after he had to relieve Major General Charles Lee of command. This battle, called The Battle of Monmouth, occurred in present day Freehold – just 14 miles from Morgan, NJ.
While there was no obvious victor in this battle, it is notable for a number of reasons: it was the last major battle of the war to occur in the northern states, it was the longest battle between the two main armies, it was the largest battle of the war in terms of the number of participants in a one day battle (over 21,000), and the legend of Molly Pitcher.
In the days immediately surrounding the Battle of Monmouth, Captain James Morgan of the 2nd Regiment Middlesex County militia and the land owner of present day Morgan NJ, sent a number of reconnaissance notes to “His Excelency Genriel Washanton” describing British activities on and around Raritan Bay. His property was the perfect place to observe the whole of Raritan Bay as from it one could see all of it – from the mouth of the Raritan River at Perth/South Amboy, up the Kill Van Kull, across Staten Island, to Coney Island, Brooklyn, Sandy Hook and all down the Monmouth County coast line. Its location as the bay’s central vantage point was essentially confirmed by the 1887 Raritan Bay Boundary Commission (see to-be-reposted write-up from March 21, March 25, and April 4, 2010) when the commissioners chose the point named “Morgan 2” as the vertex of an angle bisecting the bay.
The George Washington Papers Collection at the Library of Congress has four such notes from Capt. James Morgan to General George Washington available for viewing.
Capt. Morgan wrote utilizing the high technology of the day, a quill, and while his handwriting is occasionally legible, it isn’t always. There is no punctuation, the spelling is often questionable, and there are some grammatical issues. Regardless, it is absolutely thrilling to see these notes – especially knowing that at the time the British were on the move toward Sandy Hook in a coordinated effort to evacuate via water. No doubt Capt. Morgan saw a lot of nautical activity relating to this evacuation.
Though we haven’t been able to fully and correctly transcribe all the notes yet, and I’m not 100% certain in all cases the words we selected below are the actual words Capt. James Morgan wrote, this is what we have transcribed to date. Words we are unsure of are followed by a question mark. Words we can’t decipher at all are represented by double question marks. Words in brackets are clarifications to what was literally interpreted/written.
South Amboy June 26th 1778
Sir this comes to in form you that the
ships in and smal bots is comin to ??
?? and the Enemy is advencin? tord? Middle?[advancing toward Middle-]
Town I am out of horses to send entligence? [intelligence?]
from your Humbel Sarvant
James Morgan Capt
His Exaclency Genriel Washenton
South Amboy June 26th 1778
According to you order I have cut? down?
all the bridges and this morning was on the
shouer?[shore] and cnt see anny shiping or bots
mor [more] then yesorday But a Hors? man from
freehold informs me the Enemey is thare? [there]
and in ful? Body? so? no? move? But Remain
your Exelency most Humbel Servent
James Morgan Capt
South Amboy June 28th 1778 Sunday after noon
This comes to inform you that there is three or four
ships now at the Huck [Hook, i.e., Sandy Hook] I think very ner [near] the shouer [shore]
with ¬?? of forty? sale [sail?]of ships? and ??
?? in the ?? Iam in formed that there is
agrat maney [a great many] flat bottom bots on the east side of Stat [Staten]
Island this morning I had a man in middeltown
he informed me thar [there] was no enmey thar [enemy there] yet on
the south side of the Island thare [there] is but one
armed ?? and two? small bots The
?? from the Hook? ?? ?? and
Repars?? [repairs] in Very Much Sir iam [I am] your most
Humble? Servent James Morgan Capt
His Excelency Genriel Washenton
South Amboy June 29th 1778
Sir this comes to inform you that a great quantity
of small brigs and gunnery and boats came from
towards New York and went into the JseryShore? [Jersey Shore?]
this morning about two o’clock I have came in from
about twenty eight ??
?? four large ships stowed for York and sum[some]
small ones in all eighteen at the same time five
ships coming from New York tords (towards) the huck (hook)
the germen? that is stationed? in Amboy Bay is there
yet and on the south side of the Island there? is four
small bots and they cross near us but don’t come ashore
?? but abot (a boat) landed a few men? at Ceesaquak? [Cheesequake?]
But as near by could ?? at the distance ?? ches what ??
With the bots. I have nothing more but Remain your
Humbel Servent James Morgan Capt.
His Exceleney Generil
The movie “The Patriot” is about an American family during Revolutionary War times where the son joins the militia and later the father, a soldier from an earlier war, gets reluctantly dragged into the conflict. Upon joining the militia, the father gets appointed to a senior rank and requests for his son to be put in his militia unit. As I watched it, I couldn’t help but think about Captain James Morgan and his two sons, James and Nicholas. James Morgan, Jr., fought in his father’s 2nd Regiment Middlesex County battalion and would, some 30 years later, become a Major General as well as a member of the House of Representatives. The Captain’s other son, Nicholas, also served in his father’s battalion but was killed during the conflict by the British while on patrol in the area. Can you imagine? Nicholas was buried in the family cemetery in Morgan (Insert link). In later times both James, Sr. and James, Jr. would also be buried in the Morgan Cemetery next to each other and close to Nicholas.
Here again, I reflect on sitting at our dining room table in 3rd grade and thinking that the Revolutionary War happened so far away from Morgan, NJ when in fact, it happened in my back yard and the largest one day battle of the Revolutionary War occurred less than 15 miles away.
I had heard that James Morgan had personally known General Washington but you know how those stories usually go. While these notes don’t provide evidence that Capt. James Morgan had ever personally met General Washington, their existence does prove that General Washington did at least know of Capt. James Morgan.
If any of you are able to help figure out the exact wording for any portion of these notes, I would be enormously grateful and will update this posting and give you credit. Please provide your interpretation in the Comments section below.
Originally posted on April 24, 2011.