George CLINTON, First Governor of New York State, 1777-1795 – 1801-1804. An Important Autograph Letter Signed, “Geo Clinton”, written to his brother Gen. James Clinton in New Windsor (“Dear Brother”), from Head Quarters, Hurley, 17 October 1777. 8vo (7 3/4 x 6 1/2 ins; 198 x 165mm), 1-1/2 pages on laid paper, with integral address leaf (remnants of wax seal, some fading to text and signature, scattered minor marginal toning and soiling, few tears at edges, loss at broken seal, creased where folded).
An eye-witness account of the immediate aftermarth of the torching of Kingston by the British - written by one of the main participants to his brother, an American General.
Explaining that the British troops arrived at Kingston before George Clinton’s troops, whereupon 1000 men burned the town and immediately returned to their ships, George warns his brother that a similar fate awaits the settlements along the shore and that forage and property should be moved from the path of the enemy, reminding him to take the sleigh from the barn as it is all the personal property that remains to him after that destroyed in Kingston, noting that the enemy is advancing up the river to Saugerties with Tryon commanding on the east side and Vaughn on the west.
Head Quarters, Hurley 17th October 1777
“Before this can reach you [you] will receive the – disagreeable account of Kingston being laid in ashes by the Enemy. They landed before my troops arrived after a little opposition by the few militia Cols Pawling & Snyder could collect, and marched about 1000 Men immediately up to Town - where they were told by some Tories who continued in it that my People were advancing on the Hurley Road & they immediately set it in Flames and extracted precipitately on Board their Vessels tho their Orders were to proceed to Hurley & the adjacent Neighborhoods to give them the same Fate, so that tho I was not able to get my Troops Time enough to save Kingston, they saved this and the other Parts of the Country near it. This will show you the Fate New Windsor & the other settlements along shore are to partake on the Enemy’s Return down. Therefore the Necessity of removing the Forage &c from the Banks of the River among which remember my Slay in the Barn as it is now the only moveable Property I have left, the Best being removed to Kingston shared its Fate, tho indeed a great share of Property has been saved out of Town. The enemy sailed up the River this Morning as high as Saghertyes burning along Shore as they go. When they go a little higher I [will] follow them. They have Parties on both Sides of the River. Tryon commands those on the East & Vaughan on the West Side [of] the River.
On Friday evening, 17 October 1777, a British fleet commandeered by James Wallace and John Vaughn (the latter on board the ‘Friendship’) which had anchored near Aesopus Island the day before, came into the mouth of Rondout Creek and engaged the gallery “Lady Washington”. Shortly after noon, the British landed on Rondout Creek and the Cove above Columbus Point. Vaughn personally led the march, capturing and forcing a negro to lead them into town without meeting resistance. The troops went through the streets in parties led by Tories, setting the whole place on fire in response to the occasional resistance lodged by residents from within their houses. There was looting and vandalism.Meanwhile part of the fleet went a bit up the River and creek to destroy landings and sloops.By the time George Clinton arrived into Kingston, the whole town was ablaze and the British party had set out back on to their ships.
In a letter on 18 October penned at Little Britain (NY) in response to this letter, Brig. Genl. James Clinton writes:
Yours of yesterday’s Date I have just received. I am sorry for the Loss of Kingston &c.
Five of the Enemy’s Shipping Returned Down the River last night without Doing any Damage Except fireing Some Cannon and small arms at our men and wounding one of ours on Board of a Ferry Boat…
The war became personal for the governor specially after what had happened to Kingston. In a letter to William Smith [31 October 1777], his sentiments and commitment are laid bare:
...The Cruelties as well Cowardice with which this Warr has been conducted ag’t us, must, I think, be sufficient at this late Hour to convince every Man that all connection with Great Britain is at an End…
Reference:Public Paper of George Clinton, First Governor of New York (War of the Revolution Series. New York: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co., 1900. Volume II, pp. 457-459, including James Clinton's reply to the present letter only - no transcript of the present letter is included, which was apparently unknown when the papers were transcribed and published)