Women of Washington

Communicating America’s Founding Principles

Women of Washington is an educational organization with a focus on understanding local, national, and global issues that are critical to our world today.


The commander of the British Army, General William Howe, and his brother, Admiral of the Navy, Richard Howe were assigned to quell any uprisings in the colonies.  Their first aim was to disarm the northeastern colonists and lay seize to the city of Boston and Boston Harbor, thereby severing their ties from rest of the colonies to the south.

They were not prepared for the determination of the patriotic colonists who challenged them at Lexington and Concord, and who bravely fought them at the Battle of Bunker Hill.  However, on the morning of March 4, 1776, the British commanders found themselves outmaneuvered by General Washington’s strategically-placed cannon brigade overlooking the entire British military encampment.

Having to abandon Boston, but still determined to end this rebellion, General Howe and Admiral Howe devised a new strategy.  They would divide the territories of the 13 colonies by seizing control of New York’s harbor and conquering the cities of Manhattan and Philadelphia, the latter being the seat of colonial government.

Upon observing the activities of the British fleet of ships as they began vacating Boston Harbor, General Washington correctly anticipated the British commanders’ next move and immediately marched his newly-formed army of 19,000 troops south, arriving in New York City in early April. 

Clearly, defending a city the size of Manhattan against British attack would be a daunting task.  Washington had some of his troops positioned at the northern city limits, while sending a larger contingent of soldiers to guard the densely populated southern tip of Manhattan.

By the first week of July, General William Howe’s fleet of 48 ships carrying 10,000 British troops arrived at the southern tip of New York.  When he was informed that Washington’s Continental forces were firmly in place on Long Island, Howe and his soldiers disembarked on Staten Island to await reinforcement. 

On July 12th, Howe was joined by his brother, Admiral Richard Howe, with his fleet of 82 ships, followed by an additional fleet of ships carrying several thousand more British troops, as well as German mercenary soldiers.  A third fleet of ships soon arrived carrying General Charles Cornwallis, the one of the principle British generals of the Revolutionary War.  In all, 300 British ships, carrying at least 40,000 soldiers and sailors, represented the largest British expeditionary force ever assembled at one time.

The Howe brothers had been instructed by Parliament to try to convince Geroge Washington to accept their terms of surrender.     

Overly confident in their assumptions of superiority, the Howe brothers believed their ‘reasonable’ demands would be accepted by Washington.  To that end, on July 12th, William Howe sent a letter to Washington in which he offered to pardon all colonists who surrendered their arms and pledged allegiance to the British government.

The unopened letter, addressed to “George Washington, Esq.", was promptly returned to Howe with the explanation that there was no one in the Continental Army with that title.  Perturbed, Howe sent a second letter addressed to, “George Washington, Esq., etc.”

Again, Washington dismissed the unopened letter as it also neglected to address him appropriately as ‘General George Washington.’  However, he informed the messenger that he would agree to meet with the Howe delegation.  The meeting, which took place on July 20th, was short-lived when it became clear that the Howe brothers did not have the authority to negotiate an end to hostilities with the colonies but rather, only offer pardons for colonists who took up arms against the English Crown.  Washington informed the British delegation that the colonists had only acted in self-defense and, therefore, did not need to be pardoned.