- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2003


Through a spy, the British were tipped off that George Washington would be making his famous Christmas night crossing of the Delaware, but the information went unheeded, according to newly reviewed papers of the British commander.

The papers from the archive of Gen. James Grant were found in the tower of his Ballindalloch Castle, northwest of Aberdeen, Scotland.

A day after Washington’s victory at Trenton, Grant wrote what apparently was a draft of a report to an unnamed superior. He said that he had relayed good information on Washington’s plan at 5 p.m. Christmas Day to Col. Johann Rall, who commanded the Hessian garrison at Trenton, but that Rall had failed to take precautions.

“It is some comfort to me that I gave them previous notice,” Grant wrote. “It was rather better intelligence than I could be expected to have so soon after I was appointed to this command. No man in America knows the channel through which it came except the Genl. who I let into the secret before this cursed affair happen’d.”

Grant’s spy is still unidentified.

Some historians say Washington had a spy of his own, John Honeyman, who supplied food and liquor to the Hessians for a Christmas party. There is no mention in Grant’s account of the party or its effects, usually given as a cause of Washington’s easy success early the next morning.

After the war, a British intelligence officer said Washington had not been militarily superior to the British commanders but had prevailed because he had a better spy network.

Three weeks after the Battle of Trenton, Grant drafted another letter saying his worst fears after the British surrender there had come true. Washington, who had foreseen possible disaster before Trenton, got reinforcements and was on his way to attack Princeton. After a short campaign, he won back New Jersey, which he had given up the autumn before.

Grant seems to have run several spies in Washington’s headquarters. Another of his papers records:

“Mr. Wharton is gone to Philadelphia for Intelligence will be at Washington’s tomorrow. Lowrie is to meet him there, will be in the Jerseys next (day?) & I shall hear from him immediately. Lowrie is to purchase Rum to the amount of twenty thousand Dollars at Philadelphia with Continental money & to store it there till the (money?) arrives.”

He also records information “given by Genl. Mercer’s deputy.” American Gen. Hugh Mercer died at the Battle of Princeton. Wharton and Lowrie are not identified on this page of short notes. Nor do they say what was to be done with the rum.

The Library of Congress learned of the collection at Ballindalloch in 1999. Its owner, a descendant of Grant, said the library was welcome to look. James Hutson, head of the library’s manuscript division, went to Scotland and had Grant’s 12,000 papers copied onto 50 rolls of microfilm now at the library.

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