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Jonathan Williams - First Superintendent of West Point and First Head of the Army Corps of Engineers - Assesses New York Harbor Defenses
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As Commander of the Corps of Engineers, Jonathan Williams planned and supervised the construction of New York Harbor’s defenses. In this letter to the commander of Fort Columbus on Governors Island, Williams gives a detailed report on the state of the fortifications and their capacity for additional artillery.

JONATHAN WILLIAMS. Autograph Letter Signed, to Richard Whiley, December 1, 1809, New York. 2 pp., 7¾ x 10 in.

Inventory #23067.02       Price: $1,100


            “In compliance with your verball request I sit down to give you information respecting the Artillery that may be mounted on the different Works in this City & Harbour.

            “The Platform at Ellis Island has long been ready to receive twenty Pieces of the heaviest metal on Carriages similar to those at Fort Columbus.

            “The mortar Battery on Bedlows Island is finished in part & might be ready to receive mortars of any Caliber in a short notice, nothing but the removal of Earth & the platform being necessary; but the work itself is not far enough advanced to receive any Guns.

            “The Castle on the point of Governors Island has eleven french 36s mounted, & Fifteen more have long been expected to arrive from the Columbian Foundery. These 26 may be ready for action as soon as they can be mounted. Although it would be prudent to avoid putting Guns on the second tier until the arches are dry yet upon an emergency 16 thirty two pounders might <2> be placed there immediately. The Force of this Castle when completed may be considered at least 52 heavy Guns under a Bombproof cover, & 48 on the terrasse above making 100 Guns. if it were necessary 26 more might be put in the 3d tier of embrazures intended to serve as Windows to the Barracks under the arches.

            “Fort Columbus is a finished work, and capable of receiving without delay one hundred and four guns of the heaviest metal, although, about one third of the number, commanding the read of the Island need not be of greater caliber than eighteen or twenty four pounders.

            “When Bedlows Island shall be finished & the Battery off the City Battery shall be completed, the first will mount about forty & the last thirty Guns. From this View you will see that the ordnance of this Harbour may be actually taken to be one hundred and sixty six Guns, so far as the Fortifications are ready. And the ordnance that may be mounted when finished, will be three hundred and four Guns and ten mortars without taking into acct the State Works at the narrows which are now ready to receive upward of eighty Guns.

Jonathan Williams (1750-1815), born in Boston, was the grandnephew of Benjamin Franklin. He attended Harvard College and spent most of the time from 1770 to 1785 in England and France, where he inspected shipments of ammunition and supplies. In February 1801, President John Adams appointed Williams as a major in the Corps of Artillerists and Engineers. President Thomas Jefferson made Williams the Army’s Inspector of Fortifications, and in December 1801 appointed him the first Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point. In 1802, Jefferson appointed Williams to concurrent command of the new Army Corps of Engineers.

In 1803, he left his position at West Point but was reappointed in 1805. From 1807 to 1811, he designed and oversaw construction of Castle Williams (the East Battery) and Castle Clinton (the West Battery) in New York Harbor. When Secretary of War William Eustis refused to give him command of Castle Williams, he resigned in July 1812.

Right before the start of what became known as the War of 1812, New York state placed him in charge of construction of additional fortifications for New York City. He later moved to Philadelphia and helped build fortifications around that city. In 1814, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives but died before Congress assembled.

In 1802, investor Richard Woodhull named his acre tract in north Brooklyn Williamsburg after Williams who had surveyed the land. A member of the American Philosophical Society, Williams also founded the U.S. Military Philosophical Society, and gave it its motto, “Science in War is the Guarantee of Peace.”

Richard Whiley (1767-1847) was born in London and came to the United States in the 1780s. He served under General Anthony Wayne in the Northwest Indian War (1785-1795) and received a commission as a lieutenant of artillery in 1796. By 1803, he was a captain of artillery, and he commanded Fort Jay on Governors Island in New York Harbor from 1804 to 1806, when it was demolished. He was the commander of Fort Columbus on Governors Island from 1807 to 1809. He resigned from the military in June 1811 and lived for several years on the Hudson River near Poughkeepsie. He served as president of the North River Insurance Company for many years.

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