To the Editor of the Evening Post1
New-York, August 10, 1802.
Finding that a story long since propagated under circumstances, which it was expected would soon consign it to oblivion, (and by which I have been complimented at the expence of Generals Washington and La Fayette) has of late been revived and has acquired a degree of importance by being repeated in different publications as well as in Europe as America—it becomes a duty to counteract its currency and influence by an explicit disavowal.2
The story imports in substance, that General La Fayette, with the approbation or connivance of General Washington, ordered me, as the officer who was to command the attack on a British redoubt, in the course of the siege of York-Town, to put to death all those of the enemy who should happen to be taken in the redoubt; and that through motives of humanity I forbore to execute the order.
Positively and unequivocally I declare, that no such nor similar order, nor any intimation nor hint resembling it, was ever by me received or understood to have been given.
It is needless to enter into an explanation of some occurrences on the occasion alluded to, which may be conjectured to have given rise to the calumny. It is enough to say that they were entirely unconnected with any act of either of the Generals who have been accused.
With esteem, I am, Sir, Your obedient servant,
New-York Evening Post, August 11, 1802.
1. William Coleman, editor of the New-York Evening Post, was a Federalist lawyer originally from Boston who had practiced in Greenfield, Massachusetts, and served in the Massachusetts General Court in 1795 and 1796. Following major financial losses as a result of speculation in the Yazoo lands, he moved to New York City to practice law. In early 1800 H secured Coleman’s appointment as clerk of the circuit of the Supreme Court of New York State (H to John Jay, March 4, 1800; Jay to H, March 13, 1800). In November, 1801, Coleman became the editor of the New-York Evening Post, which H had helped to found.
H’s letter was preceded by the following statement: “The following letter will doubtless receive an insertion in the several newspapers in the United States. It was not without much regret we once saw the slander which is here meant to be destroyed, find its way into one of our most respectable public prints, from the Anti-Jacobin Review—a work of great literary merit, but in whatever relates to this country discoloured with gross, unjustifiable misrepresentation.”
2. In 1788 William Gordon, an English clergyman who supported American independence and lived in America from 1779 to 1786, published a history of the American Revolution in which he wrote: “The marquis [de Lafayette] said to gen. Washington—’The troops should retaliate on the British, for the cruelties they have practised.’ The general answered—’You have full command, and may order as you please.’ The marquis ordered the party to remember New London [burned by the British on September 6, 1781], and to retaliate, by putting the men in the redoubt to the sword after having carried it. The men marched to the assault with unloaded arms, at dark on the night of the 14th [October, 1781], passed the abbatis and palisades, and attacking on all sides carried the redoubt in a few minutes.… Lieut. col. [John] Laurens personally took the commanding officer. The colonel’s humanity and that of the Americans so overcame their resentments, that they spared the British.… Col. Hamilton, who conducted the enterprise with much address and intrepidity, in his report to the marquis mentioned to the honor of his detachment—’that, incapable of imitating examples of barbarity, and forgetting recent provocations, they spared every man that ceased to resist’” (The History of the Rise, Progress and Establishment, of the Independence of the United States of America: Including an Account of the Late War; And of the Thirteen Colonies, From Their Origin to That Period, IV [London: Printed for the Author, 1788], 192–93). For H’s report to Lafayette, see H to Lafayette, October 15, 1781. In 1802 John Wood, a native of Scotland who had emigrated to the United States in 1800, revived this story in a pamphlet in which he attempted to discredit John Adams’s administration. See Wood, The history of the administration of John Adams (New York: Barlas and Ward, Naphtali Judah, 1802).
During the American Revolution, H had challenged Gordon to a duel because of statements Gordon had made concerning H’s political views. See John Brooks to H, July 4, 1779; Francis Dana to H, July 25, August 25, 1779; H to Gordon, August 10, September 5, December 10, 1779; Gordon to H, August 25, September 23, 1779; David Henley to H, September 1, 22, 1779; George Washington to H, May 2, 1780.