George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Lyon, 25 December 1775

From James Lyon

Mechias [District of Maine] Dec. 25. 1775


You doubtless remember to have seen an application from the committee of safety in this place, for leave to go against Nova Scotia, which might probably have been taken then with very little difficulty:1 But we were informed, that such an expedition could not be carried on at that time, with proper secrecy; & that there was imminent danger from the Kings ships. The same difficulties may, possibly, lie in the way now, if any troops are collected, & sent from any part near the Head Quarters. I apprehend, that secrecy is as necessary now as ever it was, & if only one proper person, at a suitable place, be ordered to conduct the whole affair, it will probably succeed.

There have been many applications, I dare say from many persons & places, but, were I to point out a suitable place, I should mention this, as it is near to Nova Scotia. I should be more at a loss for a proper person to conduct the enterprize. I know of fitter persons, than myself in many respects, but they are strangers to the Province & people. But I have dwelt there for years, & have a personal acquaintance with almost all the principal men, & know the country well. I should rejoice, therefore, in the appointment to this necessary business; & if your excellency together with those only, who must necessarily be acquainted with the appointment, for I choose none but they should know any thing of the matter, in your great wisdom, should see fit to appoint me, I will conduct the expedition, with the utmost secrecy & (deo. adj.) will add to the dominions of the Continental Congress another Province, before our enemies are able to defend it. All I require is sufficient authority to collect as many troops, as I see fit in this eastern country, not exceeding 1000 men, & vessels to convey them to the place of action, & blank commissions for the necessary officers of a thousand more, to be filled up, as I shall find expedient, in Nova Scotia, where the men are to be raised, put into the Continental pay, & left there to defend the country when taken: And farther, that a sufficient quantity of provision, amunition, arms &c. be sent here about the middle of March.

Your Excellency may enquire as much about me, as you please, of Benjn Foster Esqr. Capt. Stephen Smith, Capt. Obrian,2 & Mr Shannon, for these Gentn I should choose to have as companions, but do not choose, that they, or any other persons living should know any thing of the design, if3 this petition if granted, till it is time to embark, except those persons only, who have authority to appoint. The above mentioned Gentn know nothing of this application.

The reduction of Nova Scotia is a matter of great importance, & lies near my heart, on account of my many suffering friends in that Province, & on account of the many advantages, that would arise from it, to this Colony, & to this place, in particular: But should the Government appoint another person to conduct the expedition, I shall cordially acquiesce, & pray for his success, as I ever do, that God may smile on all the American arms, till all our enemies are subdued before us.4

Your Excellency will not take amiss, what my zeal for the honor & safety of my country constrained me to write. I am, most respectfully, your Excellency’s very humble and obedient Servant

Jas Lyon


James Lyon (1735–1794), chairman of the Machias committee of correspondence, was a Presbyterian clergyman who served two churches in Nova Scotia for seven years before moving to Machias in 1772 to become minister of the congregation there. During the war years, Lyon wrote repeatedly to the Massachusetts General Court and the Continental Congress proposing expeditions against Nova Scotia where he claimed many acres of land.

2Jeremiah O’Brien.

3Lyon inadvertently wrote “is” instead of “if.”

4In his reply to Lyon on 17 Feb. 1776, Stephen Moylan reported that GW “is much pleasd with the Zeal you exhibit for the promotion of American Liberty by endeavoring to add Nova Scotia as a Link of to that great chain, which does & I hope allways will bind the United Colonies together—there have other applications of the Same nature been Laid before the General, which are now under the Consideration of Congress—your remark is very just that Secrecy is absolutely necessary for Conducting this affair, with effect—& when it is undertaken, it must probably be, on Such a plan as you have pointed out, at present His Excelly does not think it would Succeed, as we have inteligence that may be depended on, that Brigr Genl [Eyre] Massey is arrived at Halifax with the chief part of two Battalions so that the numbers you propose woud in all probability be too few for the purpose & if they were thought sufficient, His Excelly does not think himself authorized to add two Regiments to our forces without the approbation of Congress—I mentioned before, that a plan for the reduction of that Province was under Consideration of Congress, which if they think proper to adopt—His Excellency has no doubt but that a Gentleman who interests himself So much in the Cause of America as you do—will give every assistance & advice for the Accomplishment of this Important business, that is in your power” (DLC:GW).

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