George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Reed, 4 January 1776

To Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Reed

Cambridge 4th Jany 177[6]

Dear Sir,

Since my last, I have recd your obliging favours of the 19th & 23d Ulto & thank you for the Articles of Intelligence therein containd; as I also do for the Buttons which accompanied the last Letter, althô I had got a sett, better I think, made at Concord.1

I am exceeding glad to find, that things wear a better face in Virginia than they did sometime ago; but I do not think that any thing less than the life, or liberty, will free the Colony from the effects, of Lord Dunmores Resentments and Villainies.

We are at length favourd with a sight of his Majesty’s most gracious Speech, breathing sentiments of tenderness & compassion for his deluded American Subjects; the Eccho is not yet come to hand; but we know what it must be; and as Lord North said, & we ought to have believed (& acted accordingly) we now know the ultimatum of British Justice. the Speech I send you—a volume of them was sent out by the Boston Gentry—And, farcical enough, we gave great Joy to them (the red Coats I mean) without knowing or intending it, for on that day, the day which gave being to the New Army (but before the Proclamation came to hand) we had hoisted the Union Flag in compliment to the United Colonies, but behold! it was receivd in Boston as a token of the deep Impression the Speech had made upon Us, and as a signal of Submission—so we learn by a person out of Boston last Night—by this time I presume they begin to think it strange that we have not made a formal surrender of our Lines.2 Admiral Shuldam is arrivd at Boston. the 55th and greatest part, if not all, the 17th Regiment, are also got in there—the rest of the 5 Regiments from Ireland were intended for Hallifax & Quebec; those for the first are arrived there, the others we know not where they are got to.3

It is easier to conceive, than to describe the Situation of My Mind for sometime past, & my feelings under our present Circumstances; search the vast volumes of history through, & I much question whether a case similar to ours is to be found. to wit, to maintain a Post against the flower of the British Troops for Six Months together without—4and at the end of them to have one Army disbanded and another to raise within the same distance of a Reinforced Enemy—it is too much to attempt—what may be the final Issue of the last Manouvre time only can tell—I wish this Month was well over our heads—The same desire of retiring into a Chimney Corner siez’d the Troops of New Hampshire, Rhode Island, & Massachusets (so soon as their time expired) as had Work’d upon those of Connecticut, notwithstanding many of them made a tender of their Services to continue till the Lines could be sufficiently strengthned—We are now left with a good deal less than half rais’d Regiments, and about 5000 Militia who only stand Ingaged to the middle of this Month; when, according to custom, they will depart, let the necessity of their stay be never so urgent.5 thus it is that for more than two Months past I have scarcely immerged from one difficulty before I have plunged into another—how it will end God in his great goodness will direct, I am thankful for his protection to this time. We are told that we shall soon get the Army compleated, but I have been told so many things which have never come to pass, that I distrust every thing.

I fear your Fleet has been so long in Fitting, and the destination of it so well known, that the end will be defeated, if the Vessels escape.6 how is the arrival of French Troops in the west Indies, & the hostile appearance there, to be reconciled with that part of the Kings Speech wherein he assures Parliament, “that, as well from the Assurances I have receivd, as from the general appearance of Affair⟨s⟩ in Europe, I see no probability that the Measures which you may adopt will be interrupted by disputes with any foreign Power.”7

I hope the Congress will not think of adjourning at so Important, & critical a Juncture as this.8 I wish they would keep a watchful eye to New York—from Captn Searss Acct (now here) much is to be apprehended from that Quarter.9 A Fleet is now fitting out at Boston consisting of 5 Transports & two Bomb Vessels under Convoy of the Scarborough & Fowey Men of War—300 some say, others more, Troops are on board, with Flat bottom’d Boats—It is whisperd, as if designedly, that they are intended for New Port, but it is generally beleiv’d that they are bound either to long Island, or Virginia10—the other Transports are taking In Water & a good deal of Bisquet is Baking—some say for the Shipping to lay in Nantasket Road to be out of the way of Ice, whilst others think a more Important move is in Agitation—all however is conjecture—I heartily wish you, Mrs Reed & Family the Complts of the Season, in wch the Ladies here, & Family, join—Be assured that I am with Sincere Affecte & Regard

AL, RPJCB. GW inadvertently dated this letter 1775.

1These letters have not been found. While at Cambridge GW purchased three dozen large buttons and four dozen small ones from Richard Peacock for 10 shillings (receipted account, 3 April 1776, ser. 5, vol. 24, DLC:GW).

2The copies of George III’s speech of 26 Oct. 1775 arrived at Cambridge on 3 Jan., two days after the flag raising (see GW to Hancock, this date, and note 6). The “Eccho” anticipated by GW came from Parliament, each house of which answered the king with an address of thanks (see GW to Reed, 14 Jan. 1776). The “union flag” that was hoisted over the American camp apparently had a field of thirteen alternate red and white stripes with the British Grand Union, the superimposed crosses of St. George and St. Andrew, in the first canton. The confusion over its meaning may have been caused by the fact that the ensign normally used by the British was identical in design except that its field was solid red. An unidentified captain of a British transport in Boston Harbor wrote to the vessel’s owners in London on 17 Jan.: “I can see the Rebels’ camp very plain, whose colours, a little while ago, were entirely red; but, on the receipt of the King’s speech, (which they burnt,) they have hoisted the Union Flag, which is here supposed to intimate the union of the Provinces” (Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 4th ser., 4:710–12).

3For Molyneaux Shuldham’s arrival and the destinations of the five regiments that sailed from Cork, see GW to Hancock, this date, n.3. On 30 Dec. the entire 17th Regiment and six of the ten companies in the 55th Regiment were at Boston.

4GW intentionally omitted the word “powder.” See GW to Hancock, this date, n.2.

5For GW’s request that the Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island veterans who had not reenlisted remain with the army until the end of January, see General Orders, 28 Dec. 1775. For the departure of the Connecticut troops in early December, see GW to Jonathan Trumbull, 2 Dec., and GW to Hancock, 4, 11 Dec. 1775. For the calling out of the militia, see GW to the Massachusetts General Court, 29 Nov., n.1, GW to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 2 Dec., and note 3, GW to Hancock, 4 Dec., and Massachusetts General Court to GW, 7 Dec. 1775, n.1.

6The Continental navy’s first fleet was outfitted at Philadelphia in December, but ice in the Delaware River delayed its sailing until 18 February. The fleet’s initial destination was intended to be the Chesapeake Bay, which it was to clear of British warships if possible (see Naval Committee to Commodore Esek Hopkins, 5 Jan. 1776, in Clark, Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964—. description ends , 3:637–38). For GW’s previously expressed fears that the plan was too widely known to be successful, see GW to Reed, 25 Dec., and GW to Richard Henry Lee, 26 Dec. 1775.

7For the full text of the king’s speech of 26 Oct. 1775, see Parliamentary History description begins The Parliamentary History of England, from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803. 36 vols. London, 1806–20. description ends , 18:695–97. The French had informed the British in advance that they were reinforcing Martinique, Saint Domingue, and Guadeloupe with six battalions as a defensive measure. “France is certainly filling her West India Islands with troops,” Robert Morris wrote to Charles Lee from Philadelphia on 17 Feb. 1775. “The ostensible reason for doing so is that upon reconciliation between Great Britain and this Country the Great Force introduced into America during the disputes, may be employed to seize their Islands unless well prepared for defence; but I fancy their real design is to be able to take advantage whenever the event of this war, wherever opportunity offers” (Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 3:267–70).

8Congress debated the question of adjournment on 13 Dec., but ten days later the delegates reluctantly accepted the fact that the amount of business before them prevented a recess over the Christmas holidays much less to 1 Mar. as some had hoped (Richard Smith’s Diary, 13 Dec., Silas Deane to Elizabeth Deane, 15 Dec., and John Jay to Alexander McDougall, 23 Dec. 1775, in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 2:483–84, 488–89, 515).

9Isaac Sears (1730–1786), a ship captain and merchant who had long been an active member of the Sons of Liberty in New York City, had moved to New Haven by early October 1775, and in late November he raided New York with a small armed force that burned a naval supply vessel, captured several prominent Tories, and seized most of the type belonging to Loyalist printer, James Rivington (see Moore, Diary description begins Frank Moore. Diary of the American Revolution from Newspapers and Original Documents. 2 vols. New York, 1859–60. description ends , 1:173–75). When GW decided about 7 Jan. to send Charles Lee to defend New York City, Sears offered to help raise volunteers in Connecticut, and on 29 Jan. Lee appointed Sears acting adjutant general for the expedition with the temporary rank of lieutenant colonel (Lee’s Orders, 29 Jan. 1776, in Lee Papers description begins [Charles Lee]. The Lee Papers. 4 vols. New York, 1872-75. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 4–7. description ends , 1:263; see also GW to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 7 Jan., Lee to GW, 14 Feb., and GW to Reed, 26 Feb.—9 Mar. 1776). From 1777 to 1783 Sears lived in Boston, where he became involved in privateering.

10For the composition and destination of this fleet, see GW to Hancock, this date, n.4.

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