George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Charles Lee, 24 January 1776

From Major General Charles Lee

Stamford [Conn.] Janry the 24th 1776

Dr General

It was unnecessary sooner to trouble you with my scrowl—as I cou’d give you no information, the least interesting[.] I find the People through this Province more alert and zealous than my most sanguine expectation—I believe I might have collected ten thoushand Volunteers—I take only four Companies with me and Waterbury’s Regt which is so happily situated on the frontier—Wards Regt I have order’d to remain at their respective homes untill They hear further1—these Connecticutians are, if possible, more eager to go out of their Country than They are to return home when They have been out for any considerable time—inclosd I send you My letter to the General Congress—that of the Provincial Congress of N. York to me, with my answer,2 I hope it will have your approbation—The Whigs, I mean the stout ones, are it is said, very desirous that a Body of Troops shou’d march and be station’d in their City—the Timid ones are averse merely from the spirit of procrastination which is the characteristic of timidity—the letter of the Provincial Congress, You will observe, breaths the very essence of this Spirit—it is wofully hysterical—I conclude I shall receive the orders of the General Congress before or immediately on my arrival—otherwise I shou’d not venture to march into the Province—as by their late resolve evry detachment of the Continental Troops is to be under the direction of the Provincial Congress in which They are—a resolve, I must say with submis⟨sion⟩ to their Wisdom, fraught with difficulties and evil—it is impossible having two Sovereigns, that any busyness shoud be carried on—have You seen the pamphlet Common Sense? I never saw such a masterly irresistible performance—it will if I mistake not, in concurrence with the transcendant folly and wickedness of the Ministry give the coup de grace to G. Britain—in short I own myself convinc’d by the arguments of the necessity of seperation3—Poor Brave Montgomery! but it is not a time to cry but to revenge—God bless You, My Dr General, and crown us with the success I am sure We merit from the goodness of our cause—My love to the Ladies—I shall write a long letter to Gates when I have time and Materials—adieu, Yours most affectionately.

C. Lee


1Lee summoned Col. Andrew Ward’s regiment to New York in early February. See Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., to GW, 12 Feb. 1776.

2Lee enclosed copies of his letter to Hancock of 22 Jan., the New York committee of safety’s letter to him of 21 Jan., and his reply of 23 Jan. 1776 to the chairman of the committee of safety, Peter Van Brugh Livingston (all in DLC:GW; see also 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 , 1:242–44, 247–51, 256–58). In his letter to Hancock, Lee discussed the strategic importance of New York and gave his ideas for dealing with the Loyalists in and near the city. “This,” Lee wrote, “is not a Crisis . . . to be over complacent to the timidity of the Inhabitants of any particular spot. I have now under my Command a respectable force adequate to the purpose of securing the place and purging all its environs of Traitors, on which Subject, I shall expect with impatience the determination of the Congress; their Orders I hope to receive before or immediately on my Arrival.”

The members of the New York committee of safety requested Lee in their letter of 21 Jan. to halt his force “on the Western confines of Connecticutt, ’till we shall have been honoured by you with such an explanation on this important Subject, as you may conceive your Duty may permit you to enter into with us.” Provisions, entrenching tools, and artillery, they informed Lee, were being collected, but the fortifications and supply of gunpowder were inadequate to defend the city against the British warships anchored there. “A just regard to the public Cause,” they wrote, “and our Duty to take a prudent Care of this City, dictate the impropriety of provoking Hostilities at present, and the necessity of saving appearances with the Ships of War till at least the Month of March.”

In his reply of 23 Jan. to Livingston, Lee denied any intention of initiating hostilities with warships. “The motive of the General for detaching me,” he wrote, “was solely to prevent the Enemy from taking Post in your City or lodging themselves in Long Island Which We have the greatest reason to think Sir, is their design—some subordinate purposes were likewise to be executed which are much more proper to be communicated by word of mouth than by writing—but I give you my word that no active service is propos’d, as you seem to aprehend—if the Ships of War are quiet I shall be quiet but I declare solemnly that if they make a pretext of my presence to fire on the Town the first house set in flames by their Guns shall be the funeral pile of some [of] their best Friends—but I believe, Sir, the Inhabitants may rest in security on this Subject. . . . in compliance, Sir, with your request I shall only carry with me into Town a force just strong enough to secure it against any designs of the Enemy untill it shall please the Continental Congress to take measures for its permanent security, the main Body I shall leave on the Western Frontiers of Connecticut according to your directions. I hope Sir, and persuade myself that the Committee and inhabitants can have no objection to this Plan—if Mr Tryon and the Capts. of the Ships of War are to prescribe what numbers are and what numbers are not to enter the Town—They are absolute Dictators to all intents and purposes—the condition is too humiliating for freemen to put up with.”

3Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense was published in Philadelphia on 10 January. For GW’s opinion of the pamphlet, see GW to Joseph Reed, 31 Jan. and 1 April 1776.

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