George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lord Howe, 13 July 1776

From Lord Howe

Eagle Off of Staten Island July the 13th 1776


The Situation in which you are placed and the acknowledged liberality of your Sentiments, induce me very much to wish for an opportunity to converse with you on the Subject of the Commission with which I have the honor to be charged; As I trust that a dispassionate consideration of the Kings benevolent intentions, may be the means of preventing the further Effusion of Blood, and become productive of Peace and lasting Union between Great Britain and America.1

If this proposal should be acceptable, I would advance in a Frigate to have the pleasure to receive you, as near to the Town of New York as will be most for your accommodation.

I flatter myself I shall find no difficulty in obtaining Credit to my Assurances for the perfect safety of your Person, & free liberty to return on Shore at your Pleasure. Tho’ I shall be equally ready to afford any more preferable Security that may be required, in case no other objection occurs to the desired Interview. I am Sir Your sincere ⟨mutilated⟩.

Copy, in Richard Howe’s writing, MiU-C: Howe Papers. Howe addressed this unsigned document below the closing to “George Washington Esqr. &c.—&c.—” and on the reverse side he endorsed it: “Copy of the proposed Lre to Genl Washington of 13th July 1776.”

The omission of GW’s military title from the address prevented delivery of the unfound signed letter on 14 July. In his journal entry for that date, Samuel Blachley Webb wrote: “A Flag of Truce from the fleet appeared, on which Colo. [Joseph] Reed and myself, went down to meet it, about half way between Governors and Staten Islands. Lieutenant [Philip] Brown, of the Eagle, offered a Letter from Lord Howe, directed George Washington Esqr., which on acct. of its direction, we refused to Receive, and parted with the usual Compliments” (Ford, Webb Correspondence and Journals description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed. Correspondence and Journals of Samuel Blachley Webb. 3 vols. New York, 1893–94. description ends , 1:155; see also ibid., 3:293–94). Ambrose Serle, who was aboard the Eagle on 14 July, wrote in his journal that Lieutenant Brown “was dispatched with a Flag of Truce to Washington at New York. He was stopped by three Boats at a little Distance from the Town, demanding his Business. Upon being told that he had a Letter from Lord Howe to their Commander, they ordered him to lay to, while one of the Boats went to the Shore for Directions. In a short time, three officers came off, and desired to know to whom the Letter was addressed. They would not touch it, but begged the Lieutenant to read it. As the Address was, To George Washington Esq. &c. &c. &c. they said, there was no such Person among them, and therefore would not receive it. Upon being asked what Address they required, it was answered, that ‘all the World knew who Genl. Washington was since the Transactions of last Summer”’ (Tatum, Serle’s Journal description begins Edward H. Tatum, Jr., ed. The American Journal of Ambrose Serle: Secretary to Lord Howe, 1776–1778. San Marino, Calif., 1940. description ends , 31–33). Lt. Col. Benjamin Tupper intercepted Brown’s boat in the harbor and sent ashore for instructions. Reed and Webb were accompanied at the interview with Brown by Col. Henry Knox, who described the meeting in his letter to his wife Lucy of 15 July (NNGL: Knox Papers; see also Clap, “Diary,” 247, and GW to Hancock, 14 July). For a similar incident involving a letter from General Howe, see William Howe to GW, 16 July.

Paymaster General William Palfrey, who went aboard Howe’s flagship, the Eagle, with a flag of truce on 30 July, says in a letter to Hancock of 31 July that Lord Howe “spoke with the highest respect of General Washington, and lamented the nice distinctions which, he said, prevented his addressing General Washington by letter; said that he wished to convey his sentiments to him by letter, in any mode of address that might prevent his being blamed by the King, his master. In all discourse, called him General Washington, and frequently said, the States of America. . . . His Lordship hinted an inclination that I should take the letter for General Washington, with the addition of &c., &c., &c.; which he said would imply everything that we could desire, and, at the same time, save him from censure. I gave him to understand, that as it had been before refused under the same circumstances, I could not with propriety receive it, especially as it was against the express direction of Congress” (MH: Jared Sparks Collection).

1Lord Howe and his brother Gen. William Howe had been appointed peace commissioners on 27 April 1776.

Index Entries