George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant General John Burgoyne, 25 November 1777

From Lieutenant General John Burgoyne

Cambridge [Mass.] Novber 25 1777


Your Excellency will have observed by the dispatch from Sir Willm Howe to me which passed thorough your hands, that it was matter of great doubt whether the transports destined to carry the troops to England according to the Convention would be able to make the Port of Boston in this advanced season of the year; & therefore that it might be advisable to send them to Rhode Island, upon the supposition that a mere change of place, which made no alteration in the intent & meaning of the convention, would be readily agreed to.1

That no time may be lost in an embarkation which I conceive will be equally desireable to the troops & to this Country in point of convenience, I take the earliest occasion to apply to your Excellency, or through your means if you judge necessary, to the Continental congress, for consent to march the troops to Providence, or such other place as may be commodious to pass them by small craft to Newport. This march to take place whenever advice shall be received of the arrival of the transports. Should any objection be against Rhode Island any convenient port in the Sound would equally answer the purpose.2

Should any considerations arise which I do not foresee to make the whole proposal objectionable to yourself or the Congress, & the troops should be obliged thereby to wait the passage of the transports round Cape Cod, I in that case request passports for myself & my suite to Rhode Island in order to embark on board a separate frigate; not only matters of great private concern in business, but also my state of health requiring my speedy return to England.3

I have no scruple, Sir, in asking this favour, at your hands, nor shall I have any in acknowledging it; confident that no duty is impaired by an intercourse of personal civilities in matters where the publick Cause cannot possibly be committed or affected.

The packet directed to Sir Willm Howe enclosed herewith contains recommendations in which the preferment of many meritorious individuals is deeply interested. I am persuaded Sir that description will be a full apology for troubling you to pass it by a trumpet. I have the honour to be Sir Your Most Obedient & Most Humble Servant

J: Burgoyne Lt Genl

ALS, DLC:GW; copy, P.R.O.: Colonial Office, Misc. Manuscripts, John Burgoyne Letter Book. William B. Sprague gave the addressed and docketed cover of the ALS to an autograph collector in the early nineteenth century, and it remains in private hands. GW enclosed a copy of this letter when writing to Henry Laurens on 14–15 December. That copy has not been found, but a nineteenth-century transcript apparently made from it is in ScHi: Henry Laurens Papers.

1William Howe forwarded his letter to Burgoyne of 8 Nov. under cover of a letter to GW dated 9 November. For GW’s unwillingness to condone changing the port of embarkation for the British forces captured at the Battle of Saratoga, see his letters to William Heath of 13 Nov. and to Horatio Gates of 14 November.

2GW transmitted a copy of this letter to Henry Laurens in his letter of 14–15 Dec., warning that the proposition concerning Burgoyne’s troops was “inadmissible.” On 17 Dec. Burgoyne’s letter was laid before Congress, which refused to consider altering the port of embarkation unless Burgoyne directly petitioned Congress (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 9:1032).

3GW expressed no opinion to Congress respecting Burgoyne’s request for a passport. After considering letters that recently had been exchanged among generals William Heath, Horatio Gates, and Burgoyne, however, Congress on 27 Dec. resolved “that the embarkation of himself [Burgoyne] and troops shall be suspended till a distinct and explicit ratification of the Convention shall be properly notified to these States by the court of Great Britain” (ibid., 1064). Burgoyne finally was paroled and allowed to leave Cambridge, Mass., on 5 April 1778. He arrived in England in mid-May.

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