From Major General Horatio Gates
Albany December 8th 1777
I shall not attempt to describe what, as a private Gentleman, I cannot help feeling, on representing to my Mind, the disagreeable Situation, which confidential Letters, when exposed to public Inspection, may place an unsuspecting Correspondent to; but, as a public Officer, I conjure your Excellency, to give me all the Assistance you can, in tracing out the Author of the Infedelity, which put Extracts from General Conway’s Letters to me, into your Hands. Those Letters have been stealingly copied; but, which of them, when, or by whom, is to me, as yet, an unfathomable Secret.
There is not one Officer in my Suite, nor amongst those who have a free Access to me, upon whom I could, with the least Justification to myself, fix the Suspicion; and yet, my Uneasiness may deprive me of the Usefulness of the worthiest Men. It is, I believe, in your Excellency’s Power to do me, and the United States a very important Service, by detecting a Wretch, who may betray me, and capitally injure the very Operations under your immediate Direction. For this Reason, Sir, I beg your Excellency will favor me with the Proofs you can procure to that Effect. But, the Crime being, eventually, so important, that the least Loss of Time may be attended with the worst Consequences; and, it being unknown to me, whether the Letter came to you from a Member of Congress, or from an Officer, I shall have the Honor of transmitting a Copy of this to the President, that the Congress may, in Consert with your Excellency, obtain, as soon as possible, a Discovery, which so deeply affects the Safety of the States.1 Crimes of that Magnitude ought not to remain unpunished.2 I have the Honor to be, Sir, with the greatest Respect, Your Excellency’s most humble, & most obedient Servant,
LS, DLC:GW; ADf, NHi: Gates Papers; copy, enclosed in Gates to Henry Laurens, 8 Dec. 1777, DNA:PCC, item 154. Robert Hanson Harrison’s docket on the LS reads in part “respecting Genl Conway ansd 4 January 1778 answer within.” Beneath Harrison’s docket someone else wrote “Conway’s affair.”
1. Gates enclosed a copy of this letter in his letter to Henry Laurens of this date, in which he says: “The perusal of the inclosed will sufficiently inform Your Excellency of the Treachery, which occasioned my writing to General Washington, that I might discover the Wretch, who betrayed me. The same Anxiety dictates this Letter, that the whole being communicated to Congress, the Criminal may be the sooner detected. The reasonable Fear of my being deprived of important Intelligence, from Correspondents rendered diffident, and the Danger of my being betrayed to the Enemy, by the same Traitor, or the Indiscretion of the Persons, to whom his Confidents may Communicate Secrets of the greatest Consequence, must affect Your Excellency, and every Friend to the United States. I cannot believe that the traiterous Thief will long escape Detection, after the patriotism of the Delegates shall have been Alarmed” (DNA:PCC, item 57; see also Laurens Papers description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends , 12:135–36).
2. On the draft Gates first wrote “must be punished” before changing the phrase to read as it does in the text of the LS.