George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Vice Admiral d’Estaing, 14 July 1778

To Vice Admiral d’Estaing

Camp at pyramus [N.J.] July 14th 1778


I take the earliest opportunity to advise you, that I have been informed of your arrival on this coast, with a fleet of Ships under your command, belonging to his most Christian Majesty, our Great Ally. I congratulate you, Sir, most sincerely upon this event and beg leave to assure you of my warmest wishes for your success. The intelligence of your arrival was communicated to me last night, by a Letter from the Honble Mr Laurens, president of the Congress, as you will perceive by the inclosed copy.1

With respect to the number or force of the British ships of War, in the port of New York, I am so unhappy, as not to be able to inform you of either, with the precision, I could wish2 as they are constantly shifting their Stations. It is probable and I hope it is the case, that your advices on this subject from some captures you may have made, are more certain than those of Congress, or any I can offer. The number of their transports is reported to be extremely great, and I am persuaded that it is. If possible, I will obtain an accurate state of their Ships of war, which I shall do myself the honor of transmitting to you.

Before I conclude, I think it proper to acquaint you, that I am now arrived with the main body of the Army, immediately under my command, within twenty miles of the North or Hudson’s river, which I mean to pass as soon as possible about fifty miles above New York. I shall then move down before the Enemy’s lines, with a view of giving them every jealousy in my power. And I further think it proper to assure you, that I shall upon every occasion feel the strongest inclination to facilitate such enterprizes as you may form and are pleased to communicate to me.3

I would submit it to your consideration, whether it will not be expedient to establish some conventional signals, for the purpose of promoting an easier correspondence between us & mutual intelligence. If you deem it expedient, you will be so obliging as to fix upon them, with Lieut. Colo. Laurens, One of my Aids, who will have the honor of delivering you this, and of giving you satisfaction in many particulars respecting our affairs, and to whom you may safely confide any measures or information you may wish me to be acquainted with.

I have just received advice, that the Enemy are in daily expectation of a provision fleet from Cork, and that they are under great apprehensions, lest it should fall into your hands.4 You will also permit me to notice, that there is a navigation to New-York from the sea, besides the one between Sandy Hook & Long Island. This lies between the latter and the state of Connecticut—is commonly known by the name of the sound and is capable of receiving forty Gun Ships, though the passage within seven miles of the City at a particular place is extremely narrow & difficult. I have the Honor to be with great respect Sir Yr Most Obedt sevt

G. Washington

Df, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; copy, enclosed in GW to Henry Laurens, 22 July (second letter), DNA:PCC, item 152; copy (extract), FrPBN; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The text of the extract is the first paragraph of the draft.

1The enclosed copy of Henry Laurens’s letter to GW of 10 July has not been found.

2The remainder of this sentence was inserted on the draft in the writing of Tench Tilghman.

An undated document, in the hand of GW’s assistant secretary James McHenry, ruminates about the prospects for joint operations: “I admit this proposition that, In case the enemy do not mean to operate offensively their primary object will be the preservation of their fleet and army at N. York and Rhode Island—or a removal to places where they can be of more use to Great Britain.

“What are we to expect from a blockade if N. York is fixed on for such an experiment; and in case the Admiral cannot pass the bar? are we certain that the garrison want provisions or that they have not enough to hold the place till they can be relieved. To set out on such a belief is precarious. Besides the slow steps of a blockade against such a large force, is of hazardous & uncertain issue. But, are we informed that France can pursue her plans against the English dominions, and at the same time counteract such naval force as may be sent out to ruin the blockade. This supposes, at least the French naval strength equal to the British and the chances of an engagement in favor of the French.

“It may be said that the army in America is of so much importance to Englands existence as a power, that we must beleive her both blind and insane to suffer it to fall a sacrifice. The instance would be unexampelled. She will therefore it may be supposed risque every thing for the relief of N. York in case of a blockade. Of course little is to ⟨be⟩ expected from its cold operations But if any thing is to be meditated against N. York it must be sudden—While the Count d’Estaign passes the Hook (if this is practicable) we should strike some of their posts, at the same instant.

“All manouvers by land against New-York will have more of show than efficacy on our part—The most we can effect will be cutting off all supplies from the Country.

“A descent upon Rhode Island seems to promise more success, while at the same time [it] has a less hazardous complexion, both with respect to our army and the French fleet. Both can act with more certainty at Rhode Island and co-operrate more in view of each other than at N. York. and if successful here N. York still remains.

“But An attack upon this place should be rapid and completed before they can either reinforce that post or withdraw the garrison. The present moment is precious—we should loose some blood in order to make the Count d’Estaign generous of his.

“The present moment is also precious to France. The Count d’Estaign’s armament was destined to take advantage of this conjuncture. If therefore the Count does not operate now—his purpose and intentions may soon be counteracted by the arrival of an English squadron, or a new disposition of General Clintons force and Lord Howes fleet” (CSmH).

4For this intelligence, see Francis Barber to GW, 13 July. The information is also reported in the examinations of No. 1 and No. 2, n.d., FrPNA: Marine, B4, I43.

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