George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Vice Admiral d’Estaing, 17 July 1778

From Vice Admiral d’Estaing

In the Rhode without SandyHook the 17th July 1778


The bar of the river Shrewsbury, the officer sailors and boats, that I have lost in the waves, have not hindered Colonel Laurens from bravg them twice to come and deliver me himself the letter, that you did me the honor to write me the 14th of this month. The desire of communicating with you alone could have induced me to hazard a descent myself the first, and with four grenadiers as my only support, in a place, the debarkation of which is as difficult as it was unknown; and where there existed not a single spot proper for embarkation. The sacrifice of several of my men appeared to me less affecting, as it was the sole mean of communication, I could have.1

I have occupied myself less with discovering the number of English vessels of war in the Rhode of Sandy Hook than the means of entering it. I suppose there fourteen vessels of war, a throng of frigates and a multitude of transports—This superiority of number and the goodness of the English navy will not hinder me from attacking Lord Howe in his retrenchment and under his batteries, if the depth of the water do not forbid me. I only received three pilots yesterday; they have need of recollecting their ideas, and are at this time sounding the river. The hope of giving you something positive on this head engaged me to pray your estimable, well-informed and most amiable Aide De Camp, to pass a bad night on board the Languedoc.

He will give you an account, Sir, of the regret I shall feel, if the powerful mark of friendship, which the King has given his allies, who are so dear to him, should not prove of so great utility as he might promise himself. I will not enter into any further detail in this letter. Mr Laurens will tell you more, than I can write. But it will be very important, that the arrival of so great a naval succour should produce at the same time a general effort by land. If unfortunately that should be impossible, you are too good a patriot and too great a soldier, not to feel the necessity, I shall be under, of going to seek elsewhere an opportunity of injuring our common enemy. The places, that you shall point out to me, will appear to me preferable—whenever naval circumstances and the state of my supplies will permit. ’Tis with the greatest pleasure, that I learn from Mr Gerard, the King’s minister, that you are cloathed with the most ample powers, to treat with me on military operations. I cannot act, either far or near under the auspices of a greater master—You are a master; and you know, that the instant one thing becomes necessary, we ought to attempt another.

I have received a printed list of the eleven English vessels of the line, which are announced to us, on very good part. This news published by order of the Congress acquires an authenticity whi⟨ch⟩ merits the highest attention.2

Accept my compliment upon your last victory. Even were not the success of America become our own, by the intimate bands which bind us together; it would be impossible as a soldier and as a man not to participate in it. It is natural to love to see one laurel more adorning the brow of a great man. I have the honor to be &c.

Translation, DLC:GW; ALS, in French, DLC:GW; Df, FrPNA: Marine, B4, I46.

1D’Estaing’s report to the French marine minister indicated that the fleet’s need for water as well as his desire to communicate with GW necessitated this landing, which included 400 infantry under the command of Charles-Edouard-Frédéric Henry, comte de Macdonald (Doniol, Histoire de la Participation de la France, 3:327)

2Congress had ordered publication of a letter from the American commissioners in France carrying news of eleven English vessels bound for America (see Henry Laurens to GW, 10 July, n.3), but no printed list of those vessels has been identified.

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