George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens, 2 September 1778

From Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens

Providence 2d [September]1 1778.


I had the honor of writing to Your Excellency previous to the Action of the 29th. my letter was committed to the care of Major Gibbes—and he destroyed it as soon as the engagement commenced, to guard against accidents—As Your Excellency has already received minute accounts of the transactions of that day from those who saw them in a more collective View, than the nature of my command afforded me—any farther relation is rendered unnecessary. I shall confine myself therefore to congratulating your Excellency on the happy termination, of an expedition which at one period was threatened with the most tragical Catastrophe—The Advantages gained in the affair of Portsmouth, and the brilliant retreat which succeeded it—by doing honor to the american Arms, consoled us in some degree for the loss of our grand object—The movements which your Excellency has observed at New York—the arrival of Seventy Sail of Vessels in the Road of Newport—the appearance of twenty Sail of[f] Boston—are circumstances which keep us in suspence with respect to the enemys intentions—General Greene has requested that I would remain in this quarter ’till they can be interpreted—in the mean time—as he agrees with me that if the enemy mean to act offensively here, a few days preparation will be required—I have thought it incumbent on me, as part of the commission with which Your Excellency honored me, to wait on Count D’Estaing—and ask if he has any dispatches for Head Quarters—it will be my greatest happiness if I can be useful in explaining the causes of mutual Jealousy and Uneasiness which have subsisted between the Officers of the allied powers here—and be any ways instrumental in restoring that harmony which the common interest requires.

I foretold to the Marquis, the influence which the Counts departure from the Road of Newport wd probably have upon the minds of the people—the danger of its reviving those absurd prejudices which we inherited from the british nation—unhappily the mischief has become more extensive by the unguarded expressions of some men of rank—who listened to their chagrin rather than good policy—Reflection however begins to induce a more cautious behavior; and I am in hopes that the confidence of the people in our new allies will be restored.

The Count’s Sensibility was much wounded by the manner in which the American protest was delivered to him—in a letter to Genl Sullivan he declares that this paper imposed on the Commander of the Kings Squadron the painful but necessary law of profound silence—that he had taken occasion however relatively to some other business—to acquaint him that if the Council of Boston accepted his offer—(which was to repair to Rhode Island at the Head of his land Troops & receive Genl Sullivans orders)—he would promise the most implicit obedience on the part of his troops and set them the example of it—that the extreme sensibility which composed the french national character, in every thing that relates to their honor—required that the french commander in chief shd by his Sentiments for the American General, and by a conspicuous measure, announce that french delicacy could not be wounded in a moment of passion, which arose from disappointment felt alike by both parties—in a postscript he requests that the Marquis de la fayette may explain matters between them.2

the expressions of the Count’s Letter are rather obscure—but by discovering an inclination to make great personal sacrifices—is in my opinion a foundation, for restoring harmony and a good understanding—Genl Sullivans Answer, I hope will improve it. I have the honor to be with the greatest attachment and respect Your Excellencys most obedt Servt

John Laurens.

If I have not taken the precaution to mark particular letters, private—the contents will have announced to Your Excelly which were not intended as official. if I recollect right the two first only were marked on public Service.


1Laurens wrote “August,” but someone crossed that out and wrote “September” above it; the docket was also changed from August to September; and the reference to “the Action of the 29th” makes it clear that September is correct.

2The translation in Laurens’s writing of Vice Admiral d’Estaing’s letter to Maj. Gen. John Sullivan, dated 29 Aug., in DLC:GW, was likely sent to GW by d’Estaing on 5 September. The translation of the letter printed in Hammond, Sullivan Papers description begins Otis G. Hammond, ed. Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan, Continental Army. 3 vols. Concord, 1930-39. In Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society, vols. 13–15. description ends , 2:277–78, is dated 30 August.

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