George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Pierre-Charles L’Enfant, 4 September 1778

From Pierre-Charles L’Enfant

White Plains, September the 4th 1778


It is with the greatest surprize that I have read in the New York papers, the pretended Translation of a Letter I had written to a Friend of mine in Europe.1

Of all the little, mean Tricks the English makes use of to sow dissentions among their Adversaries, This is indeed the most odious and abominable. They have most Villainously abused of the Liberty of a Translator, and have artfully altered the Words and Phrases of my Letter to a most horrid performance.

Your Excellency may remain assured, that the real Letter I wrote to my Friend was nothing but a faithful Exposition of the real State of the Army. I wondered with him that with so few means, and so little Experience, the Americans had been able to withstand the flower of the British Troops. But all the injurious reflections, and Even hazarded Expressions that are artfully thrown in the Translation, they are certainly the Work of a newspaper writer, hired undoubtedly by Government for Such inequitous purposes.

I dare hope however, Sir, that my Conduct since I have the honor to serve in the Army under your Command, and my Zeal in sharing All their labours and dangers, has convinced fully, that I have never been able to Entertain sentiments such as Mr Rivington gives me.2 I Shall haste to insert in the publick papers an Explicit disavowal of my Letter, such as it is translated in the New York Gazette.3 And as Your Excellency’s Esteem is infinitely precious to me, I beg you will accept of my Justification, & render Justice to my Sentiments. I have the honor to be With great respect Sir Your Excellency’s Most obedient and most humble servant

P. L’Enfant


1The translation of a letter dated 3 Nov. 1777 “To Mons. L’Ogett, at the Castle of Chaville, near Versailles, road to Paris,” appeared in the Royal Gazette (New York) of 10 June 1778. In the letter, L’Enfant complained that “the Congress have refused complying with any of their promises, and have been guilty of a breach of justice and good faith, by refusing to comply with their engagements, and in addition to our misfortunes we found ourselves without resources by the death of the unhappy Monsieur De Coudraye.” While he was “determin’d to stay this winter with the army and act as a volunteer, that I may be under no obligations to the Congress,” L’Enfant announced his “intention of returning to you in the spring.” Considering military matters, L’Enfant pointed out that the defeat of Burgoyne’s army more than made up for the losses of Fort Ticonderoga and Philadelphia but claimed that the Americans had “been fortunate, and not more brave on that account, for to speak freely of them, they are cowards of the first order, beginning with their officers who have no one point of honour, they are all haughty, there is no discipline throughout their army, all is disorder, they resemble the beggars we see in the court yards before our hospitals, some naked, others covered with rags; they are scared at the least noise, and ever ready for flight, they never face their enemy, but, as soon as they have thrown in their fire they run and hide themselves in the woods, and leave their leaders destitute of assistance.”

2James Rivington (1724–1802), a London-born bookseller and printer, commenced publishing Rivington’s New-York Gazette in 1773, and at this time he was publishing the Royal Gazette.

3No published disavowal has been identified.

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