George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Laurens, 12 September 1778

To Henry Laurens

Head Quarters White Plains September 12th 1778


Inclosed, I have the honor to transmit Congress a copy of the report of a Board of Officers, who were appointed by me to consider what would be the most eligible plan for invading Canada; in case our future prospects and circumstances should justify the entreprise.1 The pains which General Gates has, for some time past, taken to inform himself on the subject, and the knowlege, which General Bailey and Col: Hazen possess of the country, induced me to make choice of these Gentlemen. It appears to me, that the mode recommended by them, for an expedition of this kind, is liable to fewest objections, and, though attended with many difficulties, affords a reasonable prospect of success. The great naval force of the enemy on the lakes is, in my opinion, an almost insurmountable obstacle to any attempt to penetrate by the ordinary communications.

The expediency of the undertaking in a military point of view will depend on the enemy’s evacuating these states and on the reinforcements they may send into Canada. While they keep their present footing, we shall find employment enough in defending ourselves, without meditating conquests; or if they send a large addition of strength into that country, it may require greater force and more abundant supplies on our part, to effect its reduction, than our resources may perhaps admit. But if they should leave us, and their other exigencies should oblige them to neglect Canada, we may derive essential advantage, from a successful expedition there; and if it should be thought adviseable, there is no time to be lost in making preparations, particularly if the idea of carrying it on in Winter be persued.

The great importance of the object both in a military and political light demands the sanction and concurrence of Congress, before any steps can be taken, towards, it with propriety. The peculiar preparations, which will be necessary, from the peculiar nature of the interprise is an additional motive with me, for requesting thus early, their determination; as a considerable expence must be incurred in procuring several articles which would not be requisite, but on this occasion. The soldiery must be clad in a particular manner to fit them for enduring the inclemencies of an active winter-campaign-a number of snow shoes must be provided and extraordinary means of transportation, to convey our stores and baggage through a country covered with snow, and, a great part of it, hitherto unexplored.

Congress will perceive, that valuable Magazines, both of provision and forage, may be laid up in the upper settlements on Connecticut River—I have given directions for this purpose; because if the expedition in question should be carried into execution, they will be indispensible; if it should not, they will still be very beneficial for supplying the army, especially if the war should be tranferred Eastward, which there are many powerful reasons to expect.

I shall not trouble Congress with more extensive details on the subject, as Colonel Hazen who will have the honor of delivering this, will be able to satisfy any inquiries they may be pleased to make. With the greatest respect and esteem I have the honor to be Sir Your most Obedt servant

Go: Washington

LS, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW signed the cover of the LS, which is docketed in part, “Read 15. Referred to Mr Lee, Mr Drayton” (see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 12:914).

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