George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Vice Admiral d’Estaing, 5 October 1778

To Vice Admiral d’Estaing

Head Quarters [Fishkill] 5th October 1778.


Two American Seamen who made their escape from a Prison-Ship at New York—report that the british fleet sailed ten days ago in quest of the French Squadron.1

This is an event of such importance and which from the nature of it admits so little of concealment—that I could not have been uninformed of it till now—supposing that it really happened; without the most unpardonable neglect in the Officer whom I have stationed in a convenient post, for the express purpose of discovering the enemys naval movements—neither do I think it could have escaped the vigilance of our spies—or have passed unnoticed in the daily accounts given us by Deserters—however as such a report exists—and a failure in all the regular sources of our intelligence, however unlikely, is still a possible misfortune—I have immediately dispatched an express to the Officers at outposts to have the matter speedily investigated2—and will do myself the honor to transmit Your Excellency the result of their inquiries—without delay—in the mean time I have thought it my duty to acquaint You Excellency with the report3—that you may not have any doubts or anxieties raised in your mind by hearing it from any other quarter—but by being apprised of it, know what attention to pay to it—and how to distinguish the original Story—from the same with such improvements and additions as reports generally acquire by travelling.

While I am writing—a Letter from General Sullivan of the 3d inst. informs me that Admiral Biron, accompanied by the Culloden had left Newport the Sunday preceding that date4—of this Your Excellency has doubtless received advice;5 it is a circumstance which seemingly favors the abovementioned intelligence. I have the honor to be with the most perfect respect and attachment Your Excellencys most obedient and most humble Servt

Go; Washington

LS, in John Laurens’s writing, FrPNA, Fonds de la Marine, ser. 4, vol. 146, ff. 285–86; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1This intelligence report was contained in Horatio Gates’s second letter to GW of 4 October. The previous Monday was 28 September.

2For these instructions, see GW’s letters of this date to Horatio Gates, Richard Howell, William Maxwell, Charles Scott, Stirling, and John Sullivan.

3The text of the draft reads: “to acquaint you with the report and its origin.”

4The Sunday preceding 3 Oct. was 27 September. Vice Adm. John Byron sailed from Newport, R.I., for New York on Monday, 28 Sept. (see Mackenzie Diary description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 2:399).

5The text of the draft reads: “this has doubtless been communicated to Your Excellency.”

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