George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Horatio Gates, 4 March 1779

From Major General Horatio Gates

Boston March 4th 1779


Yesterday I had the Honour to receive your Excellency’s Letter of the 14th Ulto from Middle-Brook. I am sorry to find Your Excellency seems to have given over all thoughts of penetrating into Canada by the Route of Co’os, after the preparations made for that purpose, at an incredible Expence.

I am satisfied you could not have advised with Two men, upon this Continent, better acquainted with the practicable Routes to the River St Lawrence, than General Bayley, and Colonel Hazen; the Latter being an Officer of great merit, and Service, and who long resided upon the River Sorell, and the former, the best of any acquainted with the Country between Co’os & Lake St Peters, who likewise has the most extensive influence upon the brave and Numerous Inhabitants in the Northern parts of the States which lie near Canada. As your Excellency advised with them, and Determined upon the Route by Co’os, I beg leave to express my Astonishment at the sudden change of your Sentiments, and relinquishment of that plan.1

To go into Canada by Lake Champlain, before the Enemy’s Fleet are taken, or destroyed, is almost impracticable; to Attempt it by Lake Ontario, before Niagara is taken, & the Vessels upon that Lake are removed, is still more difficult, as the Fort at La Galette must be reduced before the passage down the River St Lawrence is open to Montreal. I believe that in the present State of our Army, and the actual Situation of our Magazines, to attempt a serious Invasion of Canada, by whatever Route, would prove unsuccessful, unless the Fleet of Our Allies should, at the same time, co-operate with us, by Sailing up the River St Lawrence. In that Case, the Enemy’s Force, would, all (Their Fleet Excepted) move down the River, to Succour Quebec; and, our Armament from Co’os, assisted by the Canadians, who would Flock2 to meet us, might March in the Utmost Security, from Co’os to Lake St Peters.3 The Upper Canada would then be wholly Ours; and The English Fleet on Lake Champlain, thus rendered Useless, would be destroyed by its own Crews, before these should be ordered down the River, to make the best of their way to Quebec.

I much lament the Amazing and needless4 Expense that is incurred by the preparations making on the upper parts of Hudson’s River; for, I am confident, no Force of Ours can get into Canada, by either of the Routes from Albany, in the Year 1779. The last paragraph of Your Excellency’s Letter, alarms me exceedingly. There is no Magazine of Flower in all these States; and, to have no hopes of procuring One, either by Land, or Sea, is a most melancholly5 consideration.

The Navy Board here just now acquainted me with their having lost all Hopes of any Supply of Rice from South Carolina, that State having laid an Embargo on that Article.6 With very great Respect, & Esteem, I am, Sir, Your Excellency’s Most Obedient Humble Servant

Horatio Gates

LS, DLC:GW; ADfS, NHi: Gates Papers; copy, enclosed in Gates to John Jay, 15 March 1779, DNA:PCC, item 154; copy, DNA:PCC, item 171; copy, in James McHenry’s writing, enclosed in GW to John Jay, 14 April 1779, owned (2006) by Mr. Joseph Rubinfine, Cocoa, Fla. GW docketed the copy in McHenry’s writing: “From Genl Gates 4th Mar. 1779.”

1In a letter of 23 Jan. from “Camp Near Danbury,” Conn., Col. Moses Hazen had written Gates that “I am Told that great Preparations are making in albany for a western or northern Expedition which I must Confess I am at a loss to understand as by Genl Washingtons letter to me of a late Date he says that the Difficulty of Supplys and other reasons makes it necessary to suspend any opperations to the Northward for the present” (Gregory and Dunnings, “Gates Papers” description begins James Gregory and Thomas Dunnings, eds. “Horatio Gates Papers, 1726–1828.” Sanford, N.C., 1979. Microfilm. description ends ; see GW to Hazen, 7 Dec. 1778).

2At this place on the draft, Gates first wrote “repair.” He then struck out that word and wrote “Flock” above the line.

3Lake St. Peter (Lac St.-Pierre) is an approximately twenty-eight-mile-long portion of the St. Lawrence River where the banks reach a distance of ten miles apart just downstream from Sorel. An overland route from Coos, Vt., to Lake St. Peter is at least 150 miles.

4At this place on the draft, Gates first wrote “incredible.” He then struck out that word and wrote “amazing and needless” above the line.

5At this place on the draft, Gates first wrote “miserable.” He then struck out that word and wrote “most melancholly” above the line.

6Gates is referring to an embargo on the exportation of provisions, including rice, initiated by a resolution of Congress passed on 8 June 1778, modified on 2 Sept., and then extended on 2 Oct. (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 , 11:578–79, 12:861–62, 976–79; see also Henry Laurens to Rawlins Lowndes, 6 Oct. 1778, and Lowndes to Laurens, 24 Dec. 1778, Laurens Papers description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends , 14:385–88, 15:9–16). For the efforts of Massachusetts officials to procure grains from southern states after this embargo’s designated terminal date of 31 Jan. 1779, 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 , 13:257; Massachusetts Delegates to the Massachusetts Council, 1 March and 1 April 1779, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 12:129–30, 272). For the resumption of trade between South Carolina and Massachusetts, see Nathaniel Russell & Co. to Clark & Nightingale, 28 April, an enclosure with Gates to GW, 25 May (DLC:GW).

Index Entries