George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Laurens, 16 March 1779

From Henry Laurens

Philadelphia 16th March 1779.


I had the honor of addressing Your Excellency under the 2d Inst. this is chiefly intended to convey extracts of Letters which I received last night from Charles Town, these shew our affairs in the southern department in a more favorable light, than we had view’d them in, some few days ago1—nevertheless the Country is greatly distressed & will be more so, unless further reinforcements are sent to its relief. had we Arms for 3000. such black Men as I could select in Carolina I should have no doubt of success in driving the British out of Georgia & subduing East Florida before the end of July.2

The packet which Your Excellency sent to go by Capt. McQueen rests in my hands,3 probably it will pass through Camp under the protection of Mr Gerard who intends a journey through New Jersey in a few days, & tis equally probable Your Excellency will continue it under the same care. where Mr Gerard is going to, is a subject not to be talk’d of at present, & yet ’tis two to one Sir, that you have heard it.4

Capt. McQueen is determined to return to Charles Town. he agrees with me in opinion, that the Packet will be in a fairer way for safety & dispatch in the Minister’s hand than in his.

I beg my respectful Compliments to Mrs Washington & that Your Excellency will believe that I continue with the highest respect & most sincere attachment Sir. Your obliged & obedt servt

Henry Laurens.


1Laurens enclosed extracts of the letter that Brig. Gen. Andrew Williamson wrote to John Lewis Gervais on 16 Feb. from his camp near Adams Ferry, S.C., and Gervais’s letter to Laurens of 23 Feb., both of which are in DLC:GW. Williamson’s letter conveyed the news “that the Enemy precipitately evacuated Augusta [Ga.] about one o’clock on Sunday Morning [14 Feb.] after having destroyed the Flats which they had constructed in order to cross the [Savannah] River—Colonel [Archibald] Campbell left his wounded with a polite Letter recommending them to my care, a proof that the cause of his retreat was sudden and unexpected—I immediately detached about 300 Horsemen to pursue the Enemy and hang upon their skirts and rear as it would give countenance to desertion and keep the Enemy in continual alarm.... This important event has prevented the back Country from ruin and devastation and of course the seat of War will be transferred into the lower part of the Country.” Williamson also discussed Loyalist activities in Georgia and South Carolina and relations with the Creek and Cherokee Indians (for additional text from this enclosure, see n.2 to this letter, and GW to Laurens, 20 March, n.1).

A copy of Williamson’s letter had been enclosed in Gervais’s letter to Laurens of 23 Feb., in which Gervais discussed the acts recently passed by the South Carolina general assembly to strengthen the executive’s powers to defend the state, to alter and amend the militia, to extend the time for taking the oath of allegiance to the state, and to punish persons who joined or assisted the enemy.

2In the enclosed extract of Williamson’s letter to Gervais of 16 Feb., Williamson wrote: “The Enemy have made very free with the property of both of those who professed their attachments to their Measures, and of others; Numbers of Negroes have gone with them. Upwards of 200 of Mr Galphing’s [George Galphin] (altho’ such an indulgent Master) have followed the example and gone” (DLC:GW).

In early 1778, Henry Laurens’s son Lt. Col. John Laurens, who was one of GW’s aides-de-camp, had proposed a plan to raise a black regiment in South Carolina. The Laurenses had corresponded at some length on that subject, and on 2 Feb. 1778 John Laurens wrote his father that GW “is convinced that the numerous tribes of blacks in the Southern parts of the Continent offer a resource to us that should not be neglected—with respect to my particular Plan, he only objects to it with the arguments of Pity, for a man who would be less rich than he might be” (Laurens Papers description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends , 12:392; see also Laurens Papers description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends , 12:305, 328, 367–68, 398, 412–13, 430, 446–47, 494, 534). Nothing had come of the black regiment scheme at that time, but the threat of a British invasion of South Carolina in early 1779 prompted John Laurens to revive it. On 17 Feb. 1779 he wrote his father from Middlebrook that only Spanish entry into the war or “my black project” could save South Carolina, and on 6 March he asked his father to obtain from Congress a recommendation of his plan to the states of South Carolina and Georgia (Laurens Papers description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends , 15:59–60, and n.3). By 15 March, John Laurens had taken a leave of absence from GW’s headquarters to pursue his plan in South Carolina (see GW to John Rutledge, 15 March, and Alexander Hamilton to John Jay, 14 March, in Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 2:17–19). On 29 March, Congress, acting on a report from a congressional committee that included Henry Laurens, resolved to recommend “to the states of South Carolina and Georgia, if they shall think the same expedient, to take measures immediately for raising three thousand able bodied negroes,” and “That the said negroes be formed into separate corps as battalions, according to the arrangements adopted for the main army, to be commanded by white commissioned and non commissioned officers.” Congress further recommended that “every negro who shall well and faithfully serve as a soldier to the end of the present war, and shall then return his arms, be emancipated and receive the sum of fifty dollars” (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 , 13:374, 387–88; see also Laurens Papers description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends , 15:72–73). John Laurens, however, was never able to persuade the South Carolina legislature to approve the raising of a black corps. For GW’s reservations about the project, see his letter to Henry Laurens of 20 March.

3Laurens is referring to GW’s letter to Lafayette of 8–10 March and the enclosed duplicates of GW’s letters to Benjamin Franklin of 28 Dec. 1778 and Lafayette of 29 Dec. 1778. None of these letters apparently reached Lafayette (see GW to Lafayette, 30 Sept. 1779, DLC:GW). GW sent triplicates of the two December 1778 letters with his letter to Lafayette of 20 Oct. 1779 (DLC:GW).

4Conrad-Alexandre Gérard, the French minister to the United States, apparently postponed his trip. He visited GW’s Middlebrook headquarters from 27 April to 3 May.

In a letter of 2 April from Middlebrook, GW’s assistant secretary James McHenry wrote to Maj. Henry Lee, Jr., at Burlington, N.J.: “The french Envoy being expected on a visit this way, it is his Excellency’s desire to do him all possible honor. He has therefore to request you to have in readiness a captain’s command to receive Mr Gerard at Trenton, and to escort him to Head Quarters. Notice will be given you of the time of his setting out by the Baron Steuben, who is to write you by express from Philadelphia. When you receive the Envoy at Trenton, you will dispatch a horseman to his Excellency, with his route and intended stages, that he may be able to judge of the day on which the Envoy may be looked for” (MH: Dearborn Collection).

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