George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Lafayette, 12–13 June 1779

From Major General Lafayette

St jean d’angely Near Rochefort harbour [France]
12th[–13] june 1779

My dear General

Here is at lenght a Safe occasion of writing to you, here I May tell you What Sincere Concern I feel at our Separation—There was never a friend, my dear general, So much, so tenderly Belov’d, as I do love and Respect you—happy in our union, in the pleasure of living with you, in that So Charming Satisfaction of partaking any Sentiment of your heart, any event of Your life, I had taken Such an habit of being inseparable from you, that I Can’t Now get the use of absence and I am more and more afflicted of that distance which keeps Me so far from my dearest friend1—I am the more Concern’d in this particular time, My dear General, that I think the Campaign is oppen’d, you are in the field, and I ardently wish I Might be there Next by you, know any interesting event, and if possible Contribute to Your succes and glory—Forgive me for what I am going to Say, But I ca’nt help Reminding you that a Commander in chief should never too Much expose himself, that in Case General Washington was kill’d, Nay was Seriously Wounded, there is no officer in the Army who Might fill that place, that Battle or Action whatsoever should most Certainly Be lost, and the American Army, the American Cause itself would perhaps be entirely Ruin’d.

inclos’d I Send your excellency a Copy of My letter to Congress, in which you will find Such intelligences as I was to give them2—The Chevalier de la luzerne intends going to Congress through head quarters—I promis’d I would introduce him to yr excellency, and I have Requir’d him to let you know any piece of news he has been intrusted with—Such a conversation will better acquaint You than the longest letter—The Ministry told me they would let him know the true State of Affairs Before his departure3—By What you will hear, my dear general, you’ll see that our affairs take a good turn, and I hope england will get a good stroke Before the end of the Campaign—Besides the good dispositions of spain, ireland is good deal tir’d with english tiranny—I in Confidence tell you that the Scheme of My heart would be to Make it as free and independent as America—Some private intelligences I have form’d there—God grant They Might Succeed, and the era of freedom Might at lenght arrive for the happiness of Mankind—I Will know more about ireland in Some Weeks and that I will immediately Communicate to Your Excellency4—for Congress, My dear General, there are so Many people in it that one ca’nt Safely unbosom himself as he does with his Best friend.

in Refering you to Mr le Cher. de la luzerne for what Concerns the public News of this time, the present situation of affairs And the designs of our Ministry, I will only Speak to Your excellency About that great article, Money—it Gave me much Trouble, and I So much insisted upon it that the Director of finances5 looks upon me as a devil—France has Made great expenses lately, those Spaniards Wo’nt give easely theyr dollars—however, dr franklin has got Some Monney for to pay the Bills of Congress,6 and I hope I Shall determine them to greater Sacrifices—serving America, My dear General, is to My heart an unexpressible happiness.

There is an other point for which you Should employ all Your influence and popularity—for god’s Sake prevent theyr loudly disputing together—Nothing hurts So much the interests and Reputation of America than to hear of theyr intestine quarrels—on the other hand there are two partys in france—Monsieurs Adams and lee on one part, doctor franklin and his friends on the other7—So great is the Concern which these divisions give me, that I Can’t wait on these Gentlemen as Much as I Could wish, for fear of occasioning disputes, and Bringing them to a greater light—that, My dear General, I entrust to Your frienship, But I Could not help touching that String in My letter to Congress.8

Since I left America, My dear General, not a Single line arriv’d from you9—That I attribute to winds, accidents, and deficiency of occasions for I dare flatter Myself General washington, Would Not loose that of Making his friend happy—in the Name of that Very Friendship, My dear General, Never Miss any opportunity of letting me know how you do—I Can’t express you how uneasy I feel on Account of your health, and the dangers you perhaps in this Moment are exposing yourself to—Those you possibly May laugh at and Call woman-like Considerations, but so, my dear friend, I feel, and any Sentiment of My heart I Never Could, Nay I Never Wanted to Conceal.

I don’t know what is Become of Cle. Nevill and the Cher de la Colombe—I beg you would Make Some inquiries for them, and do any thing in your power for theyr Speedy exchange in Case they have been taken—inclos’d I Send you a little note for Monsieur Nevill.10 Give me leave to Reccommend to Yr excellency the Bearer thereof our New plenipotentiary minister, who seems to me extremely well Calculated for deserving A general esteem and affection.11

I know, My dear General, you want to hear Some thing about My private affairs—those I Give an account off to Congress,12 and shall only add that I am here as happy as possible—my family, my friends, My Countrymen Made me such a Reception, and Show me every day such an affection, as I would not have durst to hope—I am since some days in this place where is the king’s own Regiment of dragoons which I Command, and Some Regiments of infantry which are for the present under my orders—but I hope to Begin Soon a more active life, and in consequence thereoff My Return to paris is I Believe very near—from there I’ll get employ’d in whatever will be done Against the Common ennemy—What I want, My dear general, what would Make Me the happiest of Men, is to join Again American Colours, or to put under your orders a division of four or five thousand Country men of mine—in Case Any Such Cooperation or private expedition is Wish’d for, I think (if peace is not settl’d this winter) that an early demand Might be Complie’d with for next Campaign.13

Our Ministry are Rather Slow in theyr operations and have a great propension to peace, provided it is An honorable one, so that I think America Must show herself in a great earnest for war till such Conditions are obtain’d—American independancy is a certain undoubtfull point, but I want that independancy to be aknowledged with advantageous Conditions—The whole, My dear General, Betwen us—For what concerns the Royal, ministerial, public good will towards America, I, an American citizen, am fully Satisfied with it, and I am sure the Alliance and friendship betwen Both Nations will be establish’d in Such a way as will last for ever.

Be so kind, My dear General, as to present My Best Respects to Your lady, and tell her how happy I would feel to present them Myself to her, at her own house—I have a Wife, My dear General, who is in love with you, and affection for you Seems to Me So well justified that I Can’t oppose Myself to that Sentiment of her’s—She Begs you would Receive her Compliments, and Make them acceptable to Mrs Washington—I hope, My dear General, you will Come to See us in europe, and Most Certainly I Give you My word, that if I am not happy enough as to be Sent to America Before the peace, I Shall by all Means go there as Soon as I may escape—I wo’nt forget telling You, My dear friend, that I have the hope of being Soon once more a father.14

All europe Wants So much to See you, My dear General, that you Ca’nt Refuse them that pleasure—I have Boldly affirm’d that you would pay a visit to me after peace Would be Settled, So that if you deny it, you will hurt your friend’s Reputation throughout the world.15

I Beg you would present My Best Compliments to Your family and Remind them of My tender affection for them all—Be so kind also to present My Compliments to the general officers, to all the officers of the Army, to all the friends I have there, to every one from the first Major general till the last Soldier.

I Most instantly entreat you, My dear General, to let Me hear from you—write me how you do, how things are going—The Minutest detail will be infinitly interesting for Me—do’nt forget any thing Concerning yourself, and be certain that any little event or Reflexion concerning you, Whatever trifling you Might Believe it, will have my Warmest attension and interest—Adieu, my dear general, I Can’t leave the pen, and I enjoy the greatest pleasure in Scribling you this long letter—don’t forget me, My dear General, Be ever as affectionate for me as you have been, those Sentiments I deserve by the ardent ones which fill my heart—with the highest Respect, with the most Sincere, and tender friendship that ever human heart has felt I have the honor to be Your excellency’s Most obedient humble Servant


For god’s Sake write me frequent and long letters and speak most chiefly about yourself and your private circumstances.16

St jean d’angely 13th june 1779

I just Receive, My dear General, an express from Court, with orders to Repair immediately to Versaïlles—there I am to Meet Monsieur le Comte de Vaux lieutenant General who is Appointed to the Command of the troops intended for An expedition—in that Army I will be employ’d in the Capacity of Aide marechal General des logis, which is in our service a very important and agreable place17—So that I’ll Serve in the Most pleasing Manner, and will be in situation of knowing every thing and Rendering Services—The obligation of Setting off immediately prevents My writing to general greene, to gentlemen of your family, and other friends of mine in the Army whom I beg to accept my excuses on account of that order I did not expect So Soon—every thing that will happen you Shall most Certainly be Acquainted of by me, and I will for the moment finish my letter, in assuring Your excellency again of my profond Respect, and tenderest friendship. Farewell, my dear General, and let our mutual affection last for ever and ever.

ALS, PEL; ADf, in French, Lafayette Papers, LaGrange, France. Anne-César, chevalier de La Luzerne carried this letter to GW, who received it in September (see GW to Lafayette, 30 Sept. [DLC:GW], and La Luzerne to Lafayette, 17 June, in Lafayette Papers, description begins Stanley J. Idzerda et al., eds. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790. 5 vols. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977-83. description ends 2:282–83).

1Lafayette, in France since 6 Feb., had not seen GW since November 1778 (see GW to Benjamin Franklin, 28 Dec. 1778, n.1).

2The enclosure was a copy of a letter from Lafayette to the president of Congress, written at St.-Jean-d’Angély on this date and 13 June: “I desire to Return again to that Country of which I shall ever Consider Myself as a Citizen—There is no pleasure to be enjoy’d which Might equal this of finding Myself Among that free liberal Nation By whose affection and Confidence I am so highly honor’d, to fight Again with those Brother Soldiers of Mine to whom I am So Much indebted—But Congress know that former plans have been altered By themselves, that other ones have been thought impossible, as They were ask’d too late in the year—I therefore will Make use of the leave of absence they were pleas’d to grant me, and Serve the Common Cause among My Countrymen theyr allies, till happy Circumstances May Conduct me to the American shores in such a way as would Make that Return More useful to the United States. The affairs of America I shall ever look upon as My first Business while I am in europe—any Confidence from the king and ministers, any popularity I May have among My Country men, any mean in my power, shall be to the Best of My skill, and till the end of My life exerted in Behalf of an interest I have so much at heart … in Case Congress Believe My influence May any way serve them, I wish they would direct such orders to me, that I might more certainly and properly employ the knowledge I have of this Court and Country for obtaining a succes to which My heart shall be So much interested.

“His Excellency doctor franklin, will, no doubt, inform you, Sir, of the situation of Europe and Respective state of our affairs—the Chevalier de la Luzerne will also add intelligences which will be intrusted to him in the time of his departure … I have Nothing to Add but telling you that our Affairs Seem going very fast towards a speedy and honorable end—England is Now Making her last efforts, and I hope a great stroke will before long abate theyr fantastik swelled appearance, and show the Narrow Bounds of theyr actual true power.

“… Monsieur le cher de la Luzerne will Carry you Longer and fresher News as he is particularly ordered to do so, and he directly sets of[f] from Versaïlles—that New plenipotentiary Minister I beg leave to Reccommend Most instantly to Congress, not only as a public but also as a private gentleman—by the acquaintance I have Made with him, I Conceive he is a sensible, modest, well meaning man, a Man truly worthy of enjoying the Sight of American freedom—I hope that By his Natural temper as well as By his Abilities he will obtain Both public Confidence and private friendship.

“… I shall frankly tell you, sir, that Nothing may more effectually hurt theyr interests, Consequence, and Reputation in europe, than to hear of Some thing like dispute or division betwe[e]n whigs—Nothing Could urge My touching this delicate Matter, but the unhappy experience I every day Make on that head, since I May hear Myself what is said on this side of the Atlantic, and the Arguments I am to fight Against. … the 13th june in the very time I was going to write to My friends in Congress and the Several States, I Receive the king’s orders for to Repair immediately to Versaïlles where I am to Meet the Lieutenant General Count de Vaux who will Command the french troops in normandy. There I am to be employ’d in the Most agreable Manner, and I shall Certainly have the honor to Acquaint you of any thing which Might be put in execution” (DNA:PCC, item 156; see also Lafayette Papers, description begins Stanley J. Idzerda et al., eds. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790. 5 vols. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977-83. description ends 2:272–76). Congress read Lafayette’s letter on 13 Sept. (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 15:1050).

3La Luzerne, the new French minister to the United States, arrived at Boston in August, stayed a month in that city, and then traveled through Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey en route to Philadelphia. He presented his credentials to Congress in November. For details of his tour and official reception, see Chase, Letters of Barbé-Marbois, 65–127; Alexander Hamilton’s notes on a conference with La Luzerne at West Point, N.Y., 16 Sept. (DLC:GW); and 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 15:1238, 1278–84.

4Lafayette had planned an expedition to Ireland, which he seems to have given up by the time he next wrote to GW on 7 Oct. (PEL; see also Lafayette to the Comte de Maurepas, 14 and 23 March, and to Benjamin Franklin, 19 May, in Lafayette Papers, description begins Stanley J. Idzerda et al., eds. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790. 5 vols. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977-83. description ends 2:238–41, 244–47, 265–67). For Lafayette’s “private intelligences” in Ireland, see his letters to the Comte de Vergennes, 23 May as well as 1 and 3 July, in Lafayette Papers, description begins Stanley J. Idzerda et al., eds. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790. 5 vols. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977-83. description ends 2:268–69, 284–89.

5Jacques Necker (1732–1804), a successful banker and former director of the French East India Company, became the Finance Minister of France in 1776. He remained an important figure in French financial and political affairs until his retirement to his native Switzerland in 1790. In a letter to Congress’s Committee for Foreign Affairs written on 26 May 1779, Benjamin Franklin, American minister to France, related that Necker “is said to be not well disposed towards us, and is supposed to embarras every Measure proposed to relieve us by Grants of Money” (Franklin Papers, description begins William B. Willcox et al., eds. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. 40 vols. to date. New Haven, 1959—. description ends 29:551).

6For Franklin’s eventually successful efforts to secure a new loan from France, see Franklin Papers, description begins William B. Willcox et al., eds. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. 40 vols. to date. New Haven, 1959—. description ends 29:553–54, 594–95.

7Lafayette is referring to disputes between Franklin and Arthur Lee that had emerged when those two men, William Lee, Ralph Izard, and Silas Deane were American commissioners in Europe. John Adams, whom Congress appointed to replace Deane in November 1777, remained neutral in the disputes, but he disliked Franklin. For more on the Lees and Deane, see George Mercer to GW, 28 Nov. 1778, and n.2. to that document.

8See n.2 above.

9GW’s most recent letters to Lafayette were dated 8–10 and 27 March. He wrote Lafayette again on 4 July.

10This enclosure for Lafayette’s aide-de-camp Presley Nevill, who held the brevet rank of lieutenant colonel, has not been identified. Lafayette had expected Nevill to join him in France, but that never occurred. For the activities of Nevill and Louis-Saint-Ange, chevalier Morel de La Colombe, another Lafayette aide-de-camp, see GW to Lafayette, 30 Sept. (DLC:GW).

11See source note, and notes 2 and 3, above.

12See n.2 above.

13For Lafayette’s subsequent involvement in organizing a French expeditionary army that arrived in America in 1780 under the command of Lt. Gen. Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, see Lafayette Papers, description begins Stanley J. Idzerda et al., eds. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790. 5 vols. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977-83. description ends 2:344–52, 355–58, 364–68, and Lafayette to GW, 27 April 1780 (PEL). Lafayette returned to America shortly before the arrival of this army.

14Lafayette and his wife, Marie-Adrienne-François de Noailles, marquise de Lafayette (1759–1807), named their third child and first son, born in December, after GW. George Washington Motier Lafayette visited the United States and stayed with GW between April 1796 and October 1797.

15GW never traveled to Europe.

16In his reply to this letter, dated 30 Sept., GW expressed “equal pleasure and surprize—the latter at hearing that you had not received one of the many letters I had written to you, since you left the American Shore” (DLC:GW).

17Lt. Gen. Noël de Jourda, comte de Vaux (1705–1788) was preparing to lead an expedition of 50,000 men on an invasion of England. Vaux’s force created a diversion while on the French coast, but it never left the country because naval operations went unfavorably, as Lafayette explained in a letter to the president of Congress, written at Havre, France, on 7 Oct.: “The project of invading England was at first Retarded By a difficult Meeting of the French and Spanish fleets on account of Contrary winds, By useless efforts to Bring on the ennemy to an engagement, and the Necessity of Repairing into the harbour of Brest” (Lafayette Papers, description begins Stanley J. Idzerda et al., eds. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790. 5 vols. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977-83. description ends 2:321).

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