George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Horatio Gates, 17 August 1779

To Major General Horatio Gates

Head Quarters West point 17th Augt 1779.


I have recd your favr of the 11th instant.1 From the progress of General Lovells operations at Penobscot, I should have little doubt of his success, were it not for the Reinforcement said to have gone from New York (notice of which I transmitted the Council of Massachusetts)2 which I fear will arrive before General McLean can be brought to surrender. It will at least render the Work more precarious.3

Immediately upon the Receipt of yours I gave directions to Mr Beatty Commy Genl of prisoners to order Mr Mercerau to his District.4

No official Accounts have been received from Count D’Estaing since his Action with Admiral Byron, but from the letters which have been published, which are from persons of unquestionable Credit, and from the St Kitts account of the Affai⟨r,⟩ little doubt can remain, but that the English Fleet suffered considerably.5

In addition to what will be found in the public prints, Mr Holker Consul of France has favored me with the inclosed.6 I am Sir Your most obt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tighman’s writing, NHi: Gates Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1This letter has not been found.

2On the draft, which is in the writing of GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman, GW wrote the words in parentheses.

3For GW’s warning to the Massachusetts Council, see his letter to that body of 3 August. For the military and naval operations at Penobscot Bay in what is now Maine, see GW to the Massachusetts Council, 3 Aug., n.3.

Francis McLean (Maclane, MacLean; d. 1781), was a captain in the British 42d Regiment in July 1758 and became major of the 97th Regiment in January 1761. Promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 97th Regiment in April 1762, he was placed on half pay when that regiment was disbanded in 1763. He became colonel of the newly raised 82d Regiment in December 1777. In 1778 he brought part of the 82d Foot to North America, where he held the local rank of brigadier general and became commander of the British troops in Nova Scotia. For his role in the Penobscot expedition, see GW to the Massachusetts Council, 3 Aug., n.3. After returning from Penobscot to Halifax with his regiment in November 1779, McLean continued to serve as commander in Nova Scotia. He became ill sometime in early 1781 and died in May of that year at Halifax.

4On 16 Aug., GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman wrote to Commissary Gen. of Prisoners John Beatty from headquarters: “General Gates in a letter of the [11]th Inst. complains of want of proper conduct in your department at Rutland, and wishes that Mr Mercerau, may be ordered to repair to his district, as a Mr Pope, who was only appointed to act during his absence, seems from the Copy of a letter from him to Genl Gates to be much embarrassed. His Excellency therefore desires that if Mr Mercerau still continues in Office he may be ordered to repair without delay to the Eastward. If he does not, some competent person should be sent immediately. When it suits you to call at Head Quarters it will be proper that you should see the letters communicated by Genl Gates” (DLC: GW). Prisoners of the Convention Army either too wounded or sick to travel to Albemarle County, Va., remained quartered at Rutland, Mass., with other British and German prisoners of war. For the chaotic situation prevailing there among the guards, see Lt. Thomas Edwards to Gates, 27 July, in Gregory and Dunnings, “Gates Papers.” Robert Pope’s letter to Gates, dated 3 Aug., discussing the disorganized administration of the prisoners, is in Gregory and Dunnings, “Gates Papers.”

5For one of the letters that GW had received by this date regarding the naval operations in the West Indies and the indecisive engagement between the fleets of vice admirals d’Estaing and John Byron, see John Jay to GW, 10 Aug., n.1.

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