George Washington Papers

To George Washington from David Humphreys, 13 September 1793

From David Humphreys

Lisbon [Portugal] Septr 13th 1793.

My dear Sir.

The consolation I derive from your good & friendly letter of the 23d of March compensates a great deal for the cruel chagrine I feel for so long an absence from every thing my heart holds most dear. It is particularly a cordial for many uneasy sensations I feel at the present moment, respecting the interesting affair in which I am engaging.

It was somewhat of a curious circumstance that I should have been writing to you almost at the instant you was writing to me, and in part upon the same subject, viz., your re-election to & re-acceptance of the office of President. My sentiments are so clearly expressed in that letter, that I need not repeat them in this.1

You will have the goodness to recollect, that, long ago, I told my friend Mr Lear, I was afraid of writing to you, lest you should give yourself more trouble than you really ought to do in answering my letters. Be persuaded, my dear & most beloved General, it is only under condition of your absolutely suffering no inconvenience on the account, that I shall continue at times to use the permission of giving you such remarkable & interesting articles of information as may come to my knowledge, so as to be communicated earlier than through other channels.

We have at this moment one article of News of very great importance, which you can hardly receive from any other quarter so soon as from this. On the 28th of last month the Loyalists of Toulon gave up the Town & fleet to co-operate with the English & Spanish fleets before it, commanded by Lord Hood & Admiral Langara, in the establishment (as they term it) of Louis the 17th King of France. The Toulon fleet consisted of upwards of 30 Sail, of which 17 were manned & fit for Sea, and seven more in great forwardness. This intelligence came in so short a space of time as to render it suspicious, if it were not official to the Spanish Ambassador & the Portuguese Secretary of State for foreign Affairs, from whom I have it myself. Deputies from Merseilles were likewise said to be on board the combined fleet for the purpose of making the same cession of that City.2 An article which is more certain, is, that the advanced Corps of the French Army on the frontiers of Spain has been defeated by General Ricardos with the loss of 15 Cannon & a considerable number of men.3

Other reports of events of sufficient magnitude are rife in circulation, but by no means of equal authenticity—such as the capture of Cambray, Lisle & some other strongly garrisoned Towns, the approach of the Prince of Coburg on the one hand & Gaston (at the Head of the Loyalists) on the other, to some position within nine leagues of Paris, and that these two forces had opened a friendly intercourse with each other—this I do not greatly rely upon.4 We have no Packet since my last letter to the Secretary of State, but by an English Gazette accidentally received, it appears from an Official Account, the Duke of York had gained a splendid success over a superior force near Dunkirk.5 From other channels of intelligence, it seems that the French fleet from Brest, & Lord Howe’s channel fleet are both at Sea.

The Troops destined by this Court to serve in Spain are certainly ordered to embark on Monday next—I learn this from the Secretary of State, who was so exceedingly polite as to offer me a passage to Gibralter on board one of the Men of War. This was when I called upon him yesterday to introduce Mr Church, as remaining in charge with the affairs of the U.S. during my absence. I had only to thank him for his politeness, for I could not have carried my effects by that conveyance without exciting improper conjectures, even if I had not already engaged another conveyance. I was glad to find he had no suspicions of the real object.6

It is impossible to be more sensible of the good policy of our preserving in all events an unshaken resolution of neutrality, than I am. I rejoiced therefore most sincerely in the measures you had taken for that purpose. And I have endeavoured to cooperate in the same system, as far as lay in my power, by making every body believe it was not less our inclination than interest to avoid being involved in a war of such a complicated nature & at such a distance. In the name of every thing sacred & dear, let us persevere firmly in the same inoffensive line of conduct, and let us improve diligently the natural & political advantages with which Heaven has favoured us. By those means we shall acquire the resources & power to redress hereafter any partial & temporary inconveniences & wrongs we may suffer at present, on account of our pertinacious adherence to the pacific system. Yes—my dear General, I do verily believe we can finally preserve Peace for ourselves, if we seriously determine upon it. The Atlantic is our best friend. Notwithstanding the unfavorable dispositions of Spain (which I have communicated to the Secretary of State in two letters,7 & which I have reason to believe exist in as great a degree as ever) England, as a Maritime Power, is the only nation that can force us into a war. And whatever the dispositions of that Government may be, rest assured, if we use all the reasonable & just means in our power to prevent our being dragged into hostility, the People of England will either prevent the Government from causing that deplorable event; or, after a short time, they will take part (I mean with a powerful & effectual opposition) against the Government, with us. In the last resort, a dignified, spirited & calm address to the People of England might not be without its effect. I am, therefore, well assured, you will continue to make the World believe, we are unalterably determined, by words & actions of the clearest demonstration, to follow as a nation the paths of justice & peace alone. In the event of a war, this must render our Cause popular. This cannot fail to make an opposite conduct on the part of others, with respect to us, odious in the eyes of the World in general. In my judgment, we had better even make temporary & inconsiderable sacrifices, than be forced into measures, which, however they may ultimately terminate to our national glory, must, in the mean time, be attended with great misfortunes & losses. particularly, as they will serve to check our actual, progressive improvements. Let us remember that Switzerland, Genoa & some other little States are able to preserve their neutrality; and if it were not for the too intimate connection of Portugal with England & Spain, She would be able to do the same—The hostile preparations on her part, are unpopular here in a high degree.

And now, my dear & respected General, to make a transition from the unpropitious affairs of war to the more desirable ones of peace, I cannot help expressing the strong sensations of joy, which your pleasing account of the prosperous state of our Country afforded me—It is from the plough, not the sword, the greatness & happiness of a nation must be ultimately derived. Apropos—of the plough—Mr Close (an English Clergyman & a great farmer, now here for his health) has ordered one of the newest & best construction to be shipped from England for you, in my name. This you will perceive by the enclosed extract of a letter from his Correspondent to him. I offered & insisted to pay the Bill for the plough, but Mr Close would not in any manner permit it: so it is a present from him to you. And I have no doubt will prove an acceptable & useful one.8

I intended fully to have written to my friend Mr Lear by this opportunity, but in my hurry of departure, I have not in truth time to do it. Pray, in apologising to him, have the goodness to offer my best compliments & sincerest regards to Mrs Washington and all my friends around you (the loss of one you know I sincerely lament)—and ever remain possessed of the sure & certain knowledge, that you have no one more cordially attached to you, or who more ardently wishes for the long & uninterrupted continuance of your health & happiness than your most affe. friend & grateful Servant

D. Humphreys.


2Samuel Hood, viscount Hood (1724–1816), a career naval officer ranking at this time as vice admiral, was appointed in February 1793 to be British commander in the Mediterranean. He arrived off Toulon, France, on 16 July and instituted a naval blockade. Commissioners from Marseilles came aboard Hood’s flagship on 23 Aug. to sue for peace by declaring for a monarchy and the constitution of 1789. It was agreed that the fleet and forts should be held by Hood for the French king until peace was declared. Hood’s fleet, joined by the Spanish fleet under Don Juan de Langára, occupied Toulon over minimal resistance on 27 Aug. and held the town until December, when investing French troops forced the fleets to withdraw.

Juan de Lángara y Huarte (1736–1806) was a career naval officer who ranked at this time as a capitán general in the Spanish navy. Louis-Charles (1785–1795), who had become dauphin upon the death of his elder brother in 1789, was proclaimed by French Royalists as King Louis XVII but remained imprisoned until his death. Luís Pinto de Sousa Coutinho, viscount of Balsemão (c.1735–1804), was appointed Portugal’s secretary of state for foreign affairs and war in 1788 and acted as Portugal’s prime minister from December 1788 to 1801 and again in 1803. The Spanish ambassador to Portugal from 1792 to 1798 was Vicente Maria Imperiale, marqués de Oyra et de Latiano.

3Antonio Ricardos y Carrillo de Albornoz (1727–1794) was the Spanish commander for Catalonia.

4Friedrich Josias (1737–1815), prince of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, commanded the Austrian army in the Netherlands. Gaston was reputedly one of the leaders of the Vendée insurrection. A declaration of 25 May issued in his name was widely published, as were biographies claiming a considerable military background, but later it was stated that he was a former wigmaker who had been soon killed (see, for example, Providence Gazette and Country Journal, 21 Sept.; Mercury [Boston], 3 Sept.; Columbian Gazetteer [New York], 12 Dec.). The wigmaker insurgent was evidently a Jean François Gaston (c.1770–1793), who was killed at an engagement near Saint-Gervais in April (Chassin, Vendée Patriote description begins Ch.-L. Chassin. La Vendée Patriote, 1793-1800. 4 vols. 1893-95. Reprint. Mayenne, France, 1973. description ends , 1:191–94; “Gaston,” description begins “Du nouveau sur le chef vendéen Gaston.” Annales Historiques de la Révolution Française 30, no. 1 (1958): 67-69. description ends 67–69). The report of a Gaston as the commander of a major force appears to have been largely a myth (Curzon, “Mythe de ‘Monsieur de Gaston,’” description begins Alfred de Curzon. “Le Mythe de ‘Monsieur de Gaston’ Généralissime des Armées Royales. Contribution a l’Histoire des Émigrés.” Revue Historique 221 (1959):49-55. description ends 49–55).

5Humphreys was referring to his letter to Thomas Jefferson of 3 Sept. (Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 27:24–25). For discussion of the action near Dunkirk, see William Willcocks to GW, 3 Sept., and n.2 to that document.

6Humphreys had been appointed minister plenipotentiary to negotiate a treaty with Algiers (GW to the Dey of Algiers, 21 March; Jefferson to Humphreys, 21 March, Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 25:420–22).

7See Humphreys to Jefferson, 29 May and 3 Sept. (Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 26:140–41, 27:24–25).

8Humphreys may have been referring to Henry Jackson Close (c.1753– 1806), a distinguished agriculturalist and rector of Hitcham Suffolk.

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