George Washington Papers

To George Washington from David Humphreys, 28 June 1794

From David Humphreys

Lisbon June 28th 1794

My dear Sir.

By every opportunity which has occurred, I have endeavoured to keep you informed of the great events taking place in Europe, through the medium of my correspondence with the Secretary of State. While affairs have been growing every day more & more interesting and critical, I have had many conversations with the public Agents of Denmark & Sweden (who alone seem to be disposed to oppose resistance to the maritime aggressions of England) on the subject of mutual defense & assistance, in case our several nations should ul[t]imately be forced to take a part in the present war. At the same time I gave them to understand, that my observations were merely those of a private Person, and not in an official character: but that common sense must point out what was reciprocally beneficial. The Agents of those Nations here, I know have written to their Courts on the subject. The Convention entered into between those two Courts is a great step.1 They seem (in spite of predictions to the contrary on account of supposed jealousies) to see & pursue their true interests. From the apparent firmness & wisdom of the Duke Regent of Sweden much is to be expected. Nor will the councils of Denmark be unenlightened, weak or impolitic, so long as the Comte Bernstorff (the present Minister) shall be at the head of them. All concur in giving the highest testimony to his integrity, ability & popolarity.2 The combined fleet of those two nations is ready for Sea. I cannot help thinking that a hearty concurrence between the neutral Powers would have a powerful influence on the actual political state of Europe; that such a coalition would either prevent them from being driven involuntarily into hostility; or in all events enable them to support by arms their rights (which have been grossly insulted) as independent nations. In this point of view, I have perhaps considered such a junction in common Cause as more practicable & more important than many others have done; and have endeavoured accordingly as an individual to contribute whatever might be in my power to pave the way for the accomplishment of such a combination. At least, it is no improbable event, that, under their mediation, a general Peace may ultimately be established, when all parties are sufficiently tired of war, to think of negociating. G. Britain is the only Power among the Allies, that seems in any condition to prosecute the war much longer, and, notwithstanding her immense private resources and the late splendid action at Sea, it will be found, I believe, that the war will become more & more unpopular until its termination. The British Ministry seem indeed to be playing a desperate game, & there is no calculating how it will end.

Kosciusko is by the last accounts going on well. I dread however the result from the formidable force that will be opposed to the Poles. Unanimity is every thing. If they hold out this Campaign, I trust the Insurrection will terminate in Independence. There is no estimating the efforts of Liberty, urged by Desparation.3

This letter will be delivered to you by Captn Heysell, commander of a Danish Ship, who is lately from France and appears to be an intelligent & respectable man; and as such I recommend him to your protection—he may also be able to give you some informations.4

With the best & purest wishes for the health & happiness of yourself, Mrs Washington, & all that are most dear to you, I have the honour to be, with every grateful sentiment, My dear & respected Sir, Your most affectionate friend & humble Servant

D. Humphreys

P.S. I enclose a Copy of Lord Howes’s official letter, respecting the naval action of the 1st inst.5—we have no farther particulars to be depended upon.


1The agreement between Denmark and Sweden, signed at Copenhagen on 27 March, provided that each nation would equip a squadron of eight ships, with a proportionate number of frigates for the protection of "la navigation innocente" of their subjects. The two also agreed that if a warring power threatened that innocent navigation, they might, after exhausting efforts at conciliation, use reprisals against the offender, pledging their mutual support to each other in that case. In addition, the Baltic was declared a closed sea inaccessible to armed vessels of the warring parties. (Parry, Consolidated Treaty Series, 52: 193-97).

2Charles (1748-1818), duke of Södermanland, a brother of the former King Gustav III of Sweden, served as regent from Gustav’s assassination in 1792 until 1796. In 1809 Charles became King Charles XIII of Sweden, and he remained king until his death. Andreas Peter, Count von Bernstorff (1735-1797), was minister of foreign affairs for Denmark, 1773-80 and 1784-97.

3Tadeusz Andrzej Bonawentura Kościuszko entered Poland in March 1794 to lead a revolt against Russian control of that country. After initial successes that made him for a time ruler of Poland, he was defeated and captured in October 1794.

4Hans Heissell was nominated on 10 Dec. to be U.S. consul for the Barbary Coast and confirmed on 11 December.

5The enclosed copy of Lord Richard Howe’s letter to Admiralty secretary Philip Stephens of 2 June, copied from a London Gazette extra of 11 June, reads, in part: "Finding on my return off of Brest on the 19th past, that the French Fleet had, a few days before put to Sea; and receiving, on the same Evening, Advices from Rear-Admiral [George] Montagu, I deemed it requisite to endeavour to form a Junction with the Rear-Admiral as soon as possible, and proceeded immediately for the Station on wch he meant to wait for the return of the Venus. But having gained very credible Intellingence, on the 21st of the same Month, whereby I had Reason to suppose the French Fleet was then but a few leagues farther to the Westward, the course before steered was altered accordingly. On the Morning of the 28th the Enemy were discovered far to Windward, & partial Actions were engaged with them that Evening & the next Day The weather Gage having been obtained in the progress of the last mentioned Day and the Fleet being in a situation for bringing the Enemy to close Action the 1st Inst. the Ships bore up together for that purpose, between Seven & Eight oClock in the morning. The French, their force consisting of Twenty Six Ships of the Line, opposed to his Majesty’s Fleet of Twenty Five (the Audacious having parted company with the Sternmost Ship of the Enemys Line, captured in the night of the 28th) waited for the Action, and sustained the Attack with their Customary Resolution—In less than an Hour after the close Action commenced in the Centre, the French Admiral, engaged by the Queen Charlotte, crowed off, and was followed by most of the Ships of his Van in Condition to carry Sail after him, leaving with us about Ten or Twelve of his crippled or totally dismasted Ships, exclusive of one sunk in the Engagement. The Queen Charlotte had then lost her fore Topmast, and the Main Topmast fell over the side very soon after—The greater number of the other Ships of the British Fleet were, at this time, so much disabled or widely separated, and under such Circumstances with respect to those ships of the Enemy in a State for Action, and with which the firing was still continued, that two or three even of their dismasted Ships, attempting to get away under a Spritsail singly, or smaller sail raised on the Stump of the Foremast, could not be detained. Seven remained in our possession, one of which, however, sank before the Adequate Assistance could be given to her Crew but many were saved—The Brunswick, having lost her Mizenmast in the Action, and drifted to Leward of the French retreating Ships was obliged to put away large to the Northward from them. Not seeing her chased by the Enemy, in that predicament, I flatter myself she may arrive in safety at Plymouth. All the other Twenty-four Ships of his Majesty’s Fleet reassembled later in the day; and I am preparing to return with them, as soon as the Captured Ships of the Enemy are secured for Spithead The material Injury to his Majesty’s Ships, I understand, is confined principally to their Masts and Yards, wch I conclude will be speedily replaced. I have not been yet able to collect regular accounts of the Killed and wounded in the different Ships. Capn [James] Montagu is the only Officer of his Rank who fell in the Action. The Numbers of both Descriptions I hope will prove small, the Nature of the Service considered; but I have the Concern of being to add, on the same subject, that Admiral [Thomas] Graves has received a Wound in the Arm, & that Rear-Admirals [George] Bowyer & [Thomas] Pasley, and Captn [John] Hutt of the Queen, have each had a leg taken off; they are, however, (I have the satisfaction to hear) in a favourable State under those Misfortunes. In the captured Ships the numbers of Killed and Wounded appear to be very considerable. Though I shall have, on the subject of these different Actions with the Enemy, distinguished Examples hereafter to report, I presume the determined Bravery of the several Ranks of Officers and the Ships Companies employed under my Authority will have been already sufficiently denoted by the Effect of their spirited Exertions; and, I trust, I shall be excused for postponing the more detailed Narrative of the other Transactions of the Fleet thereon, for being communicated at a future Opportunity." Howe also acknowledged the services of his first and second captains and, in a postscript, listed the captured French vessels (DLC:GW).

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