George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, 31 May 1781

Newport, the 31. May 1781.


I have the honor to send to Your Excellency, the piece of news which I have received from Lieutenant Colonel Ledyard. his nephew’s report, after his arrival from Guadeloupe, seems to me related with so many particularities, that it has the greatest appearance of truth. We must wait for its confirmation; that piece of news has been productive of what I hope will please your Excellency. The Count de Barras, instead of going to Boston, according to his orders, has held a council of war, the result of which I send here inclosed. I hope your Excellency will send as quickly as possible, an order that the militia to stay on this island be raised to the number of a 1000. they will be joined by 400. men that I will leave under the orders of Mr De Choisy, Brigadier General and a very good officer. I think that the State of Boston may furnish the 500. men that have been demanded by the council of war, for the surety of the Squadron, and that it is suitable that your Excellency should send to Mr De Choisy an order for the convocation of a greater number, in case of need, together with Letters for the Governors of Boston and rhode island State. It is useless to say to your Excellency that one of the chief reasons that decided the Council of war to keep the Squadron at rhode island, was the fear least America should Look on this change from Newport to Boston as a retreat; the Desire to be nearer for our future operations, when the superior naval forces that we have reason to expect in the course of the summer, shall be arrived in these Seas, has been another reason. Your Excellency knows very well that the harbour of Boston is very unfavorable in this season, by reason of the S.W. winds that blow almost continually. The junction of Mr De Barras, with the forces that might come would perhaps be delayed for a month, and consequently all the operations which depend on it I must earnestly beg of your Excellency to grant to the navy, the additional militia that it asks for its surety. It is due to the unanimity shewn as to the desire to be readier to be usefull to the common cause. I am with respect and personal attachment Sir, Your Excellencys most obedient most humble Servant

Le cte de Rochambeau

I beg of your Excellency to forward this in closed Letter to the Ch. de la Luzerne, by a confidential person, because I have not had time to cypher it.

DLC: Papers of George Washington.


New London 29th May 1781


By return of the Boat I sent on Long Island I am Informed that there was an Embarkation about taking place in New York, and that a number of Horses which was Ordered to be furnished for Government service by the Inhabitants at the East end of Long Island by the 10th Inst. after being sent up were all Ordered back again without paying any expences attending them, Capt. Fosdike of the Privateer Randolph who arrived here last Night I am informed that last Thursday evening he saw ten Ships which he suppos’d to be Arbuthnots Fleet, close in with the Land south side of Long Island, better than half way from Montauk Point to New York, standing to the Southward and Eastward under very small sail the Wind then E.N.E. blowing fresh and looking like a Gale coming on.

Capt. Youngs Ledyard a Nephew of mine Arrived here last evening from Guadaloupe, by him I Learn that a French Fleet had arrived Off and at Martinico consisting of 155 Sail with a Number of Troops from 7 to 10000, twenty eight of which was Ships of the Line including four which was employed as store Ships, and that sometime before this Fleets arrival at Martinico a Number of Ships said to be from 5 to 9 Sail of the Line with Transports parted with them, Bound to North America, that on the Approach of the French Fleet near Martinico, Vessels that was kept out to give the necessary Information respecting the British Fleet, which was Cruising for the French Fleet, came athwart the French Fleet in season and gave the Information relative to the English Fleet, upon which the French Fleet after taking care of their Convoy went in pursuit of the English Fleet, and soon came athwart them, when a severe Engagement took place which lasted for some time; the French Fleet consisted of 20 Sail of the Line, after which was Joined by four sails from Fort Royal, the English Fleet consisted of 17 Sail of the Line, after the two Fleets engaged some time the English Fleet made off, and was pursued by the French Fleet which prevented their geting into St Lucia, after which a Vessel Arriv’d at Guadaloupe and gave an Account that the French Fleet had taken two of the British Fleet that fell in the rear, and was in pursuit of the others—The Engagement took place the 29th April between the two Fleets.

the Boat I sent to Block Island has not yet returned this day two Ships was seen between Block Island & Montock Point—the French ships which is said to be coming to North America am told are from 74 to 90 guns, shall do all in my power to give Your Excellency the earliest Inteligence respecting the Movements of the Enemy. I have the Honor to be your Excellencys Most Obt Servant

Wm Ledyard

beg your Excellency will please to inform the Admiral of this, should have wrote him but not knowing his Name did not no how to direct a Letter for him. W.L.


31 May 1781

In the Council of War, assembled on board the Duke de Bourgogne, on the 31st May 1781.

His Excellency General Washington having demanded of the Count de Rochambeau to march with his army into the Continent, and the instructions which the Count de Rochambeau has received from his Court Bearing, that in the case of his evacuation from Rhode island, the squadron shall leave it and retire to Boston, if it can be done with Surety and without compromising itself, The Count de Barras has required that a council of war composed of the General and Principal Officers of the Land forces and Navy, be assembled, to examine whether, in the present circumstances and tho’ there be no more impediment from the enemy to the Squadron retiring to Boston, It would not be advantageous to the King’s Service that the Squadron stay at Rhode island, and whether it can be done with Surety.

1st Proposition.

By the stay of the Squadron at Rhode island, will it be in a better position than at Boston to cooperate with the naval forces, which we have reason to hope will arrive from the West indies in the course of the Summer?

Decisions of the Council.

It has been unanimously decided, that for the Success of the operations that could be undertaken and for the honor of the King’s arms, it is Suitable that the Squadron should stay at Rhode island, and that this position in the present circumstances, is preferable to that of Boston.

2d Proposition.

Can the Squadron stay in Surety at Rhode island, that island being only guard’d by American militia, with four hundred French troops which the Count de Rochambeau would leave there?

It has been decided that, considering the well known weakness of the Garrison at New york, occasioned by the differents detachements that have been made out of it, the British are not in a condition to attack Rhode island with considerable forces, and that the detachment which the Count de Rochambeau would leave there, joined to a thousand militia to stay continually that will be demanded to General Washington, to which a greater number would be added in case of need, will be Sufficient to guard Rhode island, and cover the sSquadron by Land.

3d and Last Proposition.

The contrary winds having made it impossible to the sSquadron to go out, about the 18th of this month, as likewise the position of the British fleet, as the Count de Barras had proposed, to protect the approach of the Convoy that set sail from Brest on the 22d of March, is it suitable that the sSquadron should now go out on that account?

It has been unanimously decided that the going out of the Squadron in the present moment, might very much delay the departure and operations of the Land Army as it would carry away a very considerable detachment that it had to compleat its crews: that, besides, that inconvenience would not be probably compensated by an advantage whatsoever as it is not likely that the Squadron can be of any help to the convoy, which having set sail 71. days ago, should arrive at Boston, before the Squadron could be in the points where it would be possible to meet it, and that consequently the Squadron must not go out.

Signed by Signed by
Le Chr Bernard de Marigny La Villebrune
Chadeau de La Clocheterie Le Chr de Medine
Le Gardeur de Tilly Le Chr De Lombard
Le Mis de Laval La Grandiere
De Lauzun Destouches
Beville Custine
Viomenil Choisy
Viomenil Le Chr De Chastellux
Le Cte de Rochambeau

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