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From George Washington to Major General Lafayette, 8–10 March 1779

To Major General Lafayette

Camp at Middle brook March 8th[-10] 1779.

My dear Marquis

I am mortified exceedingly that my Letter from Philadelphi⟨a,⟩ with the several inclosures, did not reach Boston before your departure from that Port—It was written as soon as Congress had come to a decision upon the several matters which became the subject of the Presidents Letter to you, & was committed (for conveyance) to the Messenger who was charged with his dispatches to that place—how it happened (unless the passage of the North River was interrupted by Ice) that Letters dated in Philadelphia the 29th of Decr should be till the 15th of the following Month on their passage to Boston, is inconceivable1—equally so is it, that I have not had the Letters returned to me by Majr Neville, who I am told (but this is no excuse) is indisposed at Fish-kill—His withholding these lette⟨rs⟩ renders it necessary for me to give you the trouble of duplicates by Captn McQueen, who will do me the favor of handing this to you; and whose merits are too well known to you, to stand in need of any recommendation from me.2

Monsr la Colombe did me the honor of delivering your favor⟨s⟩ of the 5th, 8th, & 10th of Jany,3 and will probably, be the bearer of my thanks for the affectionate manner in which you have expressed your Sentiments in your last adieu—than which nothing can be more flattering and pleasing—nor is there any thing more wished for, by me, than oppertunities of giving substantial proofs of the sincerity of my attachment to, & affection for you.

Nothing of importance hath happened since you left us, except the Enemy’s invasion of Georgia, & possession of its capitol; which, tho it may add something to their Supplies on the score of Provisions, will contribute very little to the brilliancy of their arms; for like the defenceless Island of St Lucia,4 it only required the appearance of force to effect the conquest of it, as the whole Militia of the State did not exceed twelve hundred Men, and many of them disaffected. General Lincoln is assembling a force to dispossess them, & my only fear is, that he will precipitate the attempt before he is fully prepard for the execution.5

In New York, and at Rhode Island, the Enemy continued quiet till the 25th Ulto, when an attempt was made by them to surprize the Post at Elizabeth Town, but failing therein, and finding them-selves close pressed, and in danger from detachments advancing towards them from this Army, they retreated precipitately through a Marsh waist deep in Mud, after abandoning all their plunder; but not before they had (according to their wonted custom) Set fire to two or three Houses.6

The Regiment of Anspach, and some other Troops, are brought from Rhode Island to New York.7

It would my dear Marquis have given me very great pleasure to have answered your expectations respecting Messrs la Colombe & Houden but Congress having experiencd so many unfortunate instances of disgust, and consequent resignations in the army, arising from irregular promotions, and brevet Commissions, that they found it absolutely necessary to discontinue the practice, & had done so before I received your Letters, to the no small disappointment, and loss, of many Gentlemen whom I found in Philadelphia.8

We are happy in the repeated assurances, & proofs, of the friendship of our great & good Ally; whom we hope & trust, ere this, may be congratulated on the birth of a Prince; & on the Joy which the nation must derive from an instance of royal felicity9—We also flatter ourselves that before this period the Kings of Spain & the two sicilies may be greeted as Allies of the United States—and we are not a little pleased to find from good authority, that the sollicitations, & offers of the Court of Great Britain to the Empress of Russia, have been rejected with disdain—nor are we to be displeased, that overtures from the City of Amsterdam for entering into a commercial Connexion with us have been made in such open & pointed terms10—Such favorable sentiments in so many powerful Princes, & States, cannot but be considered in a very honorable, interesting, and pleasing point of view by all those who have struggled with difficulties & misfortune to maintain the rights, & secure the liberties of their Country—But notwithstanding these flattering appearances, the British King, & his Ministers, continue to threaten us with War and desolation.11 A few Months however must decide whether this, or Peace is to take place—for both we will prepare—& should the former be continued I shall not despair of sharing fresh toils & dangers with you, in the Plains of America; but if the latter succeeds, I can entertain little hopes that the rural amusemts of an infant world—or the contracted stage of an American theatre can withdraw your attention & Services from the gaieties of a Court, and the active part which you will more than probably be called upon to share in the Admn of government. The Soldier will then be transformed into the Statesman, & your employment in this new walk of life will afford you no time to revisit this Continent; or think of friends who lamt yr absence.

The American Troops are again in Hutts, but in a more12 agreeable, & fertile country, than they were last Winter at Valley forge; & are better clad and more healthy than they have ever been since the formation of the Army. Mrs Washington is now with me, and makes a cordial tender of her best regards to you—& if those of strangers can be offered with propriety & will be accepte we respectively wish to have them added to your amiable Lady. We hope, & trust, that your passage has been short, agreeable, and safe & that you are as happy as the Smiles of a gracious Prince—beloved wife—warm friends—and high expectations can make you. I have now I think, complied with your request in writing you a long letter, and shall only add that with the purest Sentiments of attachment, & the warmest friendship & regard, I am—My dear Marquis Yr most Affecte & obligd Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. Harrison and Mead are in Virga—all the other Gentn of My Suit join most cordially in tendering their best respects to you.

March 10th

I have this moment receivd the letters which were in the hands of Majr Neville; accompanied by yr favors of the 7th & 11th of Jany. the Majr himself is not yet arrived at head Qrs; being, as I am told, very sick—I have again to thank you my dear frd for the repeated Sentiments13 of friendship and Affection which breathed so conspicuously14 in your last farewell; & to assure you, that I shall always retain a warm & grateful remembrance of them. Major Neville shall have my consent to repair to you in France; if his health will permit, & the sanction of Congress can be obtained to whom all applications of Officers for leave to go out of the United States are referred.15

ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1GW is referring to his letter to Lafayette of 29 Dec. 1778 and a letter of 3 Jan. 1779 from John Jay to Lafayette, both reporting the decision of Congress to abandon an expedition into Canada for which Lafayette might have been asked to serve as commander. Lafayette departed Boston on 11 Jan. and arrived in France on 6 Feb. (see GW to Benjamin Franklin, 28 Dec. 1778, and n.1 to that document).

2For guidance in handling these communications to Lafayette, GW wrote a letter of 10 March to John McQueen, which reads: “Suffer me to give you the trouble of the inclosed—and to wish you a safe, pleasant, & short passage to your destined Port. I need not express a wish, in case of danger, that my packet to the Marquis de la Fayette may be destroyed—your own good sense will dictate the expediency of the measure” (ALS, sold by Sotheby’s, New York, catalog no. 5918, item 156, November 1989).

John McQueen (1751–1807) served in South Carolina’s legislature and militia between 1775 and 1776. Elected a captain in that state’s navy in February 1778, he helped free the Charleston harbor from the British blockade in June. Following his service as a courier between GW and Lafayette, McQueen procured supplies for the Continental army. Always an active land speculator, McQueen moved to Georgia in 1784 and expanded his operations, only to be overwhelmed by debt and forced to flee Georgia in 1791 for St. Augustine, Fla., where he swore allegiance to the king of Spain, converted to Catholicism, and developed business relationships with Spanish officials in Florida, who knew him as Don Juan McQueen.

3GW is referring to Lafayette’s letter to him of 5 Jan., which the Frenchman reopened and completed on 10 Jan., and Lafayette’s aide-de-camp Captain Morel de La Colombe. No letter of 8 Jan. from Lafayette to GW has been found, but see n.8.

4The French surrendered St. Lucia in the West Indies to a British expeditionary force on 30 Dec. 1778 (see John Jay to GW, 22 Feb., n.3).

5See Benjamin Lincoln to GW, 5 Jan. and 7 February.

6See William Maxwell to GW, 25 and 27 February.

7For this intelligence, see GW to John Jay, 6 March.

8In his letter of 5 Jan. to GW, Lafayette had recommended Captain La Colombe for promotion to major. Congress denied La Colombe a major’s commission on 6 March (see 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 , 13:281; see also 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 , 15:1102–3).

In a letter of 8 Jan. to “the president of Congress,” possibly the one of that date that GW refers to earlier in this letter, Lafayette requested a promotion to captain for Lt. Michael Gabriel Houdin (DNA:PCC, item 156). After reading Lafayette’s letter on 5 Feb., Congress resolved to inform Houdin “that he would receive promotion according to the rules established in the army of the United States” (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 , 13:148).

Michael Gabriel Houdin (1739–1802) entered the French army in 1758 and served in the West Indies, primarily as a lieutenant, between 1768 and his resignation in 1776. He joined the 15th Massachusetts Regiment as a first lieutenant in January 1777, was commissioned a captain in June 1779, and subsequently served until the end of the war in the 5th and 2d Massachusetts regiments. Houdin eulogized GW in My Last Respects and Farewel, To the Late and Great Hero Geo. Washington with Two Remarks on Other Subjects, and A Prayer to Almighty God (Albany, 1800).

In a letter of 11 March from Middlebrook, GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton wrote to brevet Major Noirmont de La Neuville. It reads: “I have received the honor of your letter of the 17th of february, the contents of which so far as was necessary, have been communicated to His Excellency. Though circumstances did not permit you to serve immediately under him, the information he has received of your conduct, has impressed him with an advantageous opinion of your merits, and he regrets that the situation of our service, and the increasing difficulties incident to the employment of foreign officers in general, especially while we are obliged to reform a number of our own, do not authorise him to encourage your continuance in America. The prospect of his having an opportunity to employ you next campaign in a manner honorable to yourself and useful to the public is too precarious to justify your stay” (DLC:GW).

9The daughter and first child of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, was born on 19 Dec. 1778.

10For a similar report on foreign developments, see GW to George Clinton, 6 March.

11GW almost certainly is referring to King George III’s combative speech at the opening of Parliament on 26 Nov. 1778 and subsequent parliamentary debate (see John Jay to GW, 3 March, and n.4 to that document).

12GW wrote and then struck out “much” before “more” on his draft manuscript.

13GW first wrote “expressions” at this place on his draft. He then struck out that word and wrote “Sentiments” above the line.

14GW first wrote “warmly” at this place on his draft. He then struck out that word and wrote “conspicuously” above the line.

15Contrary to Lafayette’s expectation, his aide-de-camp Presley Nevill remained in the United States. For remarks on Nevill’s movements, see GW to Lafayette, 30 Sept. 1779 (DLC:GW).

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