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From George Washington to La Luzerne, 28 April 1780

To La Luzerne

Morris-town 28th of April 1780


It is with pain I inform your Excellency that Mr de Miralles is worse to day—He had a restless night, and his fever is increased—His Throat is now so sore that it is with difficulty he can be nourished—and besides these, his respiration is bad.

Symptoms so unfavourable in the advanced stages of a disorder afford little hope of recovery, especially in a person of Mr de Miralles’s age.

Permit me to offer my respects to Mr Marbois—& to assure your Excellency that with much consideration I have the honor to be Yr Most Obedt H. Ser.

Go: Washington

Mr De Miralles is growing worse—he is now in a delirium.


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

GW wrote La Luzerne from Morristown later on this date: “It is with extreme regret I am obliged to inform your Excellency of the death of Don Juan De Miralles.

“This melancholy event took place about three Oclock this Afternoon—His remains will be interred tomorrow with all the respect due to his character & merit” (ALS, FrPMAE; DfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; GW signed the cover of the ALS, which is addressed to La Luzerne at Philadelphia).

GW wrote Samuel Huntington, president of Congress, from Morristown on this date, 7:00 P.M.: “I am sorry to inform Your Excellency, that the Honble Don Juan de Miralles died to day about Noon, after a severe illness of Ten days. His remains will be interred to morrow in a manner suited to his rank” (LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW). Harrison, who also penned the draft, initially wrote “unhappy” in that manuscript’s first sentence before striking out that word and writing “sorry” above the line. Congress read GW’s letter on 1 May (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 , 16:400).

GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman wrote Brig. Gen. Henry Knox on “Friday Evening,” 28 April: “It is proposed to fire Minute Guns tomorrow Afternoon during the procession of the Dons Funeral—Will you be pleased to have matters in readiness. … His Excellency will expect you at dinner ½ after 2 oClock” (DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 29119).

Adj. Gen. Alexander Scammell then wrote Knox from Morristown on 29 April: “The remains of Don Juan De Mirailes are to be inter’d this afternoon at Morris Town; The funeral procession will move from Head Quarters between 4 & 5 Oclock.

“It is His Excellencys desire that all the Officers who can attend consistent with the safety and police of the Camp should be invited to the funeral; as he wishes to show all possible respect to the memory of a very respectable subject of the King of Spain—He leaves it to the Commandants of Divisions and Brigades to have such a number invited as they shall think proper” (DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 29119). Scammell apparently sent the same letter to other officers, including Brig. Gen. William Irvine (PHi: William Irvine Papers) and Brig. Gen. Edward Hand (DLC: Peter Force Collection).

Sgt. Ebenezer Parkman, Jr., who served with the artificers at Morristown, wrote in his diary entry for 29 April: “The Spaniard Buryed with great pomp” (MWA: Parkman Family Papers). Dr. James Thacher described the funeral of Juan de Miralles in his journal entry for the same date: “The deceased was a gentleman of high rank in Spain, and had been about one year a resident with our Congress, from the Spanish court. The corpse was dressed in rich state, and exposed to public view, as is customary in Europe. The coffin was most splendid and stately, lined throughout with fine cambric, and covered on the outside with rich black velvet, and ornamented in a superb manner. The top of the coffin was removed, to display the pomp and grandeur with which the body was decorated. It was in splendid full dress, consisting of a scarlet suit, embroidered with rich gold-lace, a three-cornered gold-laced hat, and a genteel cued wig, white silk stockings, large diamond shoe and knee-buckles, a profusion of diamond rings decorated the fingers, and from a superb gold watch set with diamonds, several rich seals were suspended. His Excellency General Washington, with several other general officers and members of Congress, attended the funeral solemnities, and walked as chief mourners. The other officers of the army, and numerous respectable citizens, formed a splendid procession, extending about one mile. The pall-bearers were six field officers, and the coffin was borne on the shoulders of four officers of the artillery in full uniform. Minute-guns were fired during the procession, which greatly increased the solemnity of the occasion. A Spanish priest performed service at the grave, in the Roman Catholic form. The coffin was inclosed in a box of plank, and all the profusion of pomp and grandeur were deposited in the silent grave, in the common burying-ground, near the church at Morristown. A guard is placed at the grave, lest our soldiers should be tempted to dig for hidden treasure. It is understood that the corpse is to be removed to Philadelphia. This gentleman is said to have been in possession of an immense fortune, and has left to his three daughters in Spain one hundred thousand pounds sterling each” (Thacher, Military Journal description begins James Thacher. Military Journal of the American Revolution, From the commencement to the disbanding of the American Army; Comprising a detailed account of the principal events and Battles of the Revolution, with their exact dates, And a Biographical Sketch of the most Prominent Generals. Hartford, 1862. description ends , 192–93). French legation secretary Barbé-Marbois wrote that “holy water” thrown “on the people” during the funeral rites upset an “American officer . … He felt insulted and it was not without some difficulty that we made him understand that he ought to be especially grateful, that it was a special favor which the priest had done him, and that we looked upon it as a blessing to be well drenched by him” (Chase, Letters of Barbé-Marbois description begins Eugene Parker Chase, trans. and ed. Our Revolutionary Forefathers: The Letters of François, Marquis de Barbé-Marbois during his Residence in the United States as Secretary of the French Legation, 1779–1785. New York, 1929. description ends , 159; see also John Fell to William Livingston, 7 May, in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 15:94–95; James Madison to John Page, 8 May, in Madison Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Congressional Series. 17 vols. Chicago and Charlottesville, Va., 1962–91. description ends , 2:21–23; Oliver Ellsworth to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 9 May, in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 15:101–3; and Livingston to Fell, 20 May, in Prince, Livingston Papers description begins Carl E. Prince et al., eds. The Papers of William Livingston. 5 vols. Trenton and New Brunswick, N.J., 1979–88. description ends , 3:387–88).

GW wrote Diego Joseph Navarro from Morristown on 30 April: “I am extremely sorry to communicate to your Excellency the painful intelligence of the death of Don Juan De Miralles.

“This unfortunate event happened at my Quarters the day before yesterday, and his remains were yesterday interred with all the respect due to his character & merit.

“He did me the honor of a visit in company with the Minister of France, and was siezed the day of his arrival with a violent biliary complaint, which, after nine days continuance, put a period to his life, notwithstanding all the efforts of the most skilful Physicians we were able to procure.

“Your Excellency will have the goodness to believe that I took pleasure in performing every friendly office to him during his illness; and that no care or attention in our power was omitted towards his comfort or restoration.

“I the more sincerely sympathize with you in the loss of so estimable a friend, as ever since his residence with us, I have been happy in ranking him among the number of mine. It must however be some consolation to his connexions to know that in this Country he has been universally esteemed and will be universally regretted.

“May I request the favor of your Excellency to present my respects to the Lady and family of our deceased friend and to assure them how much I participate in their Afflictions on this melancholy occasion?” (ALS, ViMtvL; ALS [duplicate], NjFrHi; L, in Spanish, SpSeAG; Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; see also GW to Jedediah Huntington, 20 April, source note). GW wrote at the end of the draft: “His Excellency Don Diego Jos[ep]h Navarro Govr & Captn Genl of the Isld of Cuba at Havanna.” The widow of Miralles was María Elegio de la Puente, who later dealt with financial complications (see Cummins, Spanish Observers description begins Townsend Cummins. Spanish Observers and the American Revolution, 1775–1783. Baton Rouge, La., 1991. description ends , 127–29, 161–64).

Navarro replied to GW from Havana on 6 July: “the remarkable number of honors and distinctions, conferd by Your Excellency during the life, and after the decease of the late Don Juan de Miralles deserves the greatest praise, and the immortal acknowledgement of his Lady & familly, Who in the midst of the most penetrating grief, for the loss of a beloved Spouse, and an Affectionate parent, have receiv’d as much Comfort as they were Capable of, by Calling to mind the many favors and honors which your Exelly has dispensed to them—for my part, I beg your Exy to accept of my thanks, for the distinction you was pleasd to pay to my reccommendation. I feel his loss Most Sensibly, at the Same time, that I value that Conduct which has Acquired the good will of many Inhabitants of these Colonies, especially that of your Excellency, and the Gentlemen of Congress.

“it will give me the greatest Satisfaction, that Your Excellency will make use of the Sincere friendship & fina Ley which I offer to you, and which Corresponding with the polite expressions Containd in your much valued Letter of the 30th April, excites in me, as it shou’d do, every anxiety for the Service and obedience of Your Exy.

“God preserve the life of your Excellency and grant you happy years. …

“I hope your Excellency will pardon me that this is not wrote in my proper hand, on account of my bad writeing which woud incomode your Excellency” (translation, DLC:GW; LS, in Spanish, DLC:GW; copy, in Spanish, SpSeAG). Col. Stephen Moylan, who translated Navarro’s letter, indicated that the final paragraph was “in the Governors own hand.” Moylan explained his translation in a letter he wrote GW on 21 Aug.: “as I have Some Leisure this morning I will attempt the translation of the Governors letter, upon looking it over, I find it full of Compliment which requires a much more perfect Knowledge of the Spanish language, to do justice to than I can pretend to, there is a turn of expression, in the complimentary Stile, which cannot be given in our language, and is much more difficult than a Letter on business, but I will give you the nearest I can to the original” (ALS, DLC:GW). The words “fina Ley” in Navarro’s letter can be translated as “faithful attachment.”

Puente also had written GW from Havana on 6 July: “At half past twelve ô clock on the 24th June Came the most distressing Account that ever reached my ears or those of my familly Consisting of Seven daughters (& one little son who is Absent) we were Amazed to the last degree—the loss of my beloved Husband coud not for an instant be forgot—his Love was not to be explaind—words Cannot express his Loss—this can easily be imagined—when it is Considerd that he has left eight Childeren, not provided for [unsettled is the proper translation]—in Short, most excellent sir, for us, there is left no Consolation.

“the visit Which he undertook to pay Your Excelly he Communicated to me before he went away, and his return was most Anxiously lookd for by us, he promisd us it woud be in the last year, he received a multitude of distinctions from Your Excellency—God has been pleasd to alter the dispositions he had made, it is our duty to Submit.

“Captain Grâl [Navarro] has informed me of the expressions with which your Excellency has been pleasd to favor me and my familly and of the interesting part you was pleasd to take, in my Lamentable Situation.

“Don Francisco his Secratory has let me Know the cause & progress of his Disorder, and of the very great attention, and honor with which during his illness and after his decease, your Excelly had shewn Your friendship for him—these are a Conjunction of Motives for our greater gratitude, and for which I have not words sufficient to express myself.

“I beg that your Excellency will receive, all that a heart inflamed with the most affecting acknowledgements can give, and that you may be assured they will be handed down to my posterity.

“I beg of your Excellency, that you will be pleasd to assure your most Excellent Lady, in the expressions most tender, of my Sincere acknowledgements, and that of all my Childeren [here follows a very fine Compliment which the translator dare not attempt] they woud be glad of haveing an oppertunity of Showing their gratitude, wish for orders, even of the Smallest Kind—request you will not doubt but they will with the greatest pleasure execute any Commands” (translation, DLC:GW; LS, in Spanish, DLC:GW; in translation, except for [Navarro], phrases in square brackets indicate Moylan’s comments as the translator; see also Puente to Benedict Arnold, same date, DLC:GW). The skipped “very fine Compliment” can be translated as “who with the greatest and most ardent desire.” Moylan explained his translation in a letter he wrote GW on “Monday evening,” 14 Aug.: “I told you it woud take me Some days to translate the Spanish Letters, you put into my hands this afternoon—I find one translated to my hand and as you know I am a gallant man I will give you as near a translation of the Ladies Letter as I can, the Governor must wait until I am in a better mood, than I am at present, his Stile will require more attention than Donna Marias—Mind, I cannot do justice to the original, I do the best I can” (ALS, DLC:GW).

GW replied to Puente from Preakness, N.J., on 13 Oct.: “Don Francisco having been so good as to inform me of an opportunity to the Havannah—I cannot forego the honors of making my acknowlegements to you for your obliging letter of the 6th of July last. All the attentions I had in my power to pay to your deceased husband were dictated, by the friendship with which his many amiable qualities had inspired me.

“Your affliction Madam and that of his family are additional motives for the regret I feel for his loss.

“Esteemed by all those who had the pleasure of his acquaintance he would not but be dear to his more intimate and tender connections—My heart will always pay a tribute to his memory, and take a warm part in the distresses, which his loss must occasion to his family” (Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; see also GW to Francisco Rendon, same date, DLC:GW).

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