George Washington Papers
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From George Washington to Major Henry Lee, Jr., 9 July 1779

To Major Henry Lee, Jr.

Head Quarters New Windsor July 9th 1779

Dr Sir.

I have received your letter of yesterday & thank you for the intelligence you communicated1—I would caution you not to place too much confidence in Mr Smith. I suppose he is the son of Mr Thomas Smith, whose attachment to us is very generally & I beleive Justly suspected—The presumption is that the son holds similar sentiments to his father though the contrary is possible enough—The appearances he puts on may only be to gain opportunities of communicating with the Enemy and serving them in reality while he is only serving us in pretence.2

The measure you propose of putting deserters from our Army to immediate death would probably tend to discourage the practice— But it ought to be executed with caution and only when the fact is very clear and unequivocal. I think that part of your proposal which respects cutting off their heads and sending them to the Light Troops had better be ommitted—Examples however severe ought not to be attended with an appearance of inhumanity otherwise they give disgust and may exite resistment3 rather than terror.4 I am with Great Regard Dr Sir Your most Obedt Servt

G: Washington

Df, in Caleb Gibbs’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Lee’s letter to GW of 8 July has not been found, but it likely contained intelligence and observations similar to a letter from Lee to Joseph Reed, president of the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council, written at Haverstraw, N.Y., on 6 July. That letter reads: “On the 28th of June, Sir Henry Clinton left New York. His baggage was sent out by water the preceding evening to white Plains. The same morning a number of cruisers sailed for the Capes of Delaware, and the whole body of transports stood up the Sound, presumable, that their desire is to receive the main army or a detachment for some Eastern expedition.

“The possession and fortifying of King’s Ferry, the manner in which the army is subsisted, and the knowledge of the States from which all their bread is brought, conspired to form my mind on the objects of Gen. Clinton for a moment or two. I communicated my opinion to his Excellency early, and repeated it in two successive letters.

“Unhappily, I believe that the neglect or ignorance of the constructors of West Point has obliged this long halt in the Clove.

“I fear it will be still longer. Gen. Clinton, by his movements, is in full possession of West Chester County, and has taken a healthy position, where he may refresh his army, wait for reinforcements, or by grand detachments plunder the contiguous states. Nothing but an advance over the river, and a real or feigned attack on the garrisons at the Ferry, will prevent Eastern expeditions. The adoption of this measure might compel Sir Henry to keep his army collected, for the purpose of foiling any attempt on the Ferry. For my part, I must confess I view General Clinton’s commencement of the campaign as something masterly. The principle on which his schemes seem to have been founded is to render the attainment of supplies to our army as difficult as possible. . . .

“The Cork Fleet had not arrived on the 28th, nor had the April packet. The Refugee regiments recruit very fast; the army under the immediate command of General Clinton is computed, by some accurate judges in the City of New York, to be about 10,000. No official despatches have been received by the British Commander since February. It is certain that a British Captain had several packages for Members of Congress.

“He persists in an obstinate denial; a Mr. Wallace, merchant, deposes that he saw the packets—the Captain is confined in Provost.

“A vessel, five weeks from Liverpool, mentions the arrival of three thousand troops from Britain at Barbadoes; an equal number of the forces under General Grant are to be detached from St. Lucia for the grand army. They are daily expected.

“This letter is hasty, incorrect, and hardly legible; pardon it, and be assured my sole object is your information of things, as they actually stand with us. The intelligence conveyed, I received from a person who left New York on the 29th. It came to him directly from Dr. [Jonathan Mallet], purveyor of the hospitals, an intimate of Sir Harry and Lawyer Smith, who stands high in the estimation of the King’s leaders. Do not divulge this matter, as it may preclude further intelligence.

“… The war will last for many years to come. I wish our preparations were more vigorous, and that the spirit of false economy was banished from the Council Chamber of America” (Reed, Joseph Reed, description begins William B. Reed. Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed, Military Secretary of Washington, at Cambridge; Adjutant-General of the Continental Army; Member of the Congress of the United States; and President of the Executive Council of the State of Pennsylvania. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 1847. description ends 108–10).

2GW is referring to Thomas Smith and his son William Smith. William Smith had left Haverstraw on 7 June, and he arrived in New York City the next day (see Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs description begins William H. W. Sabine, ed. Historical Memoirs . . . of William Smith, Historian of the Province of New York. 2 vols. New York, 1956–58. description ends [1971], 115). For his attempt to supply intelligence to the British in June 1781, see Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs description begins William H. W. Sabine, ed. Historical Memoirs . . . of William Smith, Historian of the Province of New York. 2 vols. New York, 1956–58. description ends (1971), 422–24.

Thomas Smith (1734–1795) graduated from Princeton in 1754 and became a lawyer in New York. He owned a country house at Haverstraw, N.Y., and was a brother of William Smith, the royal chief justice of New York, who notoriously refused twice to take an oath of allegiance to the state and consorted routinely with high-ranking British military officers in New York City. For evidence that Thomas and his brother William maintained a secret correspondence, see Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs description begins William H. W. Sabine, ed. Historical Memoirs . . . of William Smith, Historian of the Province of New York. 2 vols. New York, 1956–58. description ends (1971), 79, 108, 209, 216. In his journal entry for 7 June 1779, the elder William Smith reported a conversation with Gen. Henry Clinton on operations around Haverstraw: “He has patroled round mine and my Brother’s House; but for his Sake ordered that he should be neither spoken to nor Hurt. He will do any Thing for him I desire. But would rather wish him to stay where he is at present” (Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs description begins William H. W. Sabine, ed. Historical Memoirs . . . of William Smith, Historian of the Province of New York. 2 vols. New York, 1956–58. description ends [1971], 114). In his journal entry for 2 July, William Smith reported that Thomas Smith was “a Prisoner at Kakiate” (Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs description begins William H. W. Sabine, ed. Historical Memoirs . . . of William Smith, Historian of the Province of New York. 2 vols. New York, 1956–58. description ends [1971], 123). A letter from New York governor George Clinton to Thomas Smith of 18 Sept. 1780, responding to an appeal from Smith of 15 Sept., indicates that his collusion with William Smith had estranged him from American authorities (see Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs description begins William H. W. Sabine, ed. Historical Memoirs . . . of William Smith, Historian of the Province of New York. 2 vols. New York, 1956–58. description ends [1971], 331–33). For the decision not to arrest Thomas Smith for complicity in Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold’s treasonous activities, see GW to John Lamb, 26 Sept. 1780 (NHi).

William Smith (1761–1822), son of Thomas Smith, graduated from Princeton in 1778. Like his father, he was suspected of complicity in Arnold’s treasonous activities but avoided arrest. William Smith subsequently identified openly with the Loyalists, secured a commission dated 22 Oct. 1781 as ensign in the 64th Regiment of Foot, and went to England briefly at the war’s end. In January 1785, he married into a family with significant property holdings in South Carolina and apparently spent the rest of his life in that state and Georgia.

3The Varick transcript reads “resentment” for this word.

4For Lee’s modification of his orders related to captured deserters, see his letter to GW, 11 July; see also GW to Lee, 10 July.

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