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To George Washington from Richard Henry Lee, 1 August 1775

From Richard Henry Lee

Philadelphia 1st August 1775

Dear Sir,

After the fatigue of many days, and of this in particular, I should not sit down at eleven oClock at night to write to a Gentleman of whose goodness of heart I have less doubt than I have of yours. But well knowing that you will pardon what flows from good intentions, I venture to say that my hopes are, you will find from what the Congress has already done, and from what I hope they will do tomorrow,1 that it has been a capital object with us to make your arduous business as easy to you as the nature of things will admit. The business immediately before us being finished, the approaching sickly season here, and the great importance of our presence in the Virga Convention,2 have determined a recess of a Month, it standing now, that the Congress shall meet here again on the 5th of September. The capital object of powder we have attended to as far as we could by sending you the other day six Tons, and tomorrow we shall propose sending six or eight Tons more, which, with the supplies you may get from Connecticut, and such further ones from here, as future expected importations may furnish, will I hope enable you to do all that this powerful article can in good hands accomplish.3 We understand here that Batteries may be constructed at the entrance of the Bay of Boston so as to prevent the egress & regress of any Ships whatever. If this be fact, would it not Sir be a signal stroke to secure the Fleet & Army in and before Boston so as to compel a surrender at discretion. While I write this, I assure you my heart is elated with the contemplation of so great an event. A decisive thing, that would at once end the War, and vindicate the injured liberties of America. But your judgment and that of your brave Associates, will best determine the practicability of this business.4 I think we have taken the most effectual measures to secure the friendship of the Indians all along our extensive frontiers, and by what we learn of the Spirit of our Convention now sitting at Richmond, a Spirit prevails there very sufficient to secure us on that quarter—The particulars of their conduct I refer you to Mr Frazer for, who comes fresh from thence, & who goes to the Camp a Soldier of fortune—You know him better than I do, and I am sure you will provide for him as he deserves.

We are here as much in the dark about news from England as you are, the London Ships having been detained long beyond the time they were expected. The indistinct accounts we have, tell us of great confusion all over England, and a prodigious fall of the Stocks. I heartily wish it may be true, but if it is not so now, I have no doubt of its shortly being the case.

I will not detain you longer from more important affairs, than to beg the favor of you, when your leisure permits, to oblige me with a line by Post, to let us know how you go on.

There is nothing I wish so much as your success, happiness, and safe return to your family and Country, because I am with perfect sincerity dear Sir Your Affectionate friend and countryman

Richard Henry Lee


1Although Congress’s official journal indicates that the recess began on 1 Aug., the letters and diaries of several delegates confirm that Congress met and adjourned the following day (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 , 2:239; 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 , 1:694–95).

2The third Virginia convention met from 17 July to 26 Aug. 1775.

3On 25 July Congress, learning that about six and a half tons of gunpowder had arrived in Philadelphia, ordered the Pennsylvania delegates “to have it sent under a safe convoy with all possible despatch to Genl Washington at the Camp before Boston” (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 , 2:204). The second shipment of gunpowder contained 5 tons. According to 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 , 2:238, Congress ordered that supply sent to GW on 1 Aug., but it probably happened the following day as Lee says here (see note 1). For another account of the sending of this gunpowder, see Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., to GW, 8 Aug. 1775, n.3.

4The blockading of Boston Harbor was a favorite project of Josiah Quincy, Sr., who lived on the shore of the harbor near Squantum Neck. “Had we a sufficient Supply of Powder and battering Cannon,” Quincy wrote to John Adams on 11 July 1775, “such is the Spirit and Intrepidity of our brave Countrymen, we should very soon, and with little or no Hazard, lock up the Harbor and make both Seamen and Soldiers our prisoners at Discretion” (Taylor, Papers of John Adams description begins Robert J. Taylor et al., eds. Papers of John Adams. 17 vols. to date. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1977–. description ends , 3:73–77). Adams replied to Quincy on 29 July: “I have a great opinion of your knowledge, and judgment, from long experience, concerning the channels and islands in Boston harbour; but I must confess your opinion that the harbour might be blocked up, and seamen and soldiers made prisoners, at discretion, was too bold and enterprising for me, who am not apt to startle at a daring proposal” (ibid., 104–6). Quincy made a more detailed suggestion for blockading the harbor in a letter to GW of 31 Oct. 1775, but GW did not think the scheme a practical one. See GW to Quincy, 4 Nov. 1775. For GW’s rejection of a similar proposal by Joseph Palmer, see GW to Palmer, 22 Aug. 1775.

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