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To George Washington from Henry Laurens, 24 October 1779

From Henry Laurens

Philadelphia 24th October 1779.

Dear sir—

I had the honor of addressing you in a Letter under the 7th & 9th Inst. which went forward by a Messenger from the Dep. Qu. Master’s office.1

Yesterday I received from Charles Town in south Carolina by a Letter & News Papers, intelligence, in brief, of the operations of the combined arms in & near Georgia to the 2d Inst.2

Colo. Maitland with so many of his Troops as were inclined & able had made his escape from Beaufort & joined General Prevost at Savanna leaving behind him, his whole Hospital Artillery, Baggage & Stores, I know the swamps which the Colonel must have penetrated; a detail of his line of March, if he really went that way, would excite a mixture of compassion & laughter.

The Enemy were strongly fortified by lines & redoubts in the Town of Savanna, where the soil is sand & sandy clay—their number about 3000. exclusive of Negroes & other rubbage.

Count d’Estaing had landed 5000. Troops & formed a junction with General Lincoln who must have had under his command about 4000. Count Pulaski & General Mckintosh had been detached southerly, probably to secure the Town of Sunbury about 40 Miles distant from Savanna & to intercept retreating parties by land & inland navigation, which in that country may be attempted with great prospect of success.

The allies finding General Prevost so strongly intrenched had determined after a fruitless summon to make regular approaches in preference to assault, Colo. Lomoy [Laumoy] chief Engineer had announced that his works would be complete on the 1st October & it was expected, the Batteries consisting of 38 pieces of heavy Cannon & 8 Mortars would open in the same instant on the 2d or 3d.

Sorties in two attempts had been made by the beseiged on the working parties, in both instances the assailants were beat back & suffered greatly in killed & wounded.

A flag had passed from Gen. Prevost to Count d’Estaing with a request from the General for a passport in favor of Madame Prevost her plate & effects.3 the Count had replied that his politeness so far as respected the Lady could not be questioned, but that he understood the Plate &ca had been acquired in such a way from the Allies of his Master as induced him to believe the General could not in honor & conscience expect to enjoy it. or something like this.

The Sagitaire had taken the Experiment commanded by Sir James Wallace after a brave resistance, it is said that on board the Experiment were General Vaughan & about 20 other Officers, & Cash for paying the British Troops in Georgia,4 that dispatches had been found on board intimating an embarkation of 4000. Men at New York intended for so. Carolina in consequence of which ten Ships of the line had been detached for convoying them in—this may account for the fleet which lately appeared at the mouth of Chesepeak.

The Ariel, Fowey, & a sloop of 18 Guns, British Men of War, a large Ship with 2200. Barrels of Bread & flour, a large quantity of Beef & Pork 4000. suits of Clothing &c. &c.—all the Enemy’s Store & Transport Ships had fallen into the French Admiral’s hands, besides many other Captures at Sea.5

Mr Alexr Cameron formerly British Deputy, now, Superintendent of Indian affairs in the Southern district had prevailed on a part of the Cherokees to break faith with south Carolina, these had been severely chastised by General Williamson their Towns & provisions totally destroyed & Cameron driven out of the Nation—the General had returned & would join General Lincoln with about 1000 Men on the 29th or 30th september.6

The Camps of the Allies in perfect health & harmony & every body in full prospect of repossessing Savanna & of having the British General his Troops & the wrong Governor Sir James Wright7 prisoners of War within a week.

Your Excellency well knows how to make proper abatements from such jumbled accounts—the bulk I believe to be true & there are no doubt many favorable truths untold.8

“I have not heard (says my friend) from Colo. Laurens since he went to Georgia he commands the Light Infantry, but by Letters to others I learn he was well the 27th Septem.—after the reduction of Savanna he intends to return to his General.” this is all I have received concerning Your Excellency’s Aid de Camp.9 my friend adds that deserters from the Enemy came in daily.

On Thursday last Congress were pleased to appoint me to go to the United States of Holland, when I am informed of the nature & extent of commands to be laid on me, I shall be better qualified to determine on the propriety of accepting the Charge,10 be this as it may, I mean to begin my journey towards south Carolina on the 29th Inst.11 there & in every other place where God pleases to lead me I shall continue to bear a grateful remembrance of Your Excellency’s paternal care of my Country & shall count every opportunity of testifying my Love & Esteem for you an happy event. under these professions I take my leave & with great sincerity subscribe Sir Your much obliged & obedient servant

Henry Laurens.

ALS, NHi: Vail Collection. A letter from Lt. Col. Udny Hay to Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates, written at Fishkill, N.Y., on 30 Oct., indicates when GW received this communication: “His Excellency the commander in chief yesterday recd intelligence from Mr Laurens of the situation of our affairs to the southward which may be rely’d on and of which the following is the substance” (Gregory and Dunnings, “Gates Papers” description begins James Gregory and Thomas Dunnings, eds. “Horatio Gates Papers, 1726–1828.” Sanford, N.C., 1979. Microfilm. description ends ).

1The lengthy letter that Laurens wrote GW between 7 and 9 Oct. covered congressional actions on financial, military, and diplomatic matters.

2This letter to Laurens and its enclosures have not been identified, but the next ten paragraphs in this letter from Laurens to GW draw heavily on these items. An account printed in The Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Philadelphia) for 26 Oct. also originated from the materials sent to Laurens. For a textual comparison, see Laurens Papers, description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends 15:195, notes 1 and 2.

3Anne Margaret Grand Prevost (1742–1809), raised in a prosperous family, had married Augustine Prevost, then a lieutenant colonel in the British army, in 1765.

4A letter from Lord George Germain to Gen. Henry Clinton written on 15 Feb. 1780 partially corroborated this report: “The loss of the Experiment and of the large sum you had sent with Brig.-General Garth for the pay of the troops in Georgia was very unfortunate” (Davies, Documents of the American Revolution, description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends 18:48). Maj. Gen. John Vaughan had returned to England in late summer 1779 and did not return to active service until February 1780, when he arrived at Barbados as commander in chief of the British army in the West Indies.

5A French ship captured the British Ariel, 20 guns, on 9 Oct. 1779. The 24–gun Fowey had not been taken and remained on duty until sunk in battle on 10 Oct. 1781.

6Alexander Cameron (d. 1781) emigrated from Scotland to the southern colonies, married a Cherokee woman, and served in the British military. He then joined the British Indian Department in the South, became a deputy superintendent, and attained stature with the Cherokees. His efforts to keep that tribe neutral at the start of the Revolutionary War failed, and he sought refuge in Pensacola later in 1777. An administrative reconfiguration in spring 1779 led to Cameron’s appointment as superintendent of a new western district, but his attempts to influence the Choctaws and Chickasaws inhabiting that territory proved ineffective.

Cherokee raids on white settlers along the southern frontier prompted Brig. Gen. Andrew Williamson of the South Carolina militia to lead a punitive expedition during late summer 1779. Under the heading “CHARLESTOWN, (S.C.) Sept. 22,” The Boston Gazette, and the Country Journal for 15 Nov. printed a report that touted Williamson’s expedition as successful “beyond our most sanguine expectations. The General has burnt seven of their towns, destroyed all their provisions, and obtained their submission, without any bloodshed. Alexander Cameron, Esq; (who succeeds Mr. Stuart, as the British King’s Superintendent of Indian Affairs) with great difficulty escaped falling into the General’s hands, notwithstanding the great respect the whole [Cherokee] nation bear to that gentleman.”

7James Wright (1716–1785), a lawyer initially active in the affairs of South Carolina, served as governor of Georgia from 1761 until arrested by revolutionary elements in early 1776. Breaking his parole, Wright fled to London and promoted efforts to suppress the rebellion. He returned to Georgia to restore royal government in July 1779, but his efforts never achieved control beyond the reach of British military power. Wright returned to London after the British evacuated Savannah in July 1782.

Wright wrote Germain from Savannah on 5 Nov. that on 15 Sept. “the Count D’Estaing sent a summons to General Prevost to surrender the town and province to the King of France, on which some messages and letters passed and on the 17th the truce ended in declaring that it was the unanimous opinion and resolution of the civil and military that the town should be defended. … And on the 3rd of October at ½ after 11 at night the French began to bombard the town, and at the firing of the morning gun on Monday the 4th began a most furious cannonade which continued more or less till Saturday the 9th, when just before break of day an attack was made by the united armies of the French and rebels, and we have it from very good authority that the flower of both armies to the amount of 2500 French and 1500 rebels came against us. The conflict was sharp and lasted for about an hour and a half and we were well informed by French officers who were wounded and taken, and also by some who came with flags and by deserters and others, that they lost 700 killed and wounded and some accounts mentioned 1000, amongst which are 63 officers, D’Estaing wounded in the thigh and arm, Polaskie on the hip with a grapeshot and since dead; and the rebels it’s said had killed and wounded 500, amongst them Charles Price. Astonishing to think we had only 7 killed and 14 wounded” (Davies, Documents of the American Revolution, description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends 17:252–53).

8American and French operations against Savannah, begun in early September, ended following a disastrous repulse on 9 October. Official notice of this defeat and the allied withdrawal came to GW in a letter of 10 Nov. from Samuel Huntington. For a detailed British summary of these operations, see Augustine Prevost to Germain, 1 Nov., in Davies, Documents of the American Revolution, description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends 17:241–50.

Despite being unconfirmed, the report received from Laurens—later proved erroneous—was shared in GW’s letters to George Clinton, 29 Oct., and to Duportail and Alexander Hamilton, 30 Oct.; see also GW to Horatio Gates, 1 Nov., and “Shaw’s War Letters,” description begins Nicholas B. Wainwright, ed. “Captain Samuel Shaw’s Revolutionary War Letters to Captain Winthrop Sargent.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 70 (1946): 281–324. description ends 303–5.

9For the return of Lt. Col. John Laurens from service in the southern department, see GW to Henry Laurens, 5 Nov., and n.8 to that document.

10Congress on 21 Oct. chose Henry Laurens to negotiate a loan in Holland, and he eventually accepted the appointment (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 15:1186, 1196–98, 1230, 1232, 1235–36, and two letters from Samuel Huntington to Laurens, 30 Oct., 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 14:133–34). On 3 Sept. 1780, the British captured Laurens at sea en route to his assignment (see Laurens Papers, description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends 15:330–35).

11For reports that Laurens left Philadelphia on 9 Nov., see Nathaniel Peabody to William Whipple, that date, 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 14:171, and The Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser for 11 Nov. 1779.

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