George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 26 May 1781]

26th. Received a Letter from the Honble. Jno. Laurens Minister from the United States of America at the Court of Versailles—informing me that the Sum of 6,000,000 of Livres was granted as a donation to this Country—to be applied in part to the purchase of Arms—Cloaths &ca. for the American Troops and the ballance to my orders, & draughts at long sight and that a Fleet of 20 Sail of the Line was on its departure for the West Indies 12 of which were to proceed to this Coast where it was probable they might arrive in the Month of July.1 He also added that the Courts of Petersbg. & Vienna had offered their Mediation in settling the present troubles wch. the King of France, tho’ personally pleas’d with, could not accept without consulting his Allies.2 A Letter from Doctr. Lee—inclosing extracts of one from his Brother Wm. Lee Esqr. dated the 20th. of Feby. holds out strong assurances of Peace being restored in the course of this Yr.3

1John Laurens (1754–1782), of South Carolina, son of Henry Laurens, former president of the Continental Congress, had been appointed aide-de-camp to GW in 1777. In Dec. 1780 John Laurens was made a special envoy to France to obtain additional aid for the United States. When he returned from his mission to France he rejoined the army, participated in the Yorktown campaign, and was killed in a minor skirmish with the British at Combahee Ferry, S.C., in Aug. 1782. For the objectives of Laurens’s mission to France, see his memorial to the comte de Vergennes (WHARTON description begins Francis Wharton, ed. The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States. 6 vols. Washington, D.C., 1889. description ends , 4:318–21). His letter to GW, written from Paris, 24 Mar. 1781, is in DLC:GW.

2Vergennes had told Laurens that “The Courts of Petersburg & Vienna have offered their mediation. The King has answered that it would be personally agreeable to him, but that he could not as yet accept it, because he has Allies whose concurrence is necessary. Mr. Franklin is requested to communicate the Overture and Answer to Congress, and to engage them to send their instructions to their plenipotentiaries. It is supposed the Congress will accept the mediation with eagerness” (Laurens to GW, 24 Mar. 1781, DLC:GW). For the mediation attempts of Russia and Austria and Vergennes’s maneuvers, see BEMIS description begins Samuel Flagg Bemis. The Diplomacy of the American Revolution. 1935. Reprint. Bloomington, Ind., and London, 1967. description ends , 172–88; MORRIS description begins Richard B. Morris. The Peacemakers: The Great Powers and American Independence. 1965. Reprint. New York, 1970. description ends , 173–90. The Austro-Russian mediation offer was transmitted to Congress by the French minister on 26 May 1781 (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 , 20:560–63).

3Arthur Lee (1740–1792), a member of the powerful Lee family of Virginia, was educated at Eton and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, receiving the M.D. degree in 1764. After practicing medicine for a short time in Williamsburg, he returned to England in 1768 and studied law at Lincoln’s Inn and the Middle Temple. His brother, William Lee (1739–1795), accompanied him to England and entered on a successful mercantile career in London. In 1773 William was made a sheriff of London and in 1775 an alderman. Both Lees became prominent in London literary and political circles. After 1777 William Lee embarked on a series of unsuccessful diplomatic missions on behalf of the United States to various European courts. Arthur Lee was appointed in 1776, with Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane, one of the three commissioners to France and, after stormy controversies with his fellow commissioners, was recalled by Congress to America in 1779. After his return he served in the Virginia House of Delegates and in 1781 was elected to the Continental Congress. William had been recalled from his diplomatic missions in 1779 but remained in Europe until 1783. GW had been connected with both Lees in the Mississippi Company before their departure for England. Arthur Lee’s letter has not been found, but on 7 June, GW acknowledged Lee’s letter of 19 May thanking him “for the extract taken from the letter of Mr. Lee of Feby. 20th. The information contained in it is important, and went to some matters which were new to me. I suspt. with you, that Mr. Lee is rather too sanguine in his expectation of a genl. Peace within the year” (DLC:GW). The extracts were probably taken from William Lee to Richard Henry Lee, 20 Feb. 1781, written from Brussels and containing William’s anticipation of impending peace “unless some unexpected and unforeseen occurrences in America should happen, that may induce the King of Great Britain to risque every thing elsewhere, in hopes of obtaining his favorite object, the Subjugation of America. You have the game therefore in your hands” (LEE [2] description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed. Letters of William Lee, Sheriff and Alderman of London; Commercial Agent of the Continental Congress in France; and Minister to the Courts of Vienna and Berlin, 1766-1783. 3 vols. Brooklyn, 1891. description ends , 3:843–48).

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