George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Andrew Lewis, 18 January 1776

From Andrew Lewis

Williamsburg Jany 18th 1776

Dear Sir.

By Colo. Braxton, who is chose to represent this Colony in general congress, and who will in a few days set out for Phileda, I take the Liberty of writeing you, and would have done so Long er now, and more then once, had I been in the way of oppertunity.1 Anything I can say with regard to the procedings ⟨o⟩f the detestable Lord Dunmore, is published in the Gazette; and of course will ⟨g⟩et to your hand, before this can reach you, he is now a flote and has been so since a few days after the defeat of his few brave Troops at the Great Bridge, his tory party, except a few, he has on Bord, dispersed.2 I belive he is in dayly ⟨e⟩xpectation of being reinforsed, and should this be the case he will from the Diabolicalness of his Disposition, and the Advantage he will have of several ⟨s⟩hips of war, burn and destroy all the Towns and good Bu[i]ldings that can ⟨b⟩e reached from those Armed Vessels, and you know many are the avenus ⟨b⟩y which he may reach the Interiour parts of the Country, from Alexandria, to the Southeran Branches of James River, every small district affords him ⟨an⟩ enterence. Our convention now siting, and has been since the first day ⟨of⟩ last month, has prepared an Ordenance for the raising six Regts and a Battalion ⟨f⟩or the Eastern shore, so that we shall have Eight Regts and the Battalion—⟨T⟩he congress has agreed to take six of our Regts under continental pay and regulations, and its thought by many that they will take the whole:3 the convention has not thought proper to adhere to thire first method of appointing officers; I was asked to except one of the Regts, but as that would subject me to serve under Colo. Henry, who has never seen any kind of service and stand in rank under Colo. Woodford, who you know served Long as a subaltran under my command when I was a field officer. I could not except of a Regt with out shewing a meaness which I am well assured you would condem me for,4 they then proceded to appoint in the Order you will see they stand in the Gazette, how Colos. Stephen and Mercer will brook thire appointments I cannot tell, as they were not present, nor indeed were any of the others, but old officers was the Cry, and have them they would, however contrary to thire first method of appointment5—⟨T⟩he convention thinks the appointment of a Major General & two Brigaders absolutely necessary for the conducting the Troops in this Goverment this is Intirely left to the Congress not doubting but they will take the most able and Experienced they can find, in the thirteen united colonys. I heartily wish, and hop they will find more able and experienced men then we have in this quarter. I make no doubt but the Congress will consult you on this Ocation. I think they Ought, you are perfectly acquianted with the abillitys and experience of all that has served in any considerable Rank in this Government, and er this time are able to judge how fare we may b⟨e⟩ bettred by sending men from the Norward to command our Troops, and I heartily wish you may be able to direct them to men of superioure abilli⟨ty⟩ and experience to any amongst us, if you can I am shure you will do it.6

I have Seen Colo. Byrd since the meeting of convention and from what passed between us I make no doubt of his offering his service to the Congres⟨s⟩ nor do I think many of the most considerate we have will be averse to his being appointed unless you can direct to a better choice from sume other quart⟨er⟩ And I must give it as my oppinion that it would be more Adviseable every thing considered, to appoint him to the command then any other person now in t⟨he⟩ Government. In the first place none could object to serve under him, in the next place, in case of a Misscarrage it would fall Lighter on him then any other Officer we have. He expressed a desire to have my Assistan⟨ce⟩ in case he were appointed.7 And my country shall on all Ocations be wellcome to any Services, my poore abilitys can render them. But my Dear Sir when I speak of my self, I cannot do it, with out expressing that difidanc⟨e⟩ which becoms a man of my capasity, and whos experiance are so muc⟨h⟩ Less then I could wish; to fill a place of such trust and on which so much depends. I am so fare from desireing you to recommend me before a man better qualified that I request you will not.

Colo. Robert How, I know not whither you have an acquiantan⟨ce⟩ of him, but he is the same How who commanded a Compy in Colo. Waddals Battalion, and that Joined us in the year 1761 on Holstons River under the command of Colo. Byrd, is now at Norfolk, and by his being appointed by the congress commands Colo. Woodford,8 thire station at Norfolk is become very disagreeable to them, by a Resolve of convention they are permited to with draw from that station, as soon as they shall think it prudant and Necessery so to do, and to destroy what yet remains of the Towne, and take post at the great Bridge, and Kemps Landing.9 However necessary this step might be on the first apperance of a reinforcement to Dunmore, I could not be brought to approve of it under our present circumstances. I considred that the regular Land force under Dunmore cannot much exced 200 effective men, that the oblegeing them to keep a flote with thire Tory party, and preventing thire receiving supplys of fresh provitions, might so distress them, that they might not be able to continue Long on our co[a]st, besids Sir, will it not be sayed that Dunmore with his few, Obleged eleven or twelve hundred of our men, to with draw from thire ⟨s⟩tation, where he may reland, add strinth to his Tory party, and procure fresh supplys of provitions; all which, in my oppinion might be prevented, and ⟨r⟩espect added to our Arms, insted of haveing a tarnish cast on them.

I much lement your Absence, had you remained amongst us, our Military procedings would have carryed a much more respectable countenance the only thing that makes me beare this havey Loss with any tolerable degree of resignation, is, that you are where you can best serve the General cause.

It would give me great sattisfaction to find that your Army conduct them Selves to your sattisfaction, and that you have every thing to expect from them could you, snach a few moments to favour me with a few Lins it would add to the many Obligation you have Layed me under.

By a Resolve of Convention one hundred Men is to Garrison Fort Pitt, 25 at the mouth of wheling, & 100 at the Mouth of the Great Kanawa, the Last 100 have not y[e]t been able to March to thire post by a Strange Neglect in not supplying them with Amunition, Provitions, &c.10 I hop they will soon be provided, & I shall recommend it to the officer who is to command on that station, to pay a due regard to the protection of your people in that quarter. When I was at Fort Pitt I was told ⟨t⟩hat a few strolling Indians had burnt your Houses, Your people being ⟨a⟩t that time at whelling, however I hop they have returned to take care of thire crops—I am Dear sir with all Due respect Your Most Obedt Humle Servt

Andw Lewis

ALS, MH: Jared Sparks Collection.

Andrew Lewis (1720–1781) of Botetourt County served as a captain under GW at Fort Necessity in 1754 and subsequently became major of GW’s Virginia regiment. In 1774 Lewis commanded the Virginia forces that defeated the Indians at Point Pleasant. His appointment as a brigadier general in the Continental army on 1 Mar. 1776 pleased GW (see GW to John Augustine Washington, 31 Mar. 1776). Lewis took command of Continental troops in Virginia on 18 Mar. at Williamsburg and in July drove Lord Dunmore’s forces out of the colony in an action at Gwynn Island near the mouth of the Rappahannock River. Disappointed at not being promoted to major general and claiming ill health, Lewis resigned his commission in April 1777. He served on the Virginia executive council from 1780 until his death in September 1781.

1The fourth Virginia convention elected Carter Braxton (1736–1797) of King William County a delegate to the Continental Congress on 15 Dec. 1775 to replace Peyton Randolph who had died. Braxton did not reach Philadelphia until sometime late in February. He took his seat in Congress on 23 Feb. and served until early August when his term expired. Braxton represented King William County in the Virginia house of delegates for the remainder of the war except for sessions in 1778 and 1782.

2Dunmore’s forces were defeated on 9 Dec. near Norfolk at Great Bridge.

3The convention approved these seven additional regiments on 11 Jan. (see Scribner and Tarter, Revolutionary Virginia description begins William J. Van Schreeven et al., eds. Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence. A Documentary Record. 7 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1973–83. description ends , 5:383–84). Congress authorized six Continental regiments from Virginia on 28 Dec. 1775 and accepted the other three regiments on 25 Mar. 1776 (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 , 3:463, 4:235).

4Lewis may be referring to the failure of the Virginia convention to set the date for election of the regimental officers several days in advance as was the custom. On 11 Jan. after passing the bill to raise the seven additional regiments, the convention moved rapidly to elect the colonel of the 3d Virginia Regiment, and on the next day it elected all of the other regimental officers. The offer to Andrew Lewis of a command may have come from the convention members who were opposed to the appointment of William Byrd (see note 7) and who when Lewis refused election turned to Hugh Mercer. Lewis’s name does not appear in the minutes of the Virginia convention for 11 or 12 Jan. (see Scribner and Tarter, Revolutionary Virginia description begins William J. Van Schreeven et al., eds. Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence. A Documentary Record. 7 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1973–83. description ends , 5:383–84, 386–87, 389–93). William Woodford, who was appointed colonel of the 2d Virginia Regiment in August 1775, had become an ensign in GW’s Virginia regiment in July 1757. At that time Andrew Lewis was major of GW’s regiment and commanded one of the companies.

5For a list of the field officers chosen for the Virginia regiments, see Fielding Lewis to GW, 4 Feb. 1776, n.2; see also Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), 12 Jan. 1776 (Alexander Purdie’s edition), 13 Jan. 1776 (John Dixon and William Hunter’s, and John Pinkney’s editions). Of the nine men that the convention elected colonels in July 1775 and January 1776, eight had served in the French and Indian War, six of them as officers in GW’s Virginia regiment. Only Patrick Henry was without military experience in wartime. Adam Stephen and Hugh Mercer both accepted their appointments as colonels.

6GW wrote Joseph Reed on 7 Mar. 1776 that he opposed putting Patrick Henry in command in Virginia and thought that John Armstrong of Pennsylvania would be a better choice. See GW to Reed, 26 Feb.—7 Mar. 1776. On 1 Mar. Congress appointed Andrew Lewis and Robert Howe of North Carolina brigadier generals in the Continental army and directed them to take charge of the forces in Virginia (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 , 4:181). Denied command of all of the colony’s regiments, Henry refused to continue as colonel of the 1st Virginia Regiment and resigned his commission (see Fielding Lewis to GW, 6 Mar. 1776, n.2).

7Archibald Cary, a member of the fourth Virginia convention, wrote to Richard Henry Lee on 24 Dec. 1775, and his comments on the upcoming election of officers confirm Lewis’s suppositions about William Byrd and shed light on the election of the officers: “The field officers will be named next week & a list sent to the Congress for their approbation, you will find in it, some names which you may not have expected, Particularly the Gentleman who commanded one of our Regiments [Byrd]—he has made an offer of his services, and we are well assured his appointment, will engage great numbers, officers as well as Soldiers, who served under him in the last War” (ViU: Lee Family Papers).

William Byrd III (1728–1777) of Westover on the James River commanded the 2d Virginia Regiment in 1758 and subsequently succeeded GW as colonel of the 1st Virginia Regiment. His offer to serve the American cause was a turnabout from his attitude of a few months earlier. On 30 July 1775 Byrd wrote Sir Jeffrey Amherst: “Let me intreat the favor of you my dear general, when the Americans are talk’d of as traytors, that you will be pleasd to mention me as an exception, for I am ready to serve His Majesty with my life & fortune. If Sir you coud take an opportunity to inform His Majesty & his servants of what you knew of me last war, & of my atachment to them now, you will lay me under an eternal obligation. I flatter myself the time is not far off, when I shall be able to convince the Virginians of their error, & bring them back to their loyalty & duty. I shall look upon such an event as the happyest circumstance of my life, & will be vigilant to let no occasion pass to effect that blessed purpose” (Tinling, Byrd Correspondence description begins Marion Tinling, ed. The Correspondence of the Three William Byrds of Westover, Virginia, 1684–1776. 2 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1977. description ends , 2:812–13). Lord Dunmore’s freeing of the slaves in November 1775 apparently caused Byrd to change his mind, but neither side in the conflict fully trusted him. Byrd received no military appointment from the Virginia convention or the Continental Congress. On 1 Jan. 1777 he shot himself to death.

8Robert Howe (1732–1785), a wealthy rice planter on the Cape Fear River, was colonel of the 2d North Carolina Regiment, which had been taken into the Continental army. In December 1775 Howe marched his troops to Virginia to assist in defending the colony and assumed command of all of the American forces by virtue of his Continental commission. Howe became a brigadier general on 1 Mar. 1776. He was subsequently given command of the southern department, and in October 1777 he was promoted to major general. Howe served to the end of the war, spending the years before 1779 in the south and the later ones in the north with GW. Col. Hugh Waddell (c.1734–1773) was an Irish-born North Carolinian. In 1761, during the French and Indian War, he commanded a contingent of more than four hundred North Carolina troops and Tuscarora allies who combined with Col. William Byrd’s Virginia troops on the southwest Virginia frontier to attempt a reduction of the Overhill, or Upper Cherokee towns.

9The convention approved the evacuation of Norfolk on 15 Jan. (Scribner and Tarter, Revolutionary Virginia description begins William J. Van Schreeven et al., eds. Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence. A Documentary Record. 7 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1973–83. description ends , 5:405). Robert Howe withdrew his troops to Great Bridge on 6 Feb. and soon moved the main body to Suffolk.

10On 25 July 1775 the third Virginia convention resolved that 200 men should be stationed at Pittsburgh, 100 at Point Pleasant, 25 at Fort Fincastle at the mouth of Wheeling Creek, and 100 “at proper Posts in the County of Fincastle for the protection of the Inhabitants on the southwestern Frontiers.” Capt. John Nevill was ordered on 7 Aug. 1775 to march to Fort Pitt with his company of 100 men (ibid., 3:343, 404).

Index Entries