George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Charles Lee, 10 May 1776

From Major General Charles Lee

Williamsburg May the 10th 1776

My Dr General

The most compendious method to give you an idea of the state of your Province is to inclose to you the result of a Council of Officers every article of which is approv’d by your Convention1—We have just receivd an express from N. Carolina informing us of the arrival of eight large Transports in Cape Fear River on the whole containing as it is suppos’d, about two thousand Men—I had before, on a suspicion of their arrival detach’d a Battalion of Rifle Men, and shall set out myself the day after tomorrow—the Convention has order’d twelve hundred Militia or Minute Men to that Province2—My command (as you may easily conceive) is extremely perplexing from the consideration of the vast extent of vulnerable parts of this Country intersected by such a variety of navigable waters, and the expedition with which the Enemy (furnish’d with canvass Wings) can fly from one spot to another—had We arms for the Minute Men and half a dozen good field Engineers—We might laugh at their efforts—but in this article (like the rest of the Continent) We are miserably deficient—Engineers We have but two—and They threaten to resign as it is impossible that They shou’d subsist on a more wretched pittance than Common Carpenters or Brickl[ay]ers can earn—I have written to the Congress intreating ’em to augment the pay3—a word from you, woud, I make no doubt, effect it—I wish, My Dr General, You woud send me Capt. Smith on condition the Congress make it worth his while, otherwise I have not the conscience to propose it4—I am well pleas’d with your Officers in general, and the Men are good, some Irish Rascals excepted—I have form’d two Companies of Grenadiers to each Regt arm’d with spears of thirteen feet long—their Rifles (for they are all Rifle Men) slung over their Shoulders—their appearance is formidable and the Men are conciliated to the weapon—I am likewise furnishing myself with four ounc’d Rifled Amusets which will carry an infernal distance—the two ounc’d hit a half sheet of Paper at five hundred yards distance5—so much for military—a noble spirit possesses the Convention—They are almost unanimous for independence but differ in their sentiments about the mode—two days will decide it6—I have the pleasure to inform you that I am extremely well in the opinion of the senatorial part as well as of the People at large—God send me the grace to preserve it—but their Neighbours of Maryland (I mean their council of safety) make a most damnable clamour (as I am inform’d) on the subject of a letter I wrote to the Chairman of the Committee of Baltimore to seize the person and papers of Mr Eden upon the discovery which was communicated to me of his treacherous correspondence with the Secretary of State—it was a measure not only justifiable in the eyes of Gods and Men, but absolutely necessary—the Committee of safety here are indeed as deep in the scrape as myself—the Congress must, and will, I dare say support and vindicate the measure7 Capt. Greer and his party are upon their March as you order’d, I was a damn’d Blockhead for bringing ’em so far—as their accounts will be intricate—but I hope not so intricate as not to be unriddled—I send you an account of the Money I advanc’d to the different Officers—to Capts. Smith Lunt and Greer8—I have taken the liberty to appoint a Serjt Denmark, of the Rifle Battalion to do duty as Ensign—He is a Man of worth and I beg you will confirm his commission—another Serjt of the same Battalion I have promoted to the rank of second Lt in the Artillery of this Province—He is a German—his name Holmer and very deserving—if little Eustace cannot be provided for with you—I cou’d wish if there is a cheap method of doing it, You wou’d send him to me—as I have it in my power to place him and quite doat upon him9—my love to Mrs Washington Gates and her bad half—to Moyland—but Palfrey is a Scoundrel for not writing adieu, My Dr General. Yours most entirely

C. Lee

ALS, DLC:GW.

1At the council of war which met on 8 May, Lee announced his impending departure for North Carolina and urged the attending officers “to digest some plan for the safety and security of Virginia” during his absence. The council decided that “as strong a force as possible ought to be stationed” at Williamsburg and its dependencies and that large garrisons should be maintained at Great Bridge and Suffolk. The post at Kemp’s Landing to the east of Great Bridge was to be abandoned, however, and the Virginia convention was to be asked to order slaves of military age and disaffected white inhabitants to be evacuated from large portions of Princess Anne and Norfolk counties (DLC:GW; see also 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 , 7:65–67). The convention agreed to the council’s resolutions on this date and ordered the evacuations the next day (ibid., 75–76, 88, 96–97).

2The Virginia convention resolved on this date to raise 1,150 minutemen and militia to assist North Carolina. This order was countermanded on 29 May after the convention was told that Gen. Henry Clinton’s force had left Cape Fear (ibid., 88–89, 299, 301).

3“You have no American Engineers,” Lee wrote to Hancock on 7 May. “They must of course be Foreigners; and Foreigners expect in their language, de quoi manger—that is something which will enable them to eat and drink. . . . I really do not think that they ought, or can do with less than forty Dollars per month, and rations at least for their horses” (DNA:PCC, item 158).

4William Smith served as an engineer under Lee in New York earlier this year.

5An amusette or wall gun “was a huge weapon, shaped like an ordinary musket but so big it could almost be considered heavy ordnance. Mounted on a swivel, it was an ideal weapon for a hastily erected fort or for a small boat. It was lighter than a cannon, but its range and striking power were infinitely greater than those of the usual musket or rifle” (Peterson, Book of the Continental Soldier description begins Harold L. Peterson. The Book of The Continental Soldier, being a compleat account of the uniforms, weapons, and equipment with which he lived and fought. Harrisburg, Pa., 1968. description ends , 54–55). Fielding Lewis informed GW in his letter of 4 Feb. 1776 that he intended to make a rifled amusette that would “carry a quarter of pound Ball.”

6The Virginia convention planned to debate the question of independence on this date, but other business obliged it to postpone that issue to 14 May. After debating the matter for two days, the convention unanimously agreed on 15 May to instruct the colony’s delegates in Philadelphia to propose to Congress that it “declare the United Colonies free and independent states” (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 , 7:142–43).

7In his letter of 6 April to Samuel Purviance, Jr., chairman of the Baltimore committee of observation, Lee wrote: “I know not to whom I can address this most important Note with so much Propriety and assurance of Success as to yourself—the Crisis will not admit of Ceremony and Procrastination, I shall therefore irregularly address you in the Language and with the Spirit of one bold determined free Citizen to another, and conjure you as you value the Liberties and Rights of the Community, of which you are a Member, not to lose a Moment, and in my Name (if my Name is of Consequence enough) to direct the commanding Officer of your Troops at Annapolis immediately to Seize the Person of Governor Eden—the Sin and Blame be on my Head—I will answer for all to the Congress” (Clark and Morgan, Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964—. description ends , 4:688).

Robert Eden (1741–1784), the affable governor of Maryland with whom GW had exchanged social visits before the Revolutionary War, enjoyed cordial relations with the Patriots in his colony before the interception on 6 April of three letters written to him the previous November and December by Lord George Germain, the recently appointed secretary of state for the American colonies. Perhaps the most damaging of these letters was one of 23 Dec. 1775 in which Germain told Eden: “Your Letter [of 27 Aug. to Lord Dartmouth] contains a great deal of very useful Information, and your confidential Communication of the Characters of Individuals; more especially of such as come over into England, is of great Advantage; and you may rest assured, that every possible precaution will be used, that no part of your Letter shall transpire” (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 , 5:230; a second letter of 23 Dec. and one of 10 Nov. 1775 are printed ibid., 231, 4:364).

James Barron, the Virginia naval captain who seized the letters on 6 April from a small vessel in the Chesapeake Bay, delivered them that same day to the Virginia committee of safety, which promptly dispatched copies to the Baltimore committee of observation (ibid., 6:342–43, 346; Virginia Gazette [Purdie; Williamsburg], 12 April 1776). The Baltimore committee in turn forwarded copies of the three letters to the Continental Congress and appointed a delegation to carry other copies to the Maryland council of safety in Annapolis “and to use their utmost Endeavours to have Governor Eden put under Arrest” (Baltimore committee to the Virginia committee of safety, 17 April 1776, in 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 , 6:404; Baltimore committee to Hancock, 14 April 1776, DNA:PCC, item 70). On 16 April Congress “earnestly requested” the Maryland council of safety to seize Eden and his papers (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 , 4:285–86), but the council, having been assured by the governor that his letter of 27 Aug. to Dartmouth contained “nothing of a nature unfriendly to the Peace of this Province” or anything “traducing the Characters of Individuals,” declined to arrest him and accepted his promise not to depart the colony until the provincial convention met (council of safety minutes, 16, 20 April, Eden to Charles Carroll, John Hall, and William Paca, 17 April, council of safety to Eden, 18 April, council of safety to the Maryland delegates, 18 April, and council of safety to Hancock, 18 April 1776, in Browne, “Md. Council of Safety,” 11:333–34, 337–41, 349–50, 357). The provincial convention, which convened on 8 May, found Eden innocent of conducting a treacherous correspondence, but because of his recent orders to support British military operations in America, it asked him to leave the colony. Eden sailed from Annapolis on 26 June and spent the duration of the war in England (Maryland convention resolutions, 24 May 1776, in 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 , 7:250–51).

The Maryland council of safety was annoyed that Lee and the Virginia committee of safety did not write directly to it about the intercepted letters, and it became infuriated when it was accidentally revealed in Congress on 16 April that Purviance “had impressed on Genl Lee, in his way to Virga., an Idea that the Council of Safety was timorous and inactive” (Thomas Johnson to the council of safety, 17 April 1776, 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 , 3:550–51; see also Maryland delegates to the council of safety, 18 April, ibid., 557–58, and council of safety to the Maryland delegates, 22 April 1776, in Browne, “Md. Council of Safety,” 11:368–70). On 6 May Lee sent a disingenuous letter of apology to the president of the Maryland council of safety, Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer. “My reason for addressing myself to Mr. Purviance at Baltimore,” he wrote, “proceeded entirely from my ignorance of there being any Troops at Annapolis, and not (as I have been told has been thrown out) from any diffidence in your virtue and decision.” He had thought, Lee asserted, that troops were stationed only at Baltimore, and there being no Continental general in Maryland, he had applied to Purviance who was “on the spot.” Lee vigorously denied any desire “to extend the military authority or of trespassing on the Civil. . . . altho’ I was bred in the army, I thank God, the spirit of the citizen has been always predominant, and I solemnly declare that if I thought it possible that I should ever be intoxicated with military command, I wou’d now whilst I retain my senses, beg leave to divest myself of my present office and serve as a Volunteer” (Lee Papers description begins [Charles Lee]. The Lee Papers. 4 vols. New York, 1872-75. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 4–7. description ends , 1:472–74; see also Purviance to the council of safety, 22 April, and the council of safety’s minutes, 24 April 1776, in Browne, “Md. Council of Safety,” 11:363–65, 376–82).

8Lee’s account for captains William Smith, Ezra Lunt, and James Grier has not been identified. James Grier (d. 1803) and his party of Pennsylvania riflemen were detached to serve as Lee’s personal guard when Lee left Cambridge for New York in January, and they subsequently followed him to Virginia despite having to leave about fifty men at York, Pa., to be inoculated after smallpox broke out in the unit (Lee to Grier, 8 April 1776, Lee Papers description begins [Charles Lee]. The Lee Papers. 4 vols. New York, 1872-75. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 4–7. description ends , 1:392; Samuel Purviance, Jr., to Hancock, 9 April 1776, DNA:PCC, item 78). When Grier set out on his return to the north sometime later this month, he probably carried the brief letter that Lee wrote to GW on 11 May recommending Grier to his protection (DLC:GW). Grier was at Philadelphia on 12 June when Congress ordered him to march his men on to New York, and the next day he was authorized to draw $600 from the treasury to cover the detachment’s expenses (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 , 5:433, 438; see also Hancock to GW, 14–16 June 1776). Grier, who had been commissioned first lieutenant of a Pennsylvania rifle company in June 1775, became a captain in the 1st Continental Regiment on 7 Mar. 1776. He served with that regiment during the remainder of 1776 and with the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment the following year. Wounded at the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777, Grier soon recovered and was promoted to major. He remained in the army until the end of the war, serving in various Pennsylvania regiments. Ezra Lunt (1736–1804) was a captain in Col. Moses Little’s Massachusetts regiment during 1775, in Little’s 12th Continental Regiment during 1776, and in Col. David Henly’s Additional Continental Regiment during 1777, but he was left out of the arrangement for 1778 (see GW to Horatio Gates, 6 May 1779). Lunt subsequently became clothier for the Massachusetts troops with the rank of major.

9Christian Holmer (d. 1783) was commissioned major of Col. Charles Harrison’s 1st Continental Artillery Regiment on 30 Nov. 1776, but he was passed over for promotion to lieutenant colonel in 1779 because, as GW regretfully informed the Board of War on 18 May 1779, “his qualifications as an officer” were generally judged to be “far below mediocrity” (DLC:GW). John Skey Eustace, the fifteen-year-old former ward of Lord Dunmore who had sought to join the Continental army since his capture by the Americans the previous December, wrote to Lee from New York on 21 Mar. 1776: “As . . . I am at present unprovided for I wou’d esteem it as a singular favor, if you wou’d honor me with an epistle, and let me know in what manner to proceed, as I at present look upon you as my patron. I wou’d rather remain Idle for some time than do anything without or contrary to your immediate desire” (Lee Papers description begins [Charles Lee]. The Lee Papers. 4 vols. New York, 1872-75. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 4–7. description ends , 1:361–62). On 20 June 1776 Col. James Mitchell Varnum wrote Nathanael Greene asking that Greene recommend Eustace to GW for an ensigncy in Varnum’s 9th Continental Regiment, and Greene in an undated note to GW written on Varnum’s letter requested GW to make the appointment (DNA: RG 93, Miscellaneous Numbered Records [”Manuscript File”], 1775–84, no. 15637). Eustace presumably was commissioned an ensign a short time later, and in October, after Lee returned to the north, he became one of his aides-de-camp.

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