George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the New York Convention, 17 October 1776

To the New York Convention

Head Qrs Harlem Heights Octobr 17th 1776


Judging it a matter of the utmost importance to secure the passes thro the Highlands, I have sent up Monsr Imbert, a French Gentlemen, who has been placed in the Army as an Engineer by Congress, in order to take your directions respecting the passes & such Works as you may esteem necessary to preserve them. As the situation of Affairs in this State is rather alarming, I would beg leave to recommend your earliest attention to this Business, & that no time may elapse before the Works are begun. I have no acquaintance with Monsr Imbert, & his abilities in his profession remain to be proved; However I trust under your care and advice that whatever may be essential will be immediately done.1 I have the Honor to be &c.


I can spare no Other Engineer having but one besides.

LB, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1William Duer apparently had assumed that Thomas Machin, who was stationed at forts Montgomery and Constitution, would be given this task, instead of Jean Louis Imbert, a recently arrived French officer whom Congress had recommended to GW as an engineer on 19 Sept. (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 , 5:783; Richard Peters to GW, 20 Sept., cited in GW’s first letter to Hancock of 7 Oct., n.4; and Duer to Robert Hanson Harrison, 15 Oct., NHi: Duer Papers). Tench Tilghman wrote Duer on this date that GW “has had no great experience of the abilities of Mons. Imbert the French Engenier who goes up with your Express, but he thinks it would be of Service to you if Mr Machin could Spare time to Step over & point out to Mons. Imbert the Kind of work, that will be most advantageous & soonest Constructed So as to answer the desired purpose. I mention this because Imbert in Some works he began here went upon too large a Scale & with more regularity than is necessary in this rough Country, perhaps he wanted to Shew his Skill he would have been too tedious—You must endeavor to procure him an interpreter, otherwise he will be much at a loss to direct the working Parties” (MH: Jared Sparks Collection). Duer replied to Tilghman on the following day: “I observe what you mention with Respect to Mr Imbert, and shall give such hints to the Committee of this Convention who will cooperate with Mr Imbert in erecting his Works as may be Useful. . . . I have convers’d a good deal with Mr Imbert this Evening; whether or not he is an Engineer, I am not able to determine; but he appears to me a judicious and sensible man” (NHi: Duer Papers).

Imbert accomplished little in the highlands before he returned to Philadelphia in early November carrying a letter of recommendation from Charles Lee to Benjamin Franklin dated 6 November. “Whether He is a great Engineer or no I cannot pretend to say,” Lee writes Franklin from Philipsburg, N.Y., “as He has had no fair opportunity of displaying his talents. The few small works He has thrown up have been in haste, at the same time labouring under the disadvantage of not being able to explain himself to the workmen. From the little I can judge of him He is a Man of capacity and knowledge, and I am told by his Countrymen that his Fort lies in surveying Georgraphically and military a Country. I know not any kind of Officer more wanted in America than a Military Surveyor of those parts which are likely to be the scene of action. General Washington and Myself have therefore concurr’d in opinion that He shoud begin with the Jerseys and if He gives satisfactory proofs of his talents in this line, to recommend him to Congress for this important Office” (Willcox, Franklin Papers description begins William B. Willcox et al., eds. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. 40 vols. to date. New Haven, 1959–. description ends , 23:3–4). Congress apparently did not offer Imbert such an office, however, and in the spring of 1777 he returned to France, citing ill health as his reason for leaving America (see Imbert to Congress, 6, 12 April 1777, DNA:PCC, items 41, 42).

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