George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Richard Henry Lee, 16 April 1777

From Richard Henry Lee

[16 April 1777]

Your letter to the Committee was immediately laid before Congress, and in consequence thereof, Gen. Schuyler was ordered to carry your ideas into execution with all possible dispatch.1 The Troops are therefore ordered to Bristol without delay, and thither will go all such as come from the Southward. You have only to order them from Bristol to Head Quarters at your pleasure. The inclosures now sent are from France by the last Ship. The Memoir is written by one of the first Generals in France, or in Europe, purely from views of serving the American cause, which the Mareshal appears to love. The accounts from Nantes, are taken from a letter of Doctr Lee to the Secret Committee in his way from Paris to the Court of Madrid. I thought it might avail you to have the general idea therein given of the enemies views and designs the ensuing Campaign. In the letter signed by all the Commissioners, we learn that the capital operations will certainly be against New England; the exterpation of which is proposed, whilst military government & slavery is (as they think the milder punishment) intended for the middle and southern States.2 Conversing lately with Mr James Hunter of Fredericksburg, whose labors have benefitted the public greatly, I find that the indispensable article of iron has been greatly affected, and its production injured, by the constant practise of inlisting the Laborers in those works, and pressing the Teams belonging to them. There are few things more capable of throwing distress among the people, and injuring the public affairs, than such a proceedure. I would therefore submit it to your consideration Sir, whether (until the Legislatures can provide compitent laws) it will not greatly remedy the evil, if you were, by order published in all the papers, [to] forbid all Continental Officers from inlisting persons engaged with, and actually serving in any iron works within the United States, or from pressing any horses, teams, or Carriages of any kind belonging to such works. I believe that this would in great degree remedy the evil, if not totally remove it. I am, with great affection and esteem, dear Sir your most obedient and very humble servant

Richard Henry Lee

ALS, DLC:GW. This letter, which Lee neglected to date, apparently was written on 16 April, the date on which Congress took the action mentioned in the first sentence (see note 1).

1Congress on 16 April read GW’s letter to a committee of Congress of 12 April and directed Schuyler “to carry into execution the measures therein recommended” (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 , 7:270–71).

2These enclosures include an extract from Arthur Lee’s letter to the Secret Committee of 11–14 Feb. and apparently a copy of the letter that the American commissioners in Paris wrote the Secret Committee on 6 Feb. 1777. “The Conduct of our General [GW] in avoiding a decisive action,” the commissioners write, “is much applauded by the Military People here, particularly, Marshals Maillebois, Broglio, and D’Arcy; M. Maillebois has taken the pains to write his Sentiments of some particulars useful in carrying on our War, which we send enclosed” (DNA:PCC, item 85). The memoir by Yves-Marie Desmaretz, comte de Maillebois (1715–1791), who was a lieutentant general in the French army, has not been identified, but see Franklin Papers description begins William B. Willcox et al., eds. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. 40 vols. to date. New Haven, 1959–. description ends , 23:287, n.7.

The extract from Arthur Lee’s letter reads in part: “By the information I have from London, which I think may be depended upon, the plan of operations, is for Howe and his recruited Army to act against New England; while Carleton makes his way upon the Lakes, to keep the middle colonies in awe; and Burgoyne with an armament from England of 10,000, if it can be procured, invades the South, probably Virginia & Maryland. The intelligence from England is, that 10,000 Germans are actually engaged, while the French Minister & the Spanish Ambassador, both assure us, that it is with very great difficulty, the enemy can procure the recruits necessary to keep up the number formerly stipulated. That the force of their different armaments will fall greatly short of what they intend, I believe; but it seems to me almost certain, that the three attacks will be made. That their utmost efforts will be exerted this Campaign in infallible; because nothing is more certain, than that the present State of Europe forbids every expectation of their being long unemployed nearer home. If therefore, they do not succeed this year against us, there is an end of their prospects of ravage and revenge. Even at this moment they have put every thing in hazard; England, Ireland, & Hanover being left almost defenceless by their efforts against us. I should submit, whether it is not fit, that it should be made known to the Army that the forces to be sent this year, both from England & Germany, are new raised, and therefore totally undisciplined. Because, the attacking such Troops on their first arrival, would be taking them in their weakest State, & they ought not to carry with them the terror of disciplined Troops, which in fact they are not, and of which it would encourage their Opponents to be apprized. The french Minister told me when I took leave, that the King of Great Britain had endeavored in vain to get Troops in Germany to supply the place in Hanover of those which he sent to garrison Gibralter. All these things concur to shew, that they are pressed on every side to make this last effort against our liberties, wch I trust will be met with proportionable exertions on our part, and under the providence of Heaven defeated” (DLC:GW).

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