George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Lovell, 12 May 1777

From James Lovell

Philada May 12th 1777

Honored dear Sir

By the singular manner in which General Lee gives out his characterizing opinions Monsr Malmedy was exalted to a colonial rank in Rhode Island which will be a source of pain to him contrary to the intention of his mentioned zealous friend. Congress has aimed by passing over one continental gradation, from Major to Colonel, to lessen that pain to this Gentleman, who is high in his professions of ambition to give signal testimony, in the field, of his attachment to our cause.1 I wish every one under your Excellency’s command would fullfil all their professions made at entrance into commission, that, so, one considerable portion of anxiety might be deducted from that load which falls upon you in your virtuous superintendance of our armies.

The Bearer appears to me to be sensible & spirited. But, it was not to pass compliments upon him that I now write, tho at his request. It was rather that I might not appear backward to any call which affords me opportunity of professing myself Your Excellency’s Obliged devoted Friend & Humble Servant

James Lovell

ALS, DLC:GW. A notation in the lower left corner of the addressed cover indicates that “Monsr Malmedy” was the bearer.

1Congress, which had brevetted Malmedy a major in the Continental army on 19 Sept. 1776, promoted him to colonel on 10 May 1777 (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, 7:346; see also Richard Peters to GW, 20 Sept. 1776, cited in GW to Hancock, 7 Oct. 1776 [first letter], n.4).

Charles Lee, to whose division Malmedy had been assigned in October 1776, sent him to Rhode Island in early December. “I am persuaded,” Lee wrote Gov. Nicholas Cooke on 7 Dec. 1776, “you have no man with you capable of conducting an army; no man who has sufficient knowledge as an Engineer. I have therefore resolved to send a gentleman, with whose great talents, activity, and zeal I am well acquainted. His name is Malmedie, a Frenchman. I entreat, if you cannot give him the entire command, to be directed by his counsels. You must excuse his heat of temper at times, as it is derived from a noble source of enthusiasm for your cause. Procure for him an able interpreter; and treat him, as I am sure you will, with all the respect and attention he deserves” (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 , 2:331–32; see also Lee to GW, 8 Dec. 1776; for Nathanael Greene’s criticism of Lee’s letter to Cooke, see Greene to Nicholas Cooke, 23 Jan. 1777, Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 2:10–14).

Although Malmedy had no training or experience as an engineer, the Rhode Island general assembly on 10 Dec. 1776 appointed him “chief engineer and director of the works of defence within this state, with the rank of brigadier general” (Bartlett, R.I. Records description begins John Russell Bartlett, ed. Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England. 10 vols. Providence, 1856–65. description ends , 8:64; see also Malmedy to Charles Lee, 10, 20 Dec. 1776, DNA:PCC, item 78, Malmedy to Congress, 1778, DNA:PCC, item 41, and Malmedy to GW, 24 Jan. 1777). In late March 1777 the general assembly, citing “the very heavy burthen of expense, which is rapidly increasing upon us, as well as the very small number of troops in this state to be commanded,” dismissed Malmedy from the Rhode Island service with its thanks and a gift of £50 (Bartlett, R.I. Records description begins John Russell Bartlett, ed. Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England. 10 vols. Providence, 1856–65. description ends , 8:186–87; see also Malmedy to Congress, 2 April 1777, DNA:PCC, item 78).

Malmedy arrived at Morristown on 16 April 1777 carrying a letter of recommendation from Governor Cooke to GW dated 5 April that reads: “Mr Malmedy, a French Gentleman, who will wait upon You with this, came into this State with a strong Recommendation from General Lee, as an Officer. We thought fit to appoint him to a considerable Department in the Military here, with the Rank and Pay of a Brigadier General. During his Stay and Employment amongst us, he discovered himself to be a Gentleman, a Person of great Industry and Activity, and One who gave indefatigable Attention to the Duties of his Station. The Merit of Mr Malmedy in these Respects requires an Acknowledgment; and we wish that the friendly Stranger may be regarded with a favorable Notice” (DNA:PCC, item 59; see also Malmedy to Congress, 1778, DNA:PCC, item 41). For Malmedy’s account of his subsequent trip to Philadelphia to obtain promotion from Congress, see his letter to GW of 14 May 1777.

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