George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Peter Labilliere, 4 November 1777

From Peter Labilliere

London Novr 4th 1777.

Most Honoured Sir

Public Spirit is a Passion to promote Universal good. It is one man’s care for many, & the concern of every man for all. this Quotation from the Public News Paper of this day will I am convinced Justify me in the Opinion of all true Patriots when I declare that you Sir, stand in the highest degree blessed with that Glorious Passion, & consequently I find myself tho’ a stranger to you most pleasingly freed from the uneasiness which the Liberty I take of writing this Letter would otherwise have given me.

The Bloody affair in St Georges Fields & the Attacks on the Rights of Election first called forth my Public Spirit, & from that era I thought it my Duty as a Christian & an honest man to quit all thoughts of ever going into full Pay (tho I had been an Officer in the English Service from the year 1740) & to enlist in the Service of the People at large as a Defender of their Civil & Religious Liberties.1

After a most serious & Impartial examination & study of the American Cause, & of the Proceedings of the Congress, I found myself called upon by the same Principles that had made me commence Patriot in these Kingdoms to exert my utmost efforts in defence of their Just & Glorious Cause of Universal Liberty. I have distributed to the People at large the Declarations by the Representatives of the United Colonies of North America in General Congress.2 The Letter of the 12 United Colonies to the Inhabitants of Great Britain. Their Petition to the King. Their Address to the People of Ireland.3 The Pastoral Letter from the Synod of New York & Philadelphia to the Congregations throughout America. This I delivered with my own hands to the Temporal & Spiritual Lords as they were going into the House of Lords.4

My Rules of acting in the Glorious Public Cause are to look well to the end of what I undertake & never to make use of any but Just & pure means to accomplish it. To endeavour as if there was no Providence & to believe & trust as if I used no Endeavours, then I enjoy that well founded hope that God who knows the hearts of all Mankind will vouchsafe to sanctify the pursuits of all those who mean fairly & honestly by the People.

As the Great Principles of Truth & Justice however they may for a time be obstructed by Tyrants & bad men, yet sacred History teaches us that the Great Ruler of the Universe has & will in due time vindicate his own honour by punishing in such a manner those who have abused the Power they have been intrusted with for his honour & Glory & the Happiness of Mankind, that all men must acknowledge it was his doing.

I trust I may with truth say that I am one of the seven thousand in these Kingdoms who have no[t] nor with the Blessing of God will not bow down to Baal. therefore I enjoy that pleasing hope that when a Just & Merciful Providence will have sanctified your Afflictions & tryals & Blessed your United States with a full Enjoyment of that Liberty which his arm shall have given them, You will not refuse to the remnant of the True Israelites that Friendly Alliance & Protection which will prove you to have been fit objects of God’s Particular Interposition on your Appeal to him, and consequently you will lay the foundation of Universal Christian Liberty by which only Mankind can be made happy: In the mean time our Prayers will not be wanting that by Wisdom & Strength you may become the Glorious deliverers from Tyranny, Oppression, & Cruelty. As it is my earnest desire to give you the strongest assurances of my zeal for the Glorious Cause, I shall beg leave to end this Letter with the Spirited Conclusion of Lord Abingdon’s Late Pamphlet on the Affairs of America.5 The Dagger uplifted against the Breast of America is meant for the heart of Old England. in fine these are my Sentiments & these my Principles, they are the Principles of the Constitution, & under this persuasion whilst I have signed them with my Name, I will, if necessary, as readily, seal them with my blood. I have the Honour to be with the greatest respect & truth Your Excellency’s most Obedient & most humble Servt

Peter Labilliere

P.S. I am happy in being able to send you a note which I found lately marked at the Bottom of a Sermon entitled Religion & Patriotism the Constituents of a good Soldier, Preached to Captn Overton’s Independant Company of Volunteers now in Hanover Cy Virginia, Augt 17th 1755. By Saml Davies. M.A. Minister of the Gospel.

Text 2d Saml 10. C. 12. V. Be of good courage, & let us Play the Men, for our People & for the Cities of our God, & the Lord do that which seemeth him good.

In mentioning King William & other Deliverers which God at particular times hath raised he remarks as follow.✻ As a remarkable instance of this I may point out to the Public that Heroic Youth Col. Washington, whom I can not but hope Providence has hitherto preserved in so signal a manner, for some important Service to his Country.6 Inclosed are my two Letters to the King under the Signature of the Christian Soldier, & the Prefatory address from the London Association which I delivered along with the Declaration.7

ALS, DLC:GW. On the last page of the letter below the docket is written, apparently later: “Contains a note from a Sermon preached in Virginia 1755, in which is a remarkable passage relating to Washington.”

Peter Labilliere (c.1728–1800), whose father apparently obtained an ensign’s commission for him in the 1740s, became a major in the 92d British Regiment of Foot in 1760 and retired on half-pay when that regiment disbanded in 1763. An eccentric Irish pamphleteer with Huguenot ancestry who was styled “A Christian Patriot & Citizen of the World” in Joseph Wright’s 1780 mezzotint, Labilliere was associated with Wright’s mother, Patience Wright, the American-born artist who had settled in London in 1772 and who during the Revolutionary War sent intelligence to Benjamin Franklin. None of Labilliere’s pamphlets on American independence has been identified, although he may have written the 1775 address by “An Old Soldier” exhorting British soldiers not to take up arms against Americans. At least one pamphlet on Ireland has survived, however, his Letters to the Majesty of the People: And a Declaration of Those Rights of the Commonalty of Great Britain without Which They Cannot Be Free (London, 1784). Labilliere also corresponded with Franklin.

1Labilliere is referring to the so-called massacre of 10 May 1768, when British soldiers fired into a crowd of people gathered at St. George’s Field by the King’s Bench Prison in London to demand the release of John Wilkes, recently imprisoned there.

2On 23 June 1775 the Continental Congress appointed a committee consisting of John Rutledge, William Livingston, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and Thomas Johnson to “draw up a declaration, to be published by General Washington, upon his arrival at the Camp before Boston” (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 , 2:105). When Rutledge’s initial draft was reported on 26 June it was recommitted, and Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson were added to the committee (ibid., 107–8). After considering drafts by Jefferson and Dickinson, Congress on 6 July approved the final form of “A declaration by the Representatives of the United Colonies of North America, now met in General Congress at Philadelphia, setting forth the causes and necessity of their taking up arms” (ibid., 127–57); John Hancock enclosed a copy of it in his letter to GW of 10 July 1775.

3Congress’s committees to draft these three addresses were formed on 3 June 1775 (ibid., 79–80). After some delay, “The Twelve United Colonies, by their Delegates in Congress, to the Inhabitants of Great Britain” was finally approved on 8 July 1775 (ibid., 110, 127, 163–72), and Hancock enclosed a copy of it in his letter to GW of 10 July 1775. The second address is the so-called Olive Branch Petition, also passed on 8 July 1775 (ibid., 100, 127, 158–62). The address to the people of Ireland was not approved until 28 July 1775 (ibid., 194, 212–18). These three addresses as well as the declaration mentioned in note 2 were printed by order of Congress (ibid., 3:508–10). Labilliere may have been familiar with a London edition printed in 1775 that included all four documents, The Declaration by the Representatives of the United Colonies . . . Collected Together for the Use of Serious Thinking Men, by Lovers of Peace.

4Labilliere is referring to A Pastoral Letter from the Synod of New-York and Philadelphia to the Congregations under Their Care; to Be Read from the Pulpits on Thursday, June 29, 1775, Being the Day of the General Fast (New York, 1775). The letter of the Presbyterian synod, issued on 22 May 1775 and signed by moderator Benjamin Hait, urged its congregants to follow six principles: continue their attachment to King George III and to the “revolution principles by which his august family was seated on the British throne”; maintain colonial unity and respect for the Continental Congress; avoid private immorality and luxurious living; maintain public order; exhibit a “spirit of humanity and mercy,” even in battle; and follow a regular schedule of fasting and prayer. The letter concluded with a prayer that the “present unnatural dispute may be speedily terminated by an equitable and lasting settlement on constitutional principles.” Shortly after, on 12 June 1775, Congress set aside 20 July 1775 as a day of fasting and prayer (see General Orders, 16 July, and note 1; see also 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 , 2:87–88).

5Labilliere is referring to the recent pamphlet by Willoughby Bertie, earl of Abingdon (1740–1799), Thoughts on the Letter of Edmund Burke, Esq. to the Sheriffs of Bristol on the Affairs of America (Oxford, England, 1777).

6Labilliere is quoting a footnote to a passage from Religion and Patriotism: The Constituents of a Good Soldier. A Sermon Preached to Captain Overton’s Independant Company of Volunteers, Raised in Hanover County, Virginia, August 17, 1755. By Samuel Davies, A.M. Minister of the Gospel There (Philadelphia, 1755). Davies, predicting that “Our Continent is like to become the Seat of War,” asks: “And has God been pleased to diffuse some Sparks of this Martial Fire through our Country? I hope he has: And though it has been almost extinguished by so long a Peace, and a Deluge of Luxury and Pleasure, now I hope it begins to kindle: And may I not produce you my Brethren, who are engaged in this Expedition, as Instances of it?” The footnote supplies GW as an examplar of such martial spirit. In the previous paragraph Davies had included William III in a list of martial heroes. Samuel Davies (1723–1761), a native of New Castle County, Del., had been instrumental in founding the first presbytery in Virginia, the Presbytery of Hanover, in 1755. Davies later became the fourth president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton).

7These enclosures have not been identified.

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