George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Horatio Gates, 24 January 1778

From Major General Horatio Gates

War Office [York, Pa.] January 24th 1778


By the enclosed Papers your Excellency will see the Designs of Congress in forming the Plan of an Irruption into Canada. Their political Motives for appointing the Officers to conduct the Expedition need not be mentioned, as your Excellency must be struck with the Propriety of the Measure. The Board have carefully avoided weakning the Army under your immediate Command, as they well know the Situation of it; but if you could spare Hazen’s Regiment or even that Part of it, which is composed of Canadians their Services would be exceedingly acceptable & should you think you can possibly do it, I am to request you will give Directions for their immediate March to Albany. Hartley’s Regt, it is hoped is replaced & a Number of N. Carolina & Virginia Troops equal to the No. of Hazen’s have this Day left this Place. Should your Excellency think any Steps are wanting or any Directions omitted, which may be necessary upon this important Enterprize, the Board will be happy on this, as well as every other Occasion, to recieve your Opinion & Advice. The Letter to the Marquis de Fayette is enclosed for your Perusal & I am to request your Delivery of it with your Permission to him to leave his present Command in the Grand Army.1 I am, Sir, your Excelly’s &c.

H.G. Presdt B. War

Copy, NHi: Gates Papers.

1On 22 Jan., after consideration of a report from the Board of War, Congress resolved “That an irruption be made into Canada, and that the Board of War be authorized to take every necessary measure for the execution of the business, under such general officers as Congress shall appoint, and apply for such sums of money as may be thought by them proper and requisite for the expedition.” On the following day Lafayette was appointed to command the expedition with Maj. Gen. Thomas Conway and Brig. Gen. John Stark as his deputies (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 , 10:84–85, 87).

A draft of Gates’s letter of this date to Lafayette, written from the War Office at York, Pa., on behalf of the Board of War, reads: “Congress having thought proper and in compliance with the wishes of this Board, (from a Conviction of your Ardent Desire to signalize yourself in the Service of these States) to appoint you to the Command of an Expedition meditated against Montreal it is the Wish of the Board that you would immediately repair to Albany, taking with you Lt: Colo. de Fleury, and such other gallant French officers as you think will be serviceable in an Enterprise in that Quarter.

“It being of Importance that you should lose no Time in repairing to the Northward, the Board have thought proper to give you immediate Notice, of your Appointment, and will transmit to you by Genl Conway particular Instructions, which will explain to you the Principles in which this Expedition is formed, and the Opinion of the Board with respect to the best Mode of Executing it.

“The Board flatter themselves that the Officers appointed by Congress to cooperate with you in this Matter will be acceptable, the one being a Expd Officer, with whom you are personally acquainted, and who wishes to serve under you, and the other an Officer, who has the Confidence of the Troops who will be employd with you, from the Victory gaind at Bennington.

“Should you arrive at Albany before Genl Conway, Colo. Hazen who is engaged as D:Q:M.G. on this Expedition, will communicate to you the Orders he has recivd from this Board and follow your further Directions.

“As Mr Duane who is now at Albany, has been appointed by Congress to confer with Genl Stark on an Expedition against St Johns, You will be pleased to confer with him on this Subject; whenever you shall think it requisite for the Good of the Service.

“The Board doubt not, but that Gentleman, and every other Per[s]on of Influence, whom you and he may deem prudent to consult on the Execution of this Enterprise will afford you every assistance in their Power, which may contribute to the Success of the Plan, and to your own personal Honor.

“The Board deem it needless to recommend to you as much Secrecy in this Matter as the Nature of the thing will possibly admit of, as your own Prudence will Suggest to you that much of the Success of Such Attempts depends upon the Caution of those concernd” (NHi: Gates Papers). Gates sent letters on the same date to Moses Hazen and John Stark informing them of their duties in the coming expedition (NHi: Gates Papers).

John Laurens wrote an undated copy of “Instructions for the Marquis de lafayette Major Genl in the Army of the United States of America; and Commanding and Expedition to Canada,” the original of which had been signed by Gates “By order of the Board” of War. It reads: “The Troops selected for the above Service, consist of the following Corps. vizt. Brigr General Nixons Brigade. Col. Van Schaicks Regiment. Col. Warners. Col. James Livingstons. Col. Hazens[.] Col. Bedels[.] and Capt. Whitcombs Rangers.

“These Corps will at a low estimate make two thousand five hundred Combatants, and all except Bedels Regiment will rendezvous at Benington—That will march from Co’os where it is raised, to the mouth of Onion River; the place appointed for the general Rendezvous.

“As most of the Troops ordered for this Service, have been upon Duty in Canada; there will be no want of any other Guides than such as may be chosen from among them—Genl Stark, Col. Warner and Col. Bedel, with the Assistant Deputy Quarter Master General Colonel Hazen, know every Road, Pass and Post in the Country.

“You have only to consult with them as you advance, and if absolutely necessary upon your Retreat.

“Colonel Greaton, the Commanding Officer at Albany, has directions in concert with the Quarter Master Genl the Commissary General, and the Commander of the Artillery at albany, to provide Ammunition, Provisions Stores, and as many Carriages as may be requisite for the intended Service—Col. Hazen is sent forward to expedite the execution of these orders—You need therefore be under no concern for Supplies.

“As Success will depend principally upon the vigour, and alertness with which the Enterprise is conducted, the Board recommend it to you to lose no time—the rapidity of your motions and the consternation of the Enemy will do the business.

“The Season of the Year being severe tho healthy, the Commissary of Cloathing at Albany is ordered to furnish all the Woollens, and every Comfort his Stores can afford—You will constantly be in the Woods at night; where the Troops are so well acquainted with the mode of covering themselves, that you would find Tents unnecessary and cumbersome—The Proper Officers are now providing Forage at the general and particular Places of rendezvous.

“Upon your gaining possession of St Johns or Montreal, you will publish a Declaration of your Intentions, to the Canadians; and invite them to join the Army of the United States.

“Colonel Hazens Regiment of four Battalions, is to be first completed to the Establishment, and the Officers and Soldiers who inlist, are to be allowed the Bounty and Reward offer’d them by Congress, in their Resolutions of [ ] 1776—Unless you shall be of opinion, after considering the political Complexion of the Inhabitants, that it is not a proper Crisis, for inviting the Canadians to take an open Part with these States—in which case you will publish a Manifesto, requiring a strict neutrality on the part of the Canadians, and suggesting such other Considerations, as you shall deem adapted to the Situation of Affairs.

“If upon your entering Canada, you find a general disinclination of the Natives, to join the American Standard—You will destroy all the works and Vessels at St Johns, Chamblee and the Isle aux noix, and retire by the best route to the Settlements, then to Saratoga, and our present advanced Posts, on the wood Creek and Hudsons River.

“If, on the contrary the Canadians are ardently desirous of assisting to establish the Freedom and Independence of America, you will inform them, that when they embark in the common cause, they must determine to receive the Resolves of Congress and the Currency of America, with that Reverence and Alacrity, which have ever been manifested in the Acts and Dealings, of the Subjects of the United States.

“They are then to be requested to send Delegates, to represent their State in the Congress of the United States, and to conform in all Political Respects to the Union and Confederation established in them.

“In taking possession of Montreal, which is a principal Object of this expedition; you will take into your possession, for the use of the Public; all the Arms, Ammunition and Warlike Stores, together with all the Linnens, Woolens and Indian Goods that may be found in or near the City of Montreal; making such allowance for the private Property, so secured, as you shall think most consistent with Justice and Sound Policy and the Merits of the respective Individuals—In transacting this business, you will take effectual Care, to prevent every Species of Plunder, and embezzlement as these may tend to raise Suspicions, in the minds of the Canadians, that may be both dishonorable and prejudicial to the Interest of the United States.

“General Washington has ordered Col. Hazens Regiment to march from its present Station to Albany, this Corps will therefore if possible be added to your Strength.

“The Board confiding in your discretion, and the advantages which you will derive, from the Advice of all the principal Officers who will accompany you on the expedition, deem it not only unnecessary but even impracticable to enter into a minute detail of the Conduct proper to be observed by you, in conducting it.

“They content themselves with suggesting, that the Design of this Expedition may not be misunderstood, that its grand Object is to destroy, or possess the Enemys Vessels and Stores of every kind upon Lake Champlain and in the City of Montreal; and all Cloathing and Stores of every kind, in the possession of private Persons, which may be necessary for the Service of the States, or serviceable to the Enemy—The Consequences which may arise from Success, are to be viewed in a secondary Point of Light, and therefore the holding the Country or prevailing upon the Inhabitants to confederate with the States—is not to be undertaken but with the greatest Prudence, and with a Prospect of durable Success” (DLC:GW). The copy of the instructions sent to Congress included a paragraph urging Lafayette to consult the government of New York on his way to Albany (DNA:PCC, item 156).

The Canadian expedition, largely the brainchild of Gates, inevitably became involved in the political controversy surrounding Gates and Conway, whom Lafayette successfully arranged to be replaced by Johann Kalb. Lafayette made his way to Albany as directed, arriving on 17 Feb., but found that no real preparations had been made for the supply of the expedition; and the continuing lack of logistical and political support for the venture eventually scuttled it. On 2 Mar., Congress put an end to the Canadian adventure, declaring it “not only hazardous in a high degree but extremely imprudent,” and on 13 Mar. Congress ordered Lafayette and Kalb to rejoin GW’s army (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 , 10:216–17, 253–54). GW had termed the expedition the “child of folly” in a letter to Thomas Nelson, Jr., of 8 February. For other letters pertaining to the Canadian expedition, see John Taylor to GW, 26 Jan., GW to Gates, 27 Jan., Lafayette to GW, 9, 19, 23, and 27 Feb., and GW to Lafayette, 10 and 20 March.

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