George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Lafayette, 20 March 1778

From Major General Lafayette

[Albany, N.Y., 20 March 1778]

dear general

Alwaïs new instances where I find myself obliged to send to Congress—was I not So sensible of your excelleacy’s goodness for his officers and particular frienship for me, I schould be afraid you’d not forgive so many miss’s tho’ unvolontary one—but such is the case in this particular instance—we have in this place a british hospital, british doctor, british officers, tho’ the situation of albany do’nt seem fit for all this britannic train—the doctor has leave from general gates to go down to niew york with his disabled men (on condition of theyr being exchang’d) as soon as he will have settl’d his accounts—upon those accounts a dispute raises—he wants to pay not what things Cost to Us but what they are allowed for in the rations of our people—or he will go himself with his men into new york, and from thence send pound for pound of equal quality, this second point I ca’nt grant because his superiors would not acknowledge the authority he had of making the bargain—the first I dare not take upon myself to settle, and therefore I send for an immediate answer from Congress because I Am very desirous of seeing that people going home as soon as possible—they already are, and can become much more, inconvenient to us in this place.1

I have wrote to governor clinton for knowing his opinion about sending to new york two or three british women, a british officer whose life depends says the surgeon on his going home, and a tory gentleman—I like better to have those people without than within, but however am not of opinion of giving them unlimited pass’s as a general my precursor has done several times.2

general schuyller and other commissioners of indian affairs having applied to me for granting a Small fort to the onoyedas indians, I send there Clel. Gouvion who will in the same time inspect the fortifications of fort schuyller, as I have been prevented from going there myself—the indians have cut theyr wood themselves, some tools, some picquets, and some militia from tryon County will do the business.3 Then I hope I’l be able to get here, and perhaps to bring down to your excellency some scalping gentlemen for ⟨dressing⟩ the fine hair of the ⟨Howe actually dancing⟩ at philadelphia.

Colonel bedel of the militia and general belay who say they have thousand men, and perhaps have not two hundred, want too to have a fort where they furnish wood, workmen, garrison, and Engineer—I have desired the french engineer to send me a geometrical plan of his projected fort with its profiles and dimensions.4

general Stark has desired me to mention to Congress that he looks upon it as not only an useful but even a necessary thing, that two picquets forts be built in the month of april one in the neighborhood of ognon river, the other in this of Skinburry—I have received one other application from the people of cherywalley who cry for a fort in theyr Country as they are expos’d to the incursions of indians and torys coming up by the back side5—this is a long list of forts, but we have the consolation to think that all those fortifications are reduc’d to some picquets—this of the onoyedos seems [to] Me the most important and so I did not differ [defer] giving proper orders for it—the others I hope your excellency will take in consideration, and after mentionning to Congress those of general stark and this I have granted give me farther directions.

For the arrangement of the british hospital I think I’l do better to wrait not only to Congress but also to governor Clinton—and in case the governor schould advise me to let them go in giving proper securitys, then I Could take Upon myself granting theyr going down.

General Stark Has been two days in this town, and seems [to] me very sanguine about a diversion towards niew york—he says an immense number of militia who would never turn out but for this expedition would join the officer commanding there—but I wo’nt ⟨join⟩ the ⟨illegible⟩, neither apply my mind to any ⟨scheme⟩ till I schall ⟨know where⟩ I am to serve.

I must Confess you, my dear general, that I have been too quick upon a hint given to me of Congress recalling me without knowing my sentiments about it—you will have found some resentment in the letters and copys I have sent to your excellency some days ago6—but now I am told that Congress far from meaning any disagrement for me, have been polite enough as to expect knowing my sentiments before making any disposition of general officers, I assure you, my dear general, that I will do very chearfully every thing they will propose to me in such a manner—you know too well my heart to be in any doubt but I schall consider myself very happy to serve with you, when this recalling me will not be attended with the unpolite circumstances I was in right to suspect—I say more—the command at albany I do’nt look upon as fit for my love of agreable occasions, unless it would be extended below what I have not any right to demand in all, my dear general, my mind will be alwaïs super satisfied to be as near you as possible, and I schall look upon any thing you will believe fit for me, as the very best thing I can wish for.

inclosed I send to your excellency the letter of the british doctor and also my answer.7

I have received a resolve of Congress Concerning the defense of hudson’s river—it is very extraordinary indeed those precautions come so late, such works schould be done two months ago—many canons are desired from me and general gates finds an immense park of artillery in his inkstand, as he had lately found three thousand men, provisions, clothes &c. &c. you will see in my answer and this of mjor Stephens what we can do in this moment.8

inclosed I send to your excellency some petitions and resignations—besides that there is one liet. blak-leys of Clel James lewingston regiment who wo’nt give his commission till the resignation will be accepted, what I beg your leave for.9

farewell, my most dear and beloved general, do’nt forget your northen friend, and be certain that his sentiments for you will only end with his life—I beg you would present my respects to your lady and thousand compliments to the gentlemen of your family. with the greatest respect I have the honor to be Your excellency’s the most obedient servant

the Marquis de lafayette

the Canadian prisonners from general burgoïyne’s army apply every day to me to get leave to return to theyr familys I send you the copys of my letter to Congress and this of Major Stephens—I have not heard from your excellency since the first letter.10

ALS, PEL. After the war Lafayette edited this and other letters he wrote to GW during the winter of 1777–78, sometimes altering, inserting, or omitting words to clarify meaning and sometimes obliterating entire passages. The original text has been restored where possible, with questionable readings in angle brackets.

1The doctor was John McNamara Hayes (1750?–1809), whose appointment as surgeon dated from 1 Jan. 1776. After returning from North America, he earned an M.D. at Rheims in 1784 and was licensed by the Royal College of Physicians in 1786. He was created a baronet in 1797. Lafayette wrote Congress about Hayes on 20 Mar. (Lafayette Papers description begins Stanley J. Idzerda et al., eds. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790. 5 vols. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977-83. description ends , 1:362–66). Hayes renewed his request through Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates in late April 1778 (see Hayes to Gates, 30 April, and Gates to GW, 21 May, DLC:GW), and on 4 June, Gates, “By Order of His Excellency General Washington,” directed that Hayes be allowed to go to New York “with the Officers & convalescent Soldiers of the British Hospital, Prisoners of War from Albany” and attempted to arrange an exchange for them (Gates to Daniel Jones, 4 June 1778, NHi: Gates Papers; see also Gates to Lewis Pintard, and Hayes to Gates, both 4 June, NHi: Gates Papers).

2See Lafayette to George Clinton, 16 Mar., ibid., 354–57. The British officer was Lt. William Richardson of the 34th Regiment of Foot. Appointed an ensign in the regiment in May 1772, Richardson was promoted to lieutenant in March 1776. The women included the wife of Angus McDonell and a Mrs. Adams.

3On 21 Mar., Lafayette wrote the officer commanding at Fort Schuyler, introducing Lt. Col. Jean-Baptiste de Gouvion and directing the commander to “make any Alteration” in Fort Schuyler advised by Gouvion and to supply tools and provisions for the Tryon County militia who would build the Oneida fort “about Sixteen or Twenty miles from Fort Shyler” (ibid., 374).

4See Lafayette to Caleb Willard, 16 Mar., ibid., 360–61; see also Lafayette to Timothy Bedel, 16 Mar., ibid., 358–59. The fort was to be located in the Upper Coos region of New Hampshire.

5For discussion of this application, see the Cherry Valley Committee to Lafayette, 31 Mar., in Hastings, Clinton Papers description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends , 3:104–5. In consequence of their request, Fort Alden was constructed at Cherry Valley in what is now Otsego County, New York.

6Lafayette apparently wrote GW c.13 Mar., enclosing copies of his letters to Congress of 11 and 12 Mar., as well as other documents. That letter has not been found, but Lafayette indicated its contents in a private letter to Henry Laurens of 20 Mar.: “I must however Confess not to the president of Congress but to Mister Laurens, that the next day in sending to general Washington an account of my Conduct, (tho’ I had not given up the idea of leaving the american coat) I beg leave to serve near his person as a stranger volonteer, to prevent my hurting the cause of freedom by my return in france, and depriving in the same time the army of so many valuable officers, generals and others who want to follow my sort what so ever” (ScHi: Henry Laurens Papers; see also Lafayette Papers description begins Stanley J. Idzerda et al., eds. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790. 5 vols. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977-83. description ends , 1:367).

7See Hayes to Lafayette, 18 Mar., and Lafayette to Hayes, 19 Mar., in Hastings, Clinton Papers description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends , 3:55–58.

8Lafayette apparently is referring to Congress’s resolutions of 4 Mar., which, among other things, ordered that cannon brought from Ticonderoga “be subject to the orders of Governor Clinton, for the defence of the passes on Hudson’s river” and gave Clinton “authority to purchase all other necessary cannon for the defence of the passes” (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 , 10:221–22). Lafayette enclosed copies of his letter to Congress of 20 Mar. and Maj. Ebenezer Stevens’s letter to him of 19 March. In the former letter Lafayette wrote, “It seems to me, sir, that by the present time of the year, the only way for getting those cannon left behind, will be to have boats built at fort Edward and saratoga, bring apart of that Cannon to Lake George, and from thence Down here—such is at least my present idea I will consult upon and give afterwards orders for” (PEL; see also Lafayette Papers description begins Stanley J. Idzerda et al., eds. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790. 5 vols. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977-83. description ends , 1:362–65). Stevens reported, “The Ice being very bad when the Sleys first went up, prevented their taking up the heaviest Pieces” so that only thirty-three of the lighter pieces had arrived, “all more or less damaged”; of the heavier pieces, “there are four eighteen pounders and one Twelve between Skeensbury and Fort Anns; One Thirty two Pounder, two twelves, and one Six pounder lost in the lake between Skeensborough and Ticonderoga, the rest remain at Ticonderoga” (Hastings, Clinton Papers description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends , 3:59–60).

9The enclosures have not been identified. John Blackley (Blakely, Blackney), who had been appointed an ensign of John Nicolson’s New York regiment in April 1776 and promoted to second lieutenant in June of that year, became a second lieutenant in Col. James Livingston’s 1st Canadian Regiment in December 1776. Blackley did not officially resign until 10 July 1779.

10This letter has not been identified.

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