George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Vice Admiral d’Estaing, 8 August 1778

To Vice Admiral d’Estaing

Head Quarters White plains 8 Augt 17781


I had the honor last night of receiving your favour of the 3d instant. I most sincerely sympathize with you in the regret you feel at the obstacles and difficulties you have heretofore encountered—Your case has certainly been a case of peculiar hardship; but you justly have the consolation which arises from a reflection that no exertions possible have been wanting in you to insure success, the most ample and adequate to your wishes and to the important expectations from your command—The disappointments you have experienced proceed from circumstances which no human foresight or activity can controul. None can desire more ardently than I do, that the future may compensate for the past and that your efforts may be crowned with the full success they deserve.

I have just received a letter from Brigadier General Maxwell who is stationed in the Jerseies near Staten Island dated yesterday at nine oClock in the forenoon. Inclosed are extracts from it, which contain very interesting information.2 The terms made use of are so positive and express, that it is natural to conclude the intelligence is well founded. Its importance induces me to lose no time in communicating it. What may be the real design of this movement can only be the subject of conjecture. Unless the fleet may have received advice of a reinfor[ce]ment on the coast, which it is gone to join, with intention to bend their united force against you, it can scarcely be supposed that Lord Howe will be hardy enough to make any serious attempt with his present inferiority of strength. If he should it can only be accounted for on the principle of desperation stimulated by a hope of finding you divided, in your operations against Rhode Island. this however is a very probable supposition—It is more likely, he may hope by making demonstrations toward you to divert your attention from Rhode Island and afford an opportunity to withdraw their troops and frustrate the expedition we are carrying on. I shall not trouble you with any further conjectures, as I am persuaded you will be able to form a better judgment than I can, of his intentions and of the conduct it will be proper to persue in consequence.3

In order to aid in removing the inconveniences you sustain in the article of water, and relieve the sufferings of the brave officers and men under your command, whose patience and perseverance cannot be too highly commended, I have w[r]itten to Governor Trumball of the state of Connecticut, requesting his endeavours, to collect vessels and load them with water at New London for the use of your Fleet4—I shall be happy if this application is productive ⟨of the desired effect.⟩5

I send you a New York paper of the 5th, which is not unworthy of attention.6

Allow me to assure you of the warm respect and regard with which I have the honor to be—Sir Your most Obedt servt.

Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; copy (extract), FrPBN; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The extract consists of the first paragraph of the letter.

GW sent this letter to Maj. Gen. John Sullivan with the following cover letter of this date: “The inclosed for Count D Estaing is of the utmost importance and must be forwarded instantly. It announces to him the sailing of the British fleet from the Hook, which according to intelligence received happened the day before yesterday” (Df, DLC:GW). According to Johann Kalb, the courier was dispatched at two in the afternoon, as soon as the departure of the British fleet was known (Kalb to the comte de Broglie, 10–15 August, in Stevens, Facsimiles description begins Benjamin Franklin Stevens, ed. B. F. Stevens’s Facsimiles of Manuscripts in European Archives Relating to America, 1773–1783, With Descriptions, Editorial Notes, Collations, References and Translations. 25 vols. London, 1889–98. description ends , vol. 8, no. 845).

1The dateline is in Tench Tilghman’s writing.

2Maxwell’s letter to GW of 7 Aug. has not been found. For the text of the enclosed extracts, see GW to John Laurens, 8 August. GW also may have enclosed a list of the British fleet that sailed from Sandy Hook (see John Hancock to Jeremiah Dummer Powell, 11 Aug., Continental Journal, and Weekly Advertiser [Boston], 13 Aug.).

3At this point the draft is marked with an asterisk, but no corresponding mark appears. The paragraph that follows appears after the closing on the draft but was moved to this point in the Varick transcript, a reasonable interpretation of the asterisk’s meaning.

4GW’s letter of this date to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., reads: “The Fleet at Rhode Island under the Count D’Estaing suffers many inconveniences in the procuring of Water. I could wish, in case you think it practicable, in case it can be any ways effected, that Vessels may be sent forward immediately from New-London with a proper supply. From the situation of his Squadron with respect to water it is a measure, which, if undertaken, and executed with alacrity, cannot fail of being of the utmost consequence to the Count—It may prevent also accidents of a very alarming nature—should he be obliged to put to Sea—You will, therefore, I hope, take the matter into consideration, and give it that attention which its importance demands” (LB, Ct: Trumbull Papers).

5The words in angle brackets are taken from the Varick transcript.

6GW probably enclosed a copy of Rivington’s Royal Gazette of 5 August.

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