George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Nathanael Greene, 16 September 1778

From Major General Nathanael Greene

Boston Sept. 16th 1778

Sir

The growing extravagance of the people and the increasing demand for the Article of forage in this quarter, has become a very alarming affair. Hay is from 60 to 80 Dollars per tun and upon the rise. Corn is 10 Dollars a bushel and oats 4 and every thing else that will answer for forage in that propo[r]tion. Carting is 9/ per mile by the tun and People much dissatisfied with the price. I have represented to the State of Rhode Island and Conecticut the absolute necessity of Legislative interposition to settle the prices of things upon some reasonable footing of all such articles and services as are necessary for the use of the Public in my department. I am going to do the same to the Councel of this State.1 What effect it will have I cannot say; but if there is not some thing done to check the extravagance of the People there is no funds in the Universe that will equal the expence.

The late affray that happene’d in this place between the People of the Town and those of the Fleet, has been found to originate from a parcel of soldiers belonging to the Convention Troops and a party of british Sailors which were engagd on board a Privateer.2 The secret enemies to our cause and the British officers in the neighbourhood of this place are endeavorg to sow the seeds of discord as much as possible between the Inhabitants of the place and the french belonging to the Fleet. The French officers are well satisfied this is the state of the case, and it fills them with double resentment against the British. The Admiral and all the French officers are now upon an exceeding good footing with the Gentlemen of the Town. General Hancock takes unwearied pains to promote a good understanding with the French officers. His House is full from morning till Night.

I had a Letter from the Marquis day before yesterday he writes me he is endeavoring to represent every thing in the most favorable colours to the Court of France in order to wipe away the prejudices that the Letters of some of the more indiscreet may make upon that Court.3 All the French Officers are extravagantly fond of your Excellency, but the Admiral more so than any of the rest. They all speak of you with the highest reverence and respect.

General Hancock made the Admiral a present of your Picture, he was going to receive it on board the Fleet by the firing a Royal salute. But Generl Hancock thought it might furnish a handle for some of the speculative Politicians to remark the danger of charactors becoming too important. He therefore disswaded the Admiral from carrying the matter into execution.4

I find by your Excellencys Letter to General Sullivan that you expect the Enemy are going to evacuate Newyork; and that its probable they are coming Eastward.5 I can hardly think they mean to make an attempt upon Boston notwithstanding the object is important & Unless they attack Boston there is no other object worthy their attention in New England. I am rather inclind to think they mean to leave the United States altogether. What they hold here now, they hold at a great risque and expen[c]e But suppose they actually intend to quit the Continent they will indeavor to mislead our attention and that of our Allies until they can get clear of the Coast.6 The Admiral is fortifying for the security of his fleet, but I am told his batteries are all open in the rear which will be but a poor security against a Land force. General Heath thinks there ought to be some Continental Troops sent here; but the Councel wont turn out the Militia, they are so confident the Enemy are not coming here[.] If your Excellency thinks the Enemy really design an attack upon Boston it may not be amiss for you to write your opinion to the Councel board for I suspect they think the General here has taken the alarm without sufficient reasons. The fortifications round this place are very incompleat and little or nothing doing upon them. I have given General Heath my opinion what Posts to take possession off if the enemy should attempt the place before the Continental Army gets up. From 4 to 5000 Troops have arrivd at Hallifax their collective strength will make a formidable Army.

I wish to know your Excellencys pleasure about my returning to Camp. I expect Mrs Greene will be put to bed every day. She is very desirous of my stay until that event; and as she has set her Heart so much upon it, I could wish to gratify her for fear of some disagreeable consequences as women sometimes under such circumstances receive great injury by being disappointed.7

General Sullivan granted me leave to come here upon the business of my department. I expect to return in a few Days. Major Gibbs is with me and is going to Portsmouth.

This is the third Letter I have wrote since I have had a line from your Excellency.8 Should be glad to hear from you when at leisure. I am your Excellency Obd. Sert

N. Greene

ALS, DLC:GW; copy (extract), enclosed in GW to Henry Laurens, 23 Sept. 1778, DNA:PCC, item 152. The extract consists of the first paragraph of the letter.

1See his letters to William Greene, 11 Sept. (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 , 2:514–15); to Jonathan Trumbull, 14 Sept. (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 , 2:517); and to Jeremiah Powell, 17 Sept. (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 , 2:521–23).

2For accounts of this riot, which occurred in Boston on the evening of 8 Sept., see William Heath to GW, 10 Sept., and note 3 to that document.

3This letter has not been identified.

4John Hancock gave d’Estaing a copy of the portrait of GW that he had commissioned Charles Willson Peale to paint in May 1776 (see the frontispiece and the note on the publication information page in vol. 5 of the Papers, Revolutionary War Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series. 22 vols. to date. Charlottesville, Va., 1985—. description ends ; see also Lafayette to GW, 1 Sept.). “A letter from a gentleman on Rhode Island,” dated 11 Oct. 1778, which was published in the Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Philadelphia) for 10 Nov. 1778, says that on “Monday, se’ennight, a large company of gentlemen and ladies dined on board the Languedoc, at the invitation of the Count D’Estaing. The entertainment was highly elegant. A picture of General Washington at full length, lately presented to the Count by General Hancock, was placed in the center of the upper side of the room, the frame of which was covered with laurels.”

6Although the British did not decide at this time to evacuate their remaining posts in the United States—New York City and Newport, R.I.—and they took no steps for that purpose, rumors of an impending general British withdrawal tantalized GW and his generals throughout the fall of 1778. In late July Gen. Henry Clinton had considered evacuation to be a viable military option. Under orders to send major detachments from his command to the West Indies, the Floridas, and Canada, Clinton expressed real concern that he might not have enough troops left to defend New York properly. “It is probable, therefore, my lord,” Clinton wrote to the British secretary of state for the American colonies, Lord George Germain, on 27 July 1778, “that I shall be under the necessity of recurring to that part of His Majesty’s instructions of the 21st of March relative to the evacuation of this place [New York] and retiring to Halifax, which the Admiral [Lord Howe] informs me cannot be done later than the end of September; but it is impossible to determine at present upon this point or before the expeditions have sailed and I know what sort of requisition [of troops for Quebec] General [Frederick] Haldimand is likely to make. The arrival, too, of the next supply of provisions is a material consideration” (Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 15:173–74; see also Secret Instructions to Clinton, 21 Mar. 1778, in Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 15:74–76, and Willcox, American Rebellion description begins William B. Willcox, ed. The American Rebellion: Sir Henry Clinton’s Narrative of His Campaigns, 1775–1782, with an Appendix of Original Documents. New Haven, 1954. description ends , 106). By 15 Sept. the decision had been made to remain at New York, but Clinton warned Germain in his letter to him of that date that “without this army is greatly reinforced it must remain on a most strict defensive next year” (Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 15:201; see also Clinton to Germain, 12 Aug., in Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 15:185–86). Discouraged by such limited prospects for meaningful military action, Clinton asked in his letter to Germain of 8 Oct. for permission to resign the American command (Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 15:209–10), but his request was refused (see Germain to Clinton, 3 Dec. 1778, in Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 15:278–79).

7Greene’s wife, Catharine Littlefield Greene (1755–1814), gave birth to their third child, Cornelia Lott Greene, on 23 September.

8These letters have not been identified. Greene’s most recent known letter to GW is that of 28–31 Aug., in which he acknowledges receiving GW’s letter to him of 21 August. GW had subsequently written to Greene on 1 and 14 September.

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