Joseph Gridley to James Lovell
Nantes May 25th 1779
I inclose you an English paper of May 15th whereby you will see the Temper of the English Councils & the Failure of the prince Nassau’s Expedition to Jersey & Guernsey. however, as the Troops that were designed for America, under Convoy of Admiral Arbuthnot (being 4000) went to Guernsey, it is probable they will be detained some time & possibly it will prevent their going out at all, as it is reported here daily that a second Expedition is designed for the same place. So far this will make in our favor.
The English look on that Expedition to be nothing but a feint manœuvre and are greatly apprehensive that the French have Views of higher Consequence; as in Ireland & Scotland there are great Disorders & Insurrections. There are now in the Province of Normandy 85,000 Troops and all Merchant Ships & Vessels are taken into the Service, but for what purpose is kept a Secret.1
I am extremely happy at the notice with which the Marqs de la Fayette has been honored from the King, by his giving him his own Regiment of Dragoons which are, it is said, going to America with the Marquis, likewise the Count de la Luzerne as Ambassador in place of Monsr Gerard, who has desired a Recall on account of his Health, The Count is a perfect Gentleman & has had very favorable impressions respecting the Americans. You will find him Courteous Affable & polite without Ostentation; and I think, from 2 or 3 times in which I have had the Honor of Conference with him, he will very much please the Congress & people of America.2
The Marqs dela Fayette has given his Majesty & the Court an exceedingly high Character of his new Allies.3
The Fleet at Brest consists of 33 or 34 Ships of the Line besides Frigates under the Command of Count D’Orvilliers and tis said they are to sail tomorrow, but it is not known to what place.
I dont recollect any Thing material to subjoin. I am &c.
Copy, DLC:GW. James Lovell copied this letter following his signature on his letter to GW of 25 August (DLC:GW).
1. Charles-Henri-Nicolas-Othon, Prince of Nassau-Siegen (1745–1805), a colonel in the French army who had kinship ties to the French royal family, was an adventurer who had accompanied French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville on his voyage around the world (1766–1769). With 1,500 volunteers, he funded and led an attack from St. Malo, France against the British Channel island of Jersey in late April 1779, but his troops could not force a landing on the island before British warships arrived. The failed expedition delayed Vice Adm. Marriot Arbuthnot only briefly (see GW to Jay, 11 Aug., n.5).
In the spring of 1779, the French had assembled an invasion army of some 50,000 men at Le Havre and St. Malo. In August and early September a combined French and Spanish fleet of sixty-seven ships, under the command of the French admiral Louis Guillouet, Comte d’Orvilliers (1708–1792), commanded the English Channel by keeping the English channel fleet at bay and threatening southern England with invasion. However, bad weather and disease forced the Franco-Spanish fleet to withdraw by mid-September and no invasion took place (see Mahan, Operations of the Navies, 116–20).
For GW’s defensive preparations for the long-expected arrival of the British army reinforcements being convoyed by the squadron under the command of Arbuthnot—an arrival delayed only briefly by Arbuthnot’s detour to relieve Jersey Island—see GW to John Jay, 11 Aug., n.5. Arbuthnot arrived at New York on 25 August. GW learned of the arrival of Arbuthnot’s squadron on 27 Aug. (see GW to John Jay, 24–27 Aug., and n.8 to that document, and also Robert Howe to GW, 27 Aug.).
2. After his return to France, and a brief period of house arrest, Major General Lafayette had become commander of the King’s Dragoons and was later appointed assistant quartermaster general in the expedition army for the abortive invasion of England (see Lafayette to GW, 12–13 June).
For the arrival and visit of La Luzerne, France’s new minister plenipotentiary, at Boston, in August, and for his September journey from Boston to Philadelphia, see GW to Robert Howe, 18 Aug., n.1.
3. For Lafayette’s instrumental role in persuading the French King and ministers to send an expeditionary army to America in 1780, see 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 2:224, 344–48, 350–52, 355–58, and 364–67. When Lafayette returned to America in April 1780, he brought the news “of the utmost importance” that the expeditionary army, under the command of Lt. Gen. Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, would soon arrive in America (see Lafayette to GW, 27 April 1780 [PEL]).