George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Philip Schuyler, 18 November 1779

From Philip Schuyler

Philadelphia Nov: 18th 1779

Dear Sir

This Morning Your Excellencys letter of the 14th Instant was read In Congress. the necessity of being explicit on the Subject and ordering a Suspension of the preparations for the Intended Co-operation with Count D’Estaing was earnestly urged and a motion made for a resolution Conformable to these Ideas, but prevented by a Prior Motion which was Carried and which I suppose you will receive by this Express.1

Our Finances are so exceedingly deranged, the depreciation proceeding with the most Alarming rapidity, Every department so deeply In debt And no plan adopted which gives the least prospect of remedy to these Evils that I very seriously apprehend the most disagreable Consequences.

It is said that Count De Grasse with eight Ships of the line and Some frigates are In Cheasepeak what his Object is we know not Should he return to the west Indies It is proposed to send the troops ordered to Georgia under his protection as Convoy.2

Nothing has Yet been done In the Intended new arrangment of the Quarter Master General & Commissary General department; I fear the time which the latter has limitted for retiring from the business will Expire before another is appointed unless Congress is pushed to It both here and from Your Quarter.3

A memorial of the Gen: Officers was Yesterday read and Committed, to Mr Root Mr Morris & Mr Schuyler. I shall urge a Speedy report, but Entre nous, people here are not so attentive to business as the vast variety and Importance of what is on hand seems to require.4 I am Dear Sir with the most Ardent wishes for Your Happiness, Respectfully & faithfully Your Excellency’s most Obedient Hume Servant

Ph: Schuyler

ALS, DLC:GW.

1See GW to Samuel Huntington, 14 Nov., and Huntington to GW, this date.

2No French squadron reached Chesapeake Bay during the fall, leaving the Continental troops ordered south to march overland (see GW to Thomas Clark, 19 Nov., and notes 2 and 4 to that document, and to Huntington, 29 Nov., and the source note to that document). The Continental Journal, and Weekly Advertiser (Boston) for 10 Dec. printed extracts from letters that may have prompted the erroneous intelligence. One extract came from a letter written at Fredericksburg, Va., on 16 Nov.: “It is undoubted that 7 ships of the line of D’Estaing’s squadron are to winter in the harbours of this State, to protect the coast from any attempts of the enemy; two of those ships are already arrived, and more were in sight when we heard from the capes.” An extract from “another letter” reads: “One of the French 74 gun ships, commanded by the Marquis de Vaudreuil, one of a squadron of eight ships of the line, commanded by the Count de Gras, arrived the 8th of November, in the bay of Chesapeak.—Count de Gras is hourly expected in said bay with the said squadron.”

François-Joseph-Paul, Marquis de Tilly, Comte de Grasse (c.1722–1788), commanded one of the French naval squadrons that Vice Admiral d’Estaing left in the West Indies when he returned to France after the failed attack on Savannah in early fall 1779. De Grasse had entered the French navy in 1740 and rose to lieutenant commander in 1754, full captain in 1762, and admiral of squadron in 1779. During June and July of that year, de Grasse participated in the capture of St. Vincent and Grenada in the West Indies, and he remained in those waters through 1780. De Grasse became a lieutenant general in 1781 and received command of French naval forces in the West Indies and North America. That September and October, in one of the most important decisions of the war, de Grasse sailed his fleet to the Chesapeake Bay to help GW trap the British army under Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. Made a commander of the order of Saint Louis for this victory, de Grasse subsequently captured the islands of Nevis and St. Kitts in the West Indies but lost his flagship at the Battle of the Saintes in April 1782. He returned to France after a brief imprisonment and lived in disgrace despite an acquittal from a military court that examined his conduct at the Battle of the Saintes. For details on de Grasse’s service during the period of the American Revolution, see Lewis, Admiral De Grasse description begins Charles Lee Lewis. Admiral De Grasse and American Independence. Annapolis, 1945. description ends ; see also Mémoire du Comte de Grasse, Sur le Combat Naval du 12 Avril 1782, avec les Plans des positions principales des Armées respectives (n.pl., c.1782).

3For Jeremiah Wadsworth’s resignation as commissary general of purchases, see his letter to GW, 29 Oct., n.5.

4Schuyler is referring to a memorial from “the General Officers Serving in the Army of the United States” to Samuel Huntington “and the honourable the Members of Congress,” docketed 15 Nov. (DNA:PCC, item 41; see also GW to Robert Howe, 27 Sept., and n.2 to that document). Twenty-seven general officers signed this memorial, which detailed concerns over insufficient respect and compensation. Congress read the memorial on 18 Nov. and referred it “to the committee appointed to consider what allowance ought to be made to the officers in the different departments of the army, to whom the provision of 18 August last doth not extend” (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 15:1286; see also 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 15:1188, 1274). Delegates Jesse Root and Gouverneur Morris served with Schuyler on this committee. For the measures adopted on 18 Aug., see 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 14:977–79.

Schuyler drafted the committee’s undated report, which Congress received on 1 December. The report recommended that eligible “General Officers and All Officers of the Military & Civil Staff of the Army now bearing Commissions from Congress, or who may hereafter Engage to Serve In the Army of the United States under such Commissions” have their pay protected from depreciation. The report also recommended payments to cover rations, half pay for life, grants of land based on rank, and pensions for widows of eligible officers (DNA:PCC, item 21, and 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 15:1335–37). Congress took no action on the report.

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