George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Samuel Huntington, 17 December 1779

To Samuel Huntington

Morris Town Decr 17th 1779


The bearer of this The Reverend Mr De La Motte represents to me that he has been employed by order of Congress as Missionary to the Indian tribes in the Eastern department, from which trust he is now returning1—On conversing with him he has exprested a willingness to go into Canada as a secret emissary. He appears to be not unintelligent, and if there is good reason to depend on his fidelity, from the trial already made of him, he may be very useful in this way. His function and his being a Frenchman, possessing the language and manners of the people would give him signal advantages. He might gain intelligence of the enemy, sound the dispositions of the inhabitants and instil into them those ideas which Congress would wish to prevail. But the same advantages would make him proportionably mischievous, if he should be in the interest of the enemy. He says a charge of this nature was falsely brought against him by Colonel Allan the commanding officer at Machias. It should be a point well ascertained, before he is intrusted with a new employment.2 Should Congress find him worthy of confidence and determine on sending him into Canada, I should be glad to be honored with a communication of the instructions they give him, and to be permitted to add such others relative to military objects as may be consistent with theirs. With the greatest respect I have the honor to be Your Excellency’s Most Obedt & humble servant

Go: Washington

LS, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, M-Ar; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW signed the cover of the LS. Congress read GW’s letter on 21 Dec. and referred it to the Board of War (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 15:1397).

The Board of War met on 31 Dec. and recommended that Congress refer the question of further service for Hyacinthe de La Motte to the Massachusetts council (see Board of War to Congress, that date, DNA:PCC, item 147). Congress read this report on 17 Jan. 1780 and adopted a resolution in accordance with the board’s recommendation (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 16:66). Huntington then wrote the Massachusetts council from Philadelphia on 20 Jan.: “You will receive herewith enclosed an Act of Congress of the 17 Instant with the Copy of a Letter from General Washington of the 17 of Decemr & report from the Board of War referr’d to in the Act: By which you will be inform’d that the Case of Monsr la Motte therein mentioned, The Expediency of continuing him in his present employment is referr’d to the Honble Council of Massachusets Bay who are requested to adjust & settle his Accounts at Continental Expence and if they deem his continuance unnecessary to discharge him from any further service. You will also please to observe The Board of War have advanced him three thousand dollars on Account of his pay” (Smith, Letters of Delegates, description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends 14:352–53).

1Hyacinthe (Henry) de La Motte, an Augustinian Catholic priest who apparently served as a French naval chaplain, had been captured at sea and held captive by the British in New York. He went to Boston in May 1779 and became a missionary to the Passamaquoddy Indians. John Allan, Continental agent for Indians in the eastern department, subsequently named La Motte to minister among the Penobscot Indians. For more details, see Griffin, Catholics, description begins Martin I. J. Griffin. Catholics and the American Revolution. 3 vols. Ridley Park, Pa., and Philadelphia, 1907–11. description ends 2:120–21; see also John M. Lenhart, “Two Revolutionary Chaplains in Government Employ (1780–1784),” Catholic Historical Review 23 (1937–38): 446–66.

2Allan had written instructions for an unnamed man while at Machias, Maine, on 27 Oct. that described La Motte as “possess’d of such a disposition, as makes him a most dangerous person to Continue in this department, or any part where he is likely to reach the Enemy, and as to Ecclesiastical matters he will be of no use without a Reformation” (Documentary History of Maine, description begins Maine Historical Society. Documentary History of the State of Maine. 24 vols. Portland, Maine, 1869–1916. description ends 17:408–10).

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