George Washington Papers

From George Washington to James Duane, 13 May 1780

To James Duane

Morris Town May 13th 1780.

Dear Sir,

Your favors of the 4th & 9th came safe to hand. I thank you very sincerely for the several articles of intelligence contained in them; and shall be happy, at all times, to hear from you when any thing occurs worthy of the moments which must be spent in the communication.1

My hearty wishes attend your endeavours to accomplish the confederation. It is certainly a most desirable event for us—and a much dreaded one by the enemy2—The spirit which seems to have gone forth in England must, methinks exceedingly embarrass the measures of Administration, and give proportionate aid to our cause. This or some other accts by the last Packet, has, undoubtedly, produced dejected countenances in New York—The advice Boat that brought them not being able to proceed with the dispatches for Sir Henry Clinton in the instant of her arrival another was ordered, and Sailed immediately for Charles Town with them.3 The Tories you may depend on it, are much alarmed.

I am exceedingly anxious for the fate of Charles-Town—more so for the Garrison & the accumulated stores in it—but much rejoiced, and indeed relieved at hearing that the Governor, and part of his Council had left the City for the purpose of supporting legal Government in the Country.4

I am sorry to hear of Hugers misfortune—on many accts—an officer may be beaten and yet acquire honor, but disgrace must for ever accompany surprizes.5

The want of money is much to be regretted—The consequences may be fatal from causes too many & too obvious to stand in need of ennumeration; I am pleased however to hear that the several States from whence accts are received have either adopted, or are about to adopt the scheme of finance recommended by Congress—I am clearly in Sentimt with you that it ought to be supported although it may be, in some respects, exceptionable.6

The arrival of Messrs Jay and Gerard is a pleasing event,7 as is that of the Marquis de la Fayette in this Country—He is now here, a little indisposed with a Cold, but will proceed on to Congress to morrow8—Mrs Washington ⟨&⟩ the Gentlemen of my family join me cordially in best wishes—to these you will permit me to add my grateful acknowledgements, and warmest thanks for your friendly & polite assurances of regard—and to declare at the sametime that with much esteem and personal attachment I am Yr Most Affecte & obliged Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. I have received fresh and (I believe) authentic Intelligence that the enemy are in great consternation at New York—they are going to run lines of defence from the East to the No. River—are throwing up New works at the Narrows9—& have a number of Vessels loading with Stone to sink & obstruct the entrance of the Harbour—two advice Boats were sent from New York within the space of 48 hours after the arrival of the dispatches from England to Sir H. Clinton.10 &ca—&ca.

ALS, PP; ADfS, DLC:GW; copy, NHi: Duane Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1In letters to GW written on 4 and 9 May, Duane provided military intelligence from South Carolina, particularly the siege of Charleston and an action at Monck’s Corner. He also commented on legislative activities in Congress.

2GW is referring to the Articles of Confederation, then under debate in Congress.

3The London Packet; or, New Lloyd’s Evening Post for 22–24 March 1780 reported that the British frigate Pearl had left England on 23 March. The Pearl, which arrived in New York on 2 May, was understood to be carrying intelligence of the departure from Brest, France, of a fleet carrying an expeditionary corps (see GW to Samuel Huntington, 5–6 May, n.5). The arrival of the Pearl caused speculation in the city. The Pennsylvania Evening Post (Philadelphia) for 8 May printed a report from a “gentleman from New York” about “an express vessel” dispatched to Charleston. The gentleman indicated that “from the appearance of people in government it is thought they had received disagreeable intelligence. By some it was reported that a French and Spanish fleet was expected upon the coast, that the enterprize against Charlestown was to be abandoned, and the British army and fleet would be again confined to the city of New York and its dependencies.” On 18 May James Robertson, royal governor of New York, advised Lord George Germain that the crew of the Pearl had fallen ill and that Germain’s dispatches to Gen. Henry Clinton were therefore forwarded by the Iris (see Robert Howe to GW, 11 May, and n.3 to that document; see also Klein and Howard, Letter Book of Robertson description begins Milton M. Klein and Ronald W. Howard, eds. The Twilight of British Rule in Revolutionary America: The New York Letter Book of General James Robertson, 1780-1783. Cooperstown, N.Y., 1983. description ends , 109–13).

The dispatches for Clinton probably refer to Germain’s letters to him of 15 and 16 March, the former of which mentioned “the armament preparing at Brest” (see 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 , 18:60, 16:284). The Pearl reportedly also brought a letter of 20 March from Germain about the French expeditionary force (see Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs [1971], 260).

GW learned about the information that arrived on the Pearl from his spies in New York (see “Amicus Reipublicae” to John Mercereau, 20 May, in the editorial note Intelligence Operations in the New York City Area, 17 May–24 June).

4South Carolina governor John Rutledge and three of the eight state privy council members had retreated to safety on 13 April (see Hawes, Lachlan McIntosh Papers description begins Lilla Mills Hawes, ed. Lachlan McIntosh Papers in the University of Georgia Libraries. Athens, Ga., 1968. (University of Georgia Libraries Miscellanea Publications, no. 7.) description ends , 101, 104). For details concerning the siege of Charleston, see Benjamin Lincoln to GW, 11–12 Feb., and n.4 to that document; see also John Laurens to GW, 14 March and 9 April. The American forces at Charleston had surrendered to the British on 12 May (see Duportail to GW, 17 May, and n.1 to that document).

5Brig. Gen. Isaac Huger’s command had been surprised and defeated at Monck’s Corner, S.C., on 14 April.

6For the new congressional financial plan, which provided for the cancellation of old Continental currency and directed each state to issue new bills of credit, see Philip Schuyler to GW, 12 March, and notes 3 and 4 to that document. For subsequent state approvals of the plan, see Oliver Ellsworth to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 9 May; William Churchill Houston to William Livingston, 12 May; Huntington to Thomas Jefferson, 4 Aug.; and Virginia Delegates’ Certification, 5 Sept., in 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 , 15:101–3, 113–15, 543 and 16:24–25.

7Conrad-Alexandre Gérard, former French minister, and John Jay, newly appointed U.S. minister to Spain, had arrived in Europe (see Steuben to GW, 14 Feb., and n.2 to that document; see also GW to Howe, 18 Aug. 1779, and n.1 to that document).

8For Major General Lafayette’s arrival in Boston Harbor and his instructions of 5 March from the French court, see Lafayette to GW, 27 April 1780. Lafayette brought news of an expeditionary army numbering over 5,000 troops, which had embarked in early April and sailed on 2 May (see Rice and Brown, American Campaigns of Rochambeau’s Army description begins Howard C. Rice, Jr., and Anne S. K. Brown, eds. The American Campaigns of Rochambeau’s Army, 1780, 1781, 1782, 1783. 2 vols. Princeton, N.J., 1972. description ends , 1:15, 117).

Lafayette arrived at headquarters on 10 May, dining with GW, his aides, and Major General Steuben (see Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 2:320). He conferred with GW on collaboration between the Continental and French armies. Philip Schuyler, then at Morristown with the Committee at Headquarters, wrote New York governor George Clinton on 15 May that Lafayette “detailed the Contents of the dispatches” from the Court of Versailles to Congress and to La Luzerne, French minister to the United States. Schuyler considered the dispatches to “evince the most decided determination on the part of France to Support us thro the Contest, and an event will soon take place which will announce to all Europe and America that his most Christian Majesty will not confine himself to mere professions of amity to us or to pecuniary aids” (Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends , 5:708–10).

Lafayette advised GW of key aspects of the instructions of 5 March from French foreign minister Vergennes, including those relating to medical care for the French troops and the dispatch of officers to potential arrival sites for the French fleet; GW later addressed both items in his correspondence (see his letters to Jefferson of 15 May and to James Craik of 24 May). Lafayette also conveyed to GW that the capture of the British naval base at Halifax, Nova Scotia, was a prime French objective (see GW to James Bowdoin and William Heath, both 15 May).

In a letter of 20 May to Vergennes, Lafayette described his discussions with GW: “The moment I joined General Washington, I informed him of the king’s plans and attempted to follow my instructions to the letter. That news had all the more effect on him because present circumstances have him at a great disadvantage. In addition to his gratitude as an American citizen, he expresses a personal and very deep gratitude for the confidence with which the king has honored him by the disposition he has made of the royal troops.

“Convinced that Congress is too numerous to act with discretion and dispatch, the general has requested that a committee be appointed with enough power to mobilize all the resources of America. …

“The ideas I had imparted to you concerning the employment of M. de Guichen during the winter season have turned out to be very similar to those of General Washington, with whom I was not the first to broach the subject. The general and the small group of Americans who are in on the secret have all sought to prove to me that if our success is uncertain, a visit from M. de Guichen or some of his ships during the winter season would assure the success of those operations. …

“We have taken prompt measures to obtain intelligence of the present situation at Halifax and Penobscot; those places appear to be General Washington’s objectives, but he would have to feel that his forces were strong enough that he would have no need to fear General Clinton in this part of the continent and on the North River.

“If at the end of autumn the [French] troops do not receive orders to report to the West Indies … we shall undertake with them the conquest of Canada. General Washington told me to have some hopes for this plan. …

“Without being biased, sir, by the tender friendship I share with General Washington, I can assure you that the generals and French troops will have nothing but praise for his honesty, his delicacy, and that noble and frank politeness that characterizes him, at the same time that they will have to admire his great talents. Even though I have repeatedly told him that the French army generals are as much under his orders as the generals of his own army, you will see by what he has ordered me to tell them that he does not intend to exercise his command in a severe or arbitrary manner” (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 , 3:26–29; see also GW to Duane, 14 May).

9British general Henry Clinton had ordered the completion of “the Line of Defence from the North to the East River, by Bunker’s [Bayard’s] Hill.” The line included “New projected Redoubts” and fortifications at Corlear’s Hook, N.Y. (James Pattison to Clinton, 29 May, in Pattison, “Letters,” description begins “Official Letters of Major General James Pattison.” Collections of the New-York Historical Society for the Year 1875, 8 (1876): 1–430. description ends 178–79; see also Stephen Payne Adye to George Beckwith, 17 May, and Pattison to Captains of Militia, 4 May, in Pattison, “Letters,” description begins “Official Letters of Major General James Pattison.” Collections of the New-York Historical Society for the Year 1875, 8 (1876): 1–430. description ends 176–77, 392–93). The British had erected fortifications along Bayard’s Hill in 1779 to protect the north of the city (see GW to Jay, 25 Sept. 1779, and n.6 to that document; see also GW to Huntington, 9 Oct. 1779, n.4). The anticipated arrival of the French expeditionary force prompted efforts to strengthen these defenses.

10For reports of the dispatch vessels, and the British plan to obstruct the channel into New York Harbor, see Howe to GW, 11 May, and notes 3 and 6 to that document.

Index Entries