George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, 15 May 1780

To Thomas Jefferson

Head Quarters Morris Town 15th May 1780


I have the pleasure to inform Your Excellency confidentially that a French Fleet may in the course of a few Weeks be expected upon this Coast, and as it is uncertain what part of the land they may first make, Gentlemen are to be stationed at different points to give them Signals and to make them some necessary communications immediately upon their arrival. Major Galvan who will have the honor of delivering this to your Excellency is appointed to go down to Cape Henry for the purposes above mentioned, and as He will have occasion to keep one or two Boats in constant readiness to go off upon the appearance of the Fleet,1 I shall be much obliged by your giving an order to the person who has the superintendance of the public Vessels and Craft in Virginia to supply him with the necessary number2—Should the public have none of the proper kind in their possession, you will be pleased to recommend to Major Galvan the most certain and speedy methods of procuring them— One or two skilful and trusty pilots will also be necessary, that if any of the ships should have occasion to enter the Bay, they may not be at a loss.3

Your Excellency will no doubt see the propriety of keeping the object of Major Galvans mission as much a secret as possible, lest the importance of the dispatches with which he is charged might be an inducement to some of the disaffected to take him off—It would add much to his security, if your Excellency would be good enough to introduce him to some Gentleman in the neighbourhood of Cape Henry, in whom he may confide and with whom he may remain while in that quarter.

It is essentially necessary that Major Galvan should be constantly informed of the operations in south Carolina, and as he will be out of the common track of intelligence, I have desired him to keep up a communication with your Excellency—Your acquainting him therefore with what comes to your knowledge either officially or sufficiently authentic to be depended upon may be productive of most salutary consequences.4 I would beg leave to recommend Major Galvan generally to your Excellency for every public assistance of which he may stand in need, and particularly to your personal Civilities. I have the honor to be with the greatest Respect and Esteem Sir &c.

Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1The French squadron was expected to arrive at Rhode Island or off Cape Henry, Virginia. Maj. William Galvan arrived at Cape Henry on 31 May (see GW to Galvan, 16 May, and Galvan to GW, 2 June).

2Such an order from Jefferson has not been identified.

3At this point in the draft, Tilghman wrote and then cancelled: “You will also be pleased generally to give him what further assistance he may require.”

GW’s directives to Jefferson reflected instructions from French foreign minister Vergennes to Major General Lafayette of 5 March (see Lafayette to GW, 27 April, n.2; see also GW to James Duane, 13 May, n.8, and 14 May). The instructions presented the possible arrival of the French squadron at Rhode Island or off the Virginia Capes and ordered Lafayette to seek GW’s permission “to send a few of the French officers attached to him to Rhode Island … to prevent the French squadron’s being taken by surprise. Each of these officers would carry a letter from M. le Marquis de Lafayette that would attest to the commander of the French squadron that he could freely and safely enter the port.

“These officers must be ordered to remain near the sea in a continual vigil. They should always have some light boats and trustworthy pilots at their disposal. … But since stormy weather coming off the sea could prevent these officers from going on board, the signal that the entrance to Rhode Island is free and open will be raised on Block Island and on Judith and Sakonnet Points.” Since the squadron might arrive at the Virginia Capes, Vergennes proposed “keeping a shrewd officer at Cape Henry. He would have orders to join the squadron and would be well enough instructed on the situation of American affairs, particularly on the possibility of disembarking at Rhode Island, to inform the French generals of it with certainty. In this event, the signals at Cape Henry will be the same as for the Rhode Island landings” (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 , 2:364–68).

4In late May, Jefferson prepared intelligence on southern operations, including British successes at Charleston, S.C., and the state of the American garrison, that likely went to Galvan (see Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 3:399–401; see also Jefferson’s first letter to GW on 11 June).

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