George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Bowdoin, 17 August 1780

From James Bowdoin

Boston August 17. 1780

Dear Sir

Yesterday arrived the frigate Alliance in forty days from L’Orient. She has on board 2000 Stands of Arms, a number of Cannon And a Quantity of powder for the united States.1 Your Excellency will give Such Orders concerning them as you think proper: but with respect to the Arms, if there be not an absolute necessity for all of them, the Council would be glad you would allow one thousand of them with Bayonets to be retained by this State in lieu of the like number we have lately furnished you with, as we have none in our magazine.2

Dr Lee came passenger in the Alliance.3 He tel⟨ls⟩ me, the Ships & troops, that were intended to reinforce the french Armament at Newport, remained at Brest, when the last Post came from thence just before he Sailed: and there were then cruizing thirty two Sail of british capital Ships before that harbour; where were only twelve Sail of the line of french Ships: but that there were at Cadiz thirty Six Sail french & Spanish; which it was Supposed would proceed to Brest to remove the british, and join the french Ships there.4

He was surprized to hear that Admiral Graves was in this part of America, as he apprehended in France he had gone with his Squadron in another direction.

The Doctor Says a great mob of fifty or Sixty thousand men had appeared in London; and were masters of it three or four days: but had no valuable political object in view. They comitted many robberies, destroyed many houses, particularly Lord mansfield’s, and pulled down every Jail in London. They were finally quelled by the Guards and militia, who killed three or four hundred of them.5

The ministry had intercepted several Letters from Lord George Gordon, calculated to excite disturbance in Scotland: in consequence of which, he had been committed to the Tower.6

The Russians & Dutch had agreed to insist, that none of their Ships Should be Searched by british cruizers; and that they would be carriers for any nation whatsoever, wch should think proper to employ them.7

There is no other intelligence of importance.

I have obtained from a person, who came from Halifax about a month ago, a Sketch of the fortifications there, which I enclose for Your further information.8 It would give us great satisfaction if your Excy could inform us, there is any probability of the allied Forces being able to attempt any thing with effect this Campaign.9 I have the honour to be with the Sincerest Esteem Sir Yr Excellency’s most obt hble Servt

James Bowdoin


1The cargo carried by the Continental frigate Alliance was less than GW had expected (see GW to Rochambeau, 26 Aug.; see also Board of War to GW, 11 July, n.3, and 8 Aug., n.2; and Rochambeau to GW, 20 and 21 Aug.).

2For the arms furnished, see Massachusetts Council to GW, 16 August.

3Arthur Lee had been in Europe serving as one of the American commissioners to the court of France.

4The combined Spanish and French fleet at Cadiz in Spain did not sail to Brest, France; instead it cruised in the Atlantic and in early August attacked a lightly escorted British convoy outbound to the West Indies and captured 61 merchantmen (see Dull, French Navy description begins Jonathan R. Dull. The French Navy and American Independence: A Study of Arms and Diplomacy, 1774-1787. Princeton, 1975. description ends , 193–94).

5These destructive riots, occurring in London between 6 and 8 June, grew out of a march in late May by supporters of the Protestant Association, formed to seek repeal of the 1778 Roman Catholic Relief Bill. Marchers backed the presentation in Parliament of the Association’s petition demanding repeal of the act. After the association marchers retired, a violent mob soon replaced them. Following two days of rioting, the mob was suppressed on 8 June by 20,000 troops; nearly 200 rioters were subsequently convicted and 25 were executed. For more on the riots, see Ian Haywood and John Seed, eds., The Gordon Riots: Politics, Culture and Insurrection in Late Eighteenth-Century Britain (New York: 2012).

William Murray, first Earl of Mansfield (1705–1793) and a member of the House of Lords, was lord chief justice of the court of king’s bench and a known supporter of the Roman Catholic Relief Bill.

6George Gordon (1751–1793), a younger son of the third Duke of Gordon and a member of Parliament, became involved in the London riots as president of the Protestant Association and presenter of the repeal petition. Gordon was sent to the Tower of London on 8 June, and he was tried for high treason in February 1781 but acquitted.

7For the League of Armed Neutrality, of which this agreement was a preliminary, see GW to Samuel Huntington, 6 July, n.6.

8The enclosed sketch of the geography and defenses of Halifax, Nova Scotia, with an explanatory key and notes, docketed by GW as “Rec. from the Hon. James Bowdoin Esq. in a Letter dated the 17th of Augt 1780,” is in DLC:GW, filed with the documents of that date.

9GW replied to Bowdoin on 28 Aug., explaining that the Continental army would need all the arms brought by the Alliance and that the British blockade of Brest, if not lifted, would put it out of his power to operate against New York City (MeB).

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