George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant General Rochambeau, 21 August 1780

From Lieutenant General Rochambeau

Newport, August 21st 1780


The Major of our Artillery who is just returned from Boston told me that Mr De Bougibault aide-de camp to the Marquis de La Fayette had got dispatches for him,1 for Mr De La Luzerne and for all this army, that he is to bring them, as soon as he hath bought horses, not chusing to trust them to any body, he says further that an officer had come to L’orient, to get on board the frigate L’Alliance, with the Dispatches from the Ministers for Us, But that the Captain Landain, who is mad, had refused to receive the officer and the Letters, on his board, that that same Captain had been willing to go to the West indies, and that his crew had confined him, and given the Command of the Frigate to the 2d Captain who brought them to Boston, in spite of Landain, he has only 2000. musketts and some powder, and he refused to take any more on board. Paul Jones on the Frigate L’Ariel, will imbark the remainder, and will follow very soon.2 The 2d division was imbarked and ready to set sail under the convoy of a fleet commanded by Mr De Bougainville when 32. English sail of the Line appeared before Brest. The Spanish fleet of 38. sail of the Line, eight of which are French was gone from Cadiz to go and deliver that which is blocked up in Brest. The rebellion and rising up at London is very true, there has been more than five hundred people killed.

The same officer tells me that a vessel arrived at Boston that set sail from St Domingo, on the 2d instant, had seen that same Day Mr De Guichen, ready to set sail with 32. ships of the Line, and 17. thousand men Land Troops, for Port-au Prince, where he is to join Mr La Mothe Piquet3 from thence to proceed to sant-Jago,4 where he will meet the Spanish forces with the Admiral Bonnet,5 after that junction they were to go directly to Jamaica.6 We have only seen to day three ships a cruizing. I have not heard as yet of any attempt made by the British fleet upon Martha’s Vineyard, or any others. I think it my duty to inform Your Excellency, that on the 24th instant, The Admiral & I Intend complimenting our King with all our Artillery and Musketry, the 25th being St Louis day. The Neighbouring States are acquainted of it by Major General Heath, to prevent their being any ways unquiet about it.7 It will be the first fire, the English will see of our cannons, and I think there can be no harm in unmasking our batteries, which they seem not to have a mind to visit.8 I am with respect, Sir Your Excellency’s Most obedient most humble servant

le comte de Rochambeau

LS, DLC:GW; LB (in French), DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 7; LB (in French), DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 8; two French translations, FrPBN.

1Rochambeau is referring to Major General Lafayette’s aide-de-camp Charles-Albert, Comte de Moré de Pontgibaud, who had arrived at Boston onboard the Continental frigate Alliance. For Lafayette’s anger at Pontgibaud for his long delay in delivering the dispatches to camp, see Lafayette to the Vicomte de Noailles, 2 Sept., and to the Prince de Poix, 3 Sept., in 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 , 3:156–59, 164–67.

2Before leaving France, Capt. Pierre Landais, contrary to orders from Benjamin Franklin, the American minister in France, seized command of the Continental frigate Alliance from Capt. John Paul Jones (see Jones to Franklin, 13 and 21 June; Landais to Franklin, 14 June; and Franklin to Landais, 7 and 16 June, in Franklin Papers description begins William B. Willcox et al., eds. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. 42 vols. to date. New Haven, 1959–. description ends , 32:487–88, 519–21, 523–24, 537, 565–67). Landais was unaware of the endeavors by Franklin and Jones to ship arms, powder, and clothing to the United States in the Alliance and sailed with only a fraction of the cargo intended for that ship (see Landais to Franklin, 16 June, in Franklin Papers description begins William B. Willcox et al., eds. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. 42 vols. to date. New Haven, 1959–. description ends , 32:539–40). Jones loaded the Continental frigate Ariel, which France had loaned the United States, with as much of the supplies as the ship could carry, but he did not arrive in America until February 1781 (see Edward Hand to GW, 18 Feb. 1781, DLC:GW). For Landais’s erratic behavior during the ship’s transit, resulting in a mutiny on 10 Aug. that placed his first lieutenant in command; and for the subsequent court-martial that dismissed both Landais and his first lieutenant from the Continental navy, see Koven, John Paul Jones description begins Mrs. Reginald de Koven. The Life and Letters of John Paul Jones. 2 vols. New York, 1913. description ends , 2:139–51, and Pontgibaud, French Volunteer description begins Robert B. Douglas, ed. and trans. Chevalier de Pontgibaud, A French Volunteer of the War of Independence. 2d ed. Paris, 1898. description ends , 83–86; see also Allen, Naval History description begins Gardner W. Allen. A Naval History of the American Revolution. 2 vols. Boston, 1913. description ends , 2:527–34. For Landais’s account of his reasons for seizing command of the Alliance, see Landais, Memorial description begins [Peter Landais]. Memorial, to Justify Peter Landai’s Conduct During the Late War. Boston, 1784. description ends , 96–115.

3Toussaint-Guillaume, comte Picquet de la Motte, better known as La Motte-Picquet (1720–1791), entered the French navy in 1735 and by 1762 had risen to capitaine de vaisseau. He had served as chef d’escadre in 1778 and 1779 under Vice Admiral d’Estaing. At this time he commanded a squadron in the West Indies under Rear Admiral Guichen. In 1782 he became a lieutenant general (rear admiral) and in 1784 was awarded the grand cross of the order of Saint Louis.

4Rochambeau may be referring to the city of Santo Domingo in the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo (now Dominican Republic).

5Spanish naval forces in the West Indies were under the command of Commodore José Solano; Rochambeau may also be referring to the Marquis de Bouillé, French governor-general of Martinique.

6For the actual operations of the French and Spanish navies in the West Indies, 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 , 187–89; see also Samuel Huntington to GW, 7 Aug., n.1.

7A letter of this date from Maj. Gen. William Heath to William Ledyard at New London, Conn., announcing the intent of “much Firing of Cannon” during the celebration and desiring that Ledyard communicate the news to “the adjacent Country to prevent alarm,” is in MHi: Heath Papers.

8GW replied to Rochambeau on 26 August.

Index Entries