George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Robert Howe, 9 September 1780

From Major General Robert Howe

Camp near New Bridge [N.J.] 9th of September 1780

Dear Sir

Inform’d as I was, that our generous Allies intended to aid us with a Number of Troops, & a Fleet superior to that of the Enemy, I suppos’d We should be able to act offensively, & thought it my Duty to meditate what Objects ought to excite our Attention—Those which presented themselves as the most capital, were—Quebec, Hallifax, New-York, & the Recovery of South Carolina & Georgia—but against which we ought first to operate, it was out of my Power to determine, being entirely unapprized of the Force we should have, or the military Endowments we should be invested with. Concluding however, that to act offensively we were certainly to be supported both by Sea & Land, New York was the Object I was led to wish we might be able to obtain—because possess’d of that, Carolina, & Georgia consequentially reverted to us, & Quebec & Hallifax could with much more Facility be acquired. But when I considered the Situation of New York, that it had by every Assistance Art could give it, been rendered as impregnable as possible—that it was possess’d of every military Requisite essential to its Defence—garrison’d with a great Body of Veteran Troops, & several thousand Militia, whose all was depending upon the Preservation of the Place, & who therefore from Desperation would become more than commonly useful—that it must be approach’d variously, & the capital Points of Attack were so remote from each other that the Troops acting at either must act independently, & consequently ought to be in Force to defend themselves against the aggregate Strength of the Enemy, I own I doubted (notwithstanding my ardent Hopes to the contrary) whether we should be enabled to attack it with Success without a great Superiority.

As to Quebeck, desirable as the Object was, I had very little Expectation that it could be undertaken this Season with any tolerable Prospect of succeeding, unless the Fleet & Army of our Allies could have been here ready to act very early in the Year—a Circumstance hardly to be expected from any Fleet & Army which is to be brought from Europe & to operate the same Season.

Of Hallifax, Carolina & Georgia I confess my Hopes were more sanguine—The Time of Year we could act against the first was, When the Inclemency of a southern Climate would not admit of our operating against the two latter—& we could serve in those Countries, when Troops from hence might be spared—so that in Fact the same Body of Men could (if necessary) be employ’d at both Places.

The very late Arrival of our Allies, & the unhappy Inferiority of their Navy induce me to fear that no Enterprize of Importance against the Enemy is in this Quarter to be achieved, at least for this Season, & that therefore we should be actuated by southern Operations, & that not one Moment is to be lost. The Inhabitants of those unhappy Countries are in general (at present) well affected to our Cause—& tho’ compell’d by Necessity seemingly to submit to the Impositions of the Enemy, yet they sigh for Support, & would rejoice to receive it—This Disposition should by all Means be encourag’d, or they may either sink into Despondency, or resenting the Neglect with which they conceive themselves treated, fall a Prey to the Seductions of our Enemy, ready by every Art to alienate their Affection from a People who they will represent as unable, or unwilling to support them, & to destroy their Attachment to that Cause by which they will be taught to think they have suffered so severely—Tired also of, & oppress’d as they are by the Calamity of a War which has reduced them to Distress extreme, they may if left in Possession of the Enemy, soon learn to relish the Sweets of Recess; & the Benefits that result from a liberal Traffic held out to them upon much more eligible Terms than of late they have experienced,1 their Reverence for British Government may resume its Influence—the Consequences of which are very alarming. If this Sir, from general Principles, may be expected from any Body of Men in a similar Situation, how much is it to be apprehended from the unfortunate Predicament of this particular Set of People deprived as they are of the Superintendence of almost every Person of Influence, Dignity & Capacity—Who having been oblig’d to fly their Country, or having been captivated and paroled cannot upon any Occasion be refered to—Nor can the Latter Set with Honor, tho present, however ardently they may wish it, direct the well affected, inspirit the Timid, or awe the ill dispos’d into Neutrality. North Carolina too tho’ it were for some Time able to maintain itself without collateral Aids (which however is not possible) yet would the continual Intercourse & Commerce which must inevitably subsist betwixt the Inhabitants on the Borders of each State soon, very soon spread its baneful Influence thro’ the whole Mass of Yeomanry, & Disaffection too probably become general. But Sir, when added to these Circumstances we consider how essential to the Existence of America as a commercial People, the Possession of Georgia and the Carolinas is—that upon them we must depend absolutely for Indigo, Rice, Naval Stores, & in a great Degree for Lumber—That an almost insupportable National Debt must inevitably (by this War) be intail’d upon us—& that those Articles of Exports are the Capital Means of discharging the otherwise insupportable Burden—In short Sir, in whatever Light we contemplate this Question, it must press itself Home to the Business & Bosom of every American, that the Possession of those States by the Enemy is absolutely incompatible with every Principle of Interest, Liberty2 & Independence—& that consequently every Nerve should be strain’d to regain them—& that all Idea of Expence both of Treasure & Blood should be lost in the Importance of the Object.

It must be acknowledged that to regain the lost States, a superior Fleet may be absolutely necessary, but that Aid we are informed we have Reason to hope for, & should therefore at all Points be prepar’d to operate with the Moment it arrives. The States of Maryland Virginia & North Carolina should consequently be instantly in the most emphatick Terms urg’d to embody a sufficient Number of Troops—which should the Fleet not arrive, & Conquest be out of the Question, might yet be able with the Aid lent them from hence to check the Progress of the Enemy—& in Order to inspirit them, whatever Force could with Prudence be spar’d them, should immediately be promis’d to them when Occasion will admit of their being sent—Indeed I think if the Exigency of Service would admit of it, & only a few Men could be ordered to move towards them that it would be attended with very good Effects.

The Commanding Officers of France in the West-Indies should immediately be acquainted with the unlucky Turn of Affairs to the South’ard—& the Necessity of their cooperating with us in regaining the southern States be impress’d upon them in the strongest Terms, as essential to American Independence.3

The Enemy’s Strength to the South’d as represented to the Council of War by your Excellency was seven Thousands4—Not less I should imagine than eight or ten Thousand Regulars would be necessary to regain the States we have Lost there—If Principles of Policy do not forbid it, they should consist I think of as many of the Troops of Our Allies as possible, who better acquainted by Experience in reducing Towns by regular Approaches, might perhaps be more successful tha[n] Troops who have not had that Advantage. Whether such a Number in any Season could be spared from this Quarter I will not venture to determine—but if any Thing can animate the People of America to Exertion, the present Situation of Affairs ought most certainly to do it—& in that Case any Men sent forward might be replaced by the States in this Department—Indeed I behold the dispossessing the Enemy of their Conquests to the South’ard, in so serious & important a Point of Light, that I dread the Consequences to the common Cause should we not be able to effect it—Upon the whole I think that if our Allies are not very shortly indeed, & very considerably reenforced that the Season for acting importantly in this Quarter will be pass’d by, & that our Operations should be pointed where we can act with Effect—but that whether they arrive or not we should be in every Manner prepared to support ourselves, & to prevent the farther Progress of the Army to the South’ard—where we have still much to Lose, & which without our Support will probably be Lost.

Thus Sir, have I at your Excellency’s Request given Utterance, tho’ in a very hasty Manner, to what has occured to me, & which as some very particular Circumstances inevitably engaged me until just now, I have not been able sooner to attend to.5

Happy shall I be if in what I have thrown out a single Hint may be found that can be useful to you, & beneficial to my Country. I have the Honor to be with the greatest Respect Dear Sir Your Excellency’s most obedient

Robert Howe

LS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Parliament had adopted an importation act permitting all parts of America under British control free trade with Great Britain and British colonies (see MacPherson, Annals of Commerce description begins David MacPherson. Annals of Commerce, Manufactures, Fisheries, and Navigation, with Brief Notices of the Arts and Sciences Connected with Them. Containing the Commercial Transactions of the British Empire and Other Countries, From the Earliest Accounts to the Meeting of the Union Parliament in January 1801. … 4 vols. London, 1805. description ends , 3:659).

2The writer inadvertently rendered “Libererty” for this word.

5Howe probably refers to Brig. Gen. John Nixon’s resignation (see Howe to GW, 8 Sept., found at GW to Samuel Huntington, this date, n.4).

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