George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Jedediah Huntington, 9 September 1780

From Brigadier General Jedediah Huntington

[9 Sept. 1780]


I find it impossible to form an Opinion, with Satisfaction to myself, upon the Subjects laid by Your Excellency before the Council,1 they depending, so much as they do, on future Contingence. was it in my Power to state every Case that might happen, or any one that has not had Place in Your own Mind, I should render an acceptable Service.

In Case the second Division of the french Armament joins the first by the first of October fit for Action—the Superiority by Sea decidedly in their Favour—their Land Forces with Yours (exclusive of Militia) double that of the Enemy—the then Supply of Provisions competent & Prospect of its Continuance good—I should advise to the Siege of New York—because the People in General and all our Preparations have had an Eye to that Object—but with every Precaution necessary to raise it without imminent Danger, Lest the precarious naval Superiority should be lost in the Progress of the Operations. Any one of the above Conditions wanting, I think New York must remain unessayed.

As soon as the Thoughts of an offensive Operation here are laid aside, as great a Part of our Army, as the Pensylvania Line, & that in Preferance, ought to march to the Southward. The Proportion between the Force of our Army there & here should be in the Compound Ratio of the Enemys respective Strength & the Disaffection of the Inhabitants.

At the same Time I would discharge a Class of the short Levies consisting of the poorest soldiers.2

In Case the french fleet becomes Master of the Sea, either before or after the Arrival of the second Division and the Attack of N. York is out of the Question—an Enterprize may be undertaken (by the french chiefly) against some of the other british Posts to the Eastward or southward in the choise of which I would be governed very much by the french Admiral & General—I suppose, the wretched Condition of our Finances puts it out of our Power to make any other Preparations than what have been made for N. York, & that the French have every other Necessary.

No Entreprise being on Foot the 1st of November, the Army should go to Winter Quarters, & at the same Time another Part or the Whole of the short Levies be discharged.

Untill Winter Quarters are taken, the Army may lye at or in the Vicinity of Paramus or White Plains according as Provisions and Forrage shall render convenient.

I proceed beyond the Subject to observe that I suppose the Army will undergo a Reform as soon as the Campaign is at End.3 I presume the Continent could carry on the War longer than G. Britain in point of Expence provided ours could be moderate & theirs kept up—was the monstrous Establishment of the Army (which is sufficient for 50,000 Men,) reduced to our Numbers of Rank & file for the War & a few thousand more, the Burden would be easily borne for Years & the Strength be sufficient with occasional Aid of Militia for the Defence of the Country. It may be worthy Attention whether a Land Army is or ever will be our forte, whether the Nature of the Country, the Genius of the People, its Relation to other parts of the World, & present Circumstances do not all point to a Navy. whether Administration (I mean our own, in whose ever Hands it may be) ought not to avail itself of the ruling Passion of the People for naval Entreprise & accumulating Property, and lay in its Claim to the Services of the huge Mass of Seamen & the Wealth of the Merchants for the Purpose of hiring, purchasing or building & equiping Ships of War.

It has been said ten or twelve ships of the Line & as many Frigates would defend & protect the Country more effectually than thirty thousand Men in the field. a Fleet has infinitely the Advantage of an Army in Respect to the Delays of long Marches & enormous Expence of Transportation & particularly as the Enemy are principally supplied by Sea.

The Fleet that is able to protect us, becomes at the same Time, in a great Degree, Master of all the british Territories on the Continent—but as long as the Enemy command the Water, it will be in their Power to make temporary Establishments in many, & continual Inroads in all Parts of the Continent, although we might have thirty Thousand Men in the Field.

Notwithstanding the combined Fleet of our Allies confessedly exceed the Enemys in Ships Men & Mettle, yet the former either from Remembrance of past Inferiority, Experience of the Bravery Adroitness & Successes of the latter, Want of a better maritime System, or more capacious & contiguous Harbours, or from whatever Cause, seem to have depended more on Policy & Surprise than on Combat.

If a Fleet will be essential to our seperate political Existence (as in Fact we find it is to our present safety) can it be too early to acquire one of our own. the mutual Engagements & Interests at present cordial & intimate between us & our Allies are subject to the Caprice of Accidents, & European Politicks—but allowing there is no Fear of being forsaken by our Friends, what a clear positive & comfortable Decision would ten or twelve additional Ships of the Line give to the Altercations of this Campaign. I remain most respectfully and affectionately Your Excellys Obedt Servant

J. Huntington

ALS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The date comes from the ALS docket.

3Congress reformed the Continental army (see Samuel Huntington to GW, 26 Oct., n.1).

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