George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Lieutenant General Rochambeau, 12 October 1780

To Lieutenant General Rochambeau

Head Quarters Prackness Octobr 12th 1780


Your Excellency’s letter of the 5th did not arrive ’till late last evening—I agree in opinion with you on the utility of asking to have your present park doubled; but I think this will suffice. Though we are not well provided with siege artillery, we shall be able to supply the deficiency.1

We are again told of an embarkatio⟨n⟩ at New York on the point of sailing; the number is not ascertained; but the embarkation does not appear to be general. So soon as I obtain particulars and with certainty, I shall do myself the honor to transmit them to you.2

I had the pleasure of writing to you the 10th; by the same opportunity went some imp[or]tant dispatches from the Marquis de la Fayette for France.3 I am Sir With the greatest regard Your most Obedt servt

Go: Washington

P.S. I have Just received the inclosed curious performance—the completion of Arnolds disgrace which I send for your amusement.4

LS, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, CtY-BR-R; Df, DLC:GW; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 7; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

Rochambeau replied to GW from Newport on 16 Oct.: “I shall obey the orders that your Excellency has sent me in your Letter of the 12th inst., as to the Demands I am to make for the Artillery of Siege. The Chevalier de Ternay has sent out a Cutter to get some news of the British fleet, and he sends me word that he waits only for its rentry to make his Frigates go out.

“André is dead with honor, Arnold’s life will be attended with infamy, his proclamation serves only to aggravate his crime.

“We have this moment a signal at our signal-Tower, it’s a Frigate, or a Cutter that is seen” (LS, DLC:GW; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 7; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 8.; see also n.4 below). GW acknowledged this letter when he wrote Rochambeau on 24 October.

4James Rivington published Benedict Arnold’s broadside titled “To the Inhabitants of America,” with the dateline “New-York, October 7, 1780.” The document contained Arnold’s explanation of “the motives which have induced” his decision “to join the King’s arms.” Rather than “that class of men who are criminally protracting the war from sinister views at the expence of the public interest,” he addressed particularly “such of my countrymen, as want abilities or opportunities to detect the artifices by which they are duped. …

“When I quitted domestic happiness for the perils of the field, I conceived the rights of my country in danger, and that duty and honour called me to her defence. A redress of grievances was my only object and aim, however I acquiesced in a step which I thought precipitate, the declaration of independence: To justify this measure many plausible reasons were urged, which could no longer exist, when Great-Britain with the open arms of a parent offered to embrace us as children, and grant the wished for redress.”

Arnold asserted that the U.S. alliance with France—“a proud, antient and crafty foe”—posed a grave risk, and he “preferred” the peace offerings “from Great-Britain thinking it infinitely wiser and safer, to cast my confidence upon her justice and generosity, than to trust a monarchy too feeble to establish your Independency, so perilous to her distant dominions; the enemy of the Protestant Faith, and fraudulently avowing an affection for the liberties of mankind, while she holds her native sons in vassalage and chains.

“I affect no disguise, and therefore frankly declare that in these principles, I had determined to retain my arms and command for an opportunity to surrender them to Great-Britain, and in concerting the measures for a purpose in my opinion, as grateful as it would have been beneficial to my country: I was only solicitous to accomplish an event of decisive importance, and to prevent as much as possible in the execution of it, the effusion of blood.

“With the highest satisfaction I bear testimony to my old fellow soldiers, and citizens, that I find solid ground to rely upon the clemency of our Sovereign, and abundant conviction that it is the generous intention of Great-Britain, not only to leave the rights and privileges of the Colonies unimpaired, together with their perpetual exemption from taxation, but to superadd such further benefits as may consist with the common prosperity of the empire. In short, I fought for much less than the Parent Country is as willing to grant to her Colonies as they can be to receive or enjoy.

“Some may think I continued in the struggle of these unhappy days too long, and others that I quitted it too soon—To the first I reply, that I did not see with their eyes, nor perhaps had so favourable a situation to look from, and that to our common Master I am willing to stand or fall. In behalf of the candid among the latter, some of whom I believe serve blindly but honestly—in the bands I have left, I pray God to give them all the lights requisite to their own safety before it is too late, and with respect to that herd of censurers, whose enmity to me originates in their hatred to the principles, by which I am now led to devote my life to the re-union of the British empire, as the best, and only means to dry up the streams of misery that have deluged this country, they may be assured that conscious of the rectitude of my intentions I shall treat their malice and calumnies with contempt and neglect.” A parody that appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Philadelphia) for 17 Oct. emphasized how “vanity and a love of money” drove Arnold (see also Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 16:219–21).

William Smith, royal chief justice of New York, grudgingly helped Arnold with his proclamation. Smith wrote in his memoirs for 3 Oct.: “A Letter this Morning from General Arnold requesting a Draft of an Address from him to the Public. I had Doubts of complying, and only promised by a Note to assist on his Draft. …

“General Arnold calls in the Evening with his Notes for an Address. He begs Draft of a Letter to Lord George Germaine and the Correction of his Intelligence to the Minister of the interior State of the Country, which he will send to Morrow” (Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs [1971] description begins William H. W. Sabine, ed. Historical Memoirs from 26 August 1778 to 12 November 1783 of William Smith. . .. New York, 1971. description ends , 338; see also The Discovery of Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold’s Treachery, 25 Sept–24 Nov., editorial note).

Smith continued on 4 and 5 Oct. (Wednesday and Thursday): “I send General Arnold Draft of Address to the Public and Draft Letter to Lord George, and promised to return his Notes of Intelligence to Morrow. … He calls, alters the first, and shews new Draft of the last. Copies the former and throws Draft into the Fire with his Notes of it. Begins to copy my Alterations or Additions to the Intelligence. News by Mr. [Henry] White that André was executed last Monday. Reported that his Servant Peter [Laune] is come in. He is vastly disconcerted and retires on the Chariot coming for him from General Robertson’s” (Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs [1971] description begins William H. W. Sabine, ed. Historical Memoirs from 26 August 1778 to 12 November 1783 of William Smith. . .. New York, 1971. description ends , 338–39; see also Document XIII with Major John André’s Capture and Execution, 23 Sept.–7 Oct., editorial note).

Smith then wrote in his memoirs for 9 Oct.: “Arnold’s Justificatory Address come out. It does not please the Refugees, who think their own Merits slighted. He is announced to Day a British Brigadier and recieves Congratulations at the Parade” (Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs [1971] description begins William H. W. Sabine, ed. Historical Memoirs from 26 August 1778 to 12 November 1783 of William Smith. . .. New York, 1971. description ends , 339; see also Smith, Narrative description begins Joshua Hett Smith. An Authentic Narrative of the Causes which Led to the Death of Major Andrè, Adjutant-General of His Majesty’s Forces in North America. 1808. Reprint. New York, 1969. description ends , 232–41). For Smith’s relationship with Arnold after the latter’s defection, see Upton, William Smith description begins L. F. S. Upton. The Loyal Whig: William Smith of New York & Quebec. [Toronto], 1969. description ends , 128–29.

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