George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Lafayette, 28 November 1780

From Major General Lafayette

paramus [N.J.] November the 28h 1780

My dear General

We Arriv’d Last Night at This place and was Much favor’d By the weather in our Recconnoitring of the island where, I Confess, my feelings were different from what I had experienc’d when looking at these forts with an hopefull Eye—I Saw the fatal Centry Clel Gouvion Alluded to on an Upper Battery of jeffery’s hook—I also Saw a Small vessel playing of This hook, But quite a trifling thing without guns and But two men on Board—Nothing else on the River But the Usual guards of Spiting devil.1

As you have been pleas’d to Consult me on the choice of An adjutant General, I will Repeat here, My dear General, that tho’ I have alwaïs delt With General hand on an other point of View his Zeal, obedience, and love of discipline have given me a very Good opinion of him.

Clel smith has been By me wholly employ’d in that line and I Can Assure You that he Will perfectly Answer Your purpose.2

Unless, however You was to Cast your Eye on a man who, I think, would suit Better than Any other in the World, hamilton is, I Confess, the officer whom I would like to See in that Station—at equal advantages his Services deserve from You the preference on any other—But his knowledge of Your Opinions and intentions on Military Arrangements, his love of discipline The Advantages he would have on all the others principally when Both Armies Will operate together,3 and his Uncommon Abilities would Render him perfectly Agreable to You—The Use of him would be increas’d By this perferrement, and On other points he would Render the Same Services—An Adjutant General ought Allwais to be with the Commander in chief—hamilton Should therefore Remain in Your family, and his Great industry for Business Would Render him perfectly4 serviceable in all Circumstances—on Every public or private Account, My dear General, I would Advise You to take him.5

I shall on My Arrival at philadelphia Write You how Matters are Going upon which I Will Build My private schemes6—But I heartly Wish that Some Account or other from Europe May Enable you to Act this Winter on Maritime operations—I hate the idea of being from you for So long a time—But I think I ought Not to stay idle—at all events I must Return when Your immediate Army takes the field.7

I Flatter Myself with the hope of Meeting Mistress Washington on the Road8—Adieu, My dear General, Most Affectionately and Respectfully Yours


ALS, PEL. For the transmittal of this letter, see Lafayette to GW, 13 Dec., and GW to Lafayette, 14 December.

1Lafayette’s prior view of the British defenses on Manhattan Island had encouraged plans for offensive operations (see The Aborted Attack on the Northern Approaches to New York City and the Feint on Staten Island, 9–24 Nov., editorial note). For Lieutenant Colonel Gouvion’s reconnaisance, see Document V with the referenced editorial note.

2Lafayette commended Lt. Col. William Stephens Smith.

3Lafayette presumably refers to Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton’s fluency in French.

4Lafayette wrote “pefectly” for this word.

5Lafayette also wrote Hamilton from Paramus on this date: “Here I arrived last night and am going to set out for Philadelphia. Gouvion goes strait to New Windsor and by him I write to the General, I speak of Hand & Smith whom I recommend.” Lafayette, however, liked Hamilton “best” and assured GW that he was the superior choice. “I know the general’s friendship and gratitude for you, My Dear Hamilton, both are greater than you perhaps imagine. I am sure he needs only to be told that something will suit you and when he thinks he can do it he certainly will” (Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 2:517). Lafayette explained subsequent events when he wrote Hamilton from Philadelphia on 9 Dec.: “On my arrival at Paramus I wrote a letter to the general which Clel. Gouvion was to deliver to himself at New Windsor. … But the general having unfortunately altered his mind and taken the Road to Morristown, an other misfortune threw Gal. Hand in his way.” Lafayette then met GW at Morristown, N.J., “and made a verbal application” for Hamilton to be adjutant general. “I can’t express you, my dear friend, how sorry and disappointed I felt when I knew from the general that (greatly in consequence of your advices) he had settl’d the whole matter with Hand and writen for him to Congress. I confess I Became warmer on the occasion than you would perhaps have wish’d me to Be, and wanted the general to allow my sending an express who would have over taken the letter as it was in the hands of Gal. St. Clair. But the general did not think it to be a convenient measure, and I confess I may have been a little Blinded on its propriety. I took care not to compromise you in this affair where the general express’d a true desire of obliging You, and in a manner you would have been satisfied with” (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 , 3:250, 252–53, quotes on 250, 252). GW recommended Brig. Gen. Edward Hand for adjutant general (see his letter to Samuel Huntington, this date, and n.13).

6Lafayette went to Philadelphia to consult with French minister La Luzerne and to seek Spanish cooperation for operations in the southern department (see Lafayette’s first letter to GW, 5 Dec.; see also Lafayette to La Luzerne, 4–5 Dec., 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 , 3:241–44).

7Lafayette returned to GW’s winter headquarters at New Windsor in January 1781, but military developments sent him to Virginia with an independent command later in the winter (see Lafayette to La Luzerne, 14 Jan. 1781, 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 , 3:288–89, and GW to Lafayette, 8 Dec. 1780).

8Martha Washington briefly stayed in Philadelphia before continuing to GW’s winter headquarters (see Robert Hanson Harrison to GW, this date, n.15). Lafayette did not see her during his travel through New Jersey (see his letter to GW, 4 Dec.).

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