George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Lafayette, 4 December 1780

From Major General Lafayette

philadelphia December the 4th 1780

My dear General

I Will for this time write A very short letter to You, and Cannot be More particular either on public or private Business, Untill Some few days Stay in this City have Enabl’d me to Get further informations.

I have been Greatly disappointed in my not Meeting Mistress Washington—I have been Very Angry With My Bad fate which led me into an other Road at the only Moment when I Could Miss her—This has been the More the Case, As I knew you Was Uneasy About her, and I wanted Both to Send You an Express and to Advise her to the Best Way of Meeting You as Soon As possible.1

The Southern News are Expected This Evening—Leslie has Reembark’d, and will probably Go to Charleston2—The Southern Members Are pleas’d to like My Going towards Theyr Country—however, I Cannot for the present Be determin’d, as I don’t yet know if the Campaign will be Active, and if succours are to be Expected from france.3

By A Vessel Arriv’d from There Who left L’orient Before The Middle of October We hear that Nothing Material had happen’d except the taking of the Merchant fleet—Both Naval Armies Were in port—there was an expedition of, I think, ten Ships of the line and five thousand Men Ready to Sail—This Vessel Came in Company with jones who is daily Expected4—But a very Little part of our cloathing will be on Board—Some Will Come on Board the Serapis—jones who Mounts The Ariel Has dispatches from the french Court for us—he however Might have been detain’d By a Storm off the French Coast which Separated the Little Convoy5—in the Vessel Arriv’d Was A Mister Ross Who, I hope, will Give me Some Account of the Cloathing,6 and Baron d’arent Who Got Rid of his Rupture, has a Star with a Cross and a Ribbond, and is upon Very Good terms with the king of prussia, too.7

Congress have debated a Motion about your being desir’d to Go to the Southward, But have determin’d that You would Better know than they if it was More useful to Go or to Stay—I am more than Ever of this Last opinion.8

On My Arrival, I found one of the Salt Meat Vessels Sold and the other to be Sold today9—I have Spoken on the Subject to almost Every Member of Congress who promis’d that they would take the Best Measures in theyr power to Get These provisions.

Chevalier de La luzerne has Communicated to Me in the Most Confidential way a Spanish plan against st Augustine—Upon which I Am Building a letter for the Generals of this Nation, and using the Best Arguments in My power to engage them Either to Send twelve ships of the line to take us and Conduct us to Charleston, or to Render theyr operation as useful as possible to General Greene—to morrow I will write You about it10—If I have time Before the departure of the Confederacy that is Going to the West indias, I will Send you the original if Not, A Copy of My letter.11 This is entirely Confidential as I have not the Chevalier’s permission to Mention it.12 Adieu, My dear General, Most Respectfully and affectionately Yours


ALS, PEL; ADf, in French, Lafayette Papers, LaGrange, France. Postscripts added to the French draft contain reports of Vice Admiral d’Estaing commanding a French fleet, Spanish officials sending $130,000 (a sum Lafayette deemed not very significant), and Portuguese willingness to assist the United States.

1Lafayette had expressed his hope of meeting Martha Washington while traveling to Philadelphia (see his letter to GW, 28 Nov., and n.8 to that document).

2For the movements of the British expedition under Maj. Gen. Alexander Leslie, see Nathanael Greene to GW, 31 Oct., n.4.

3Lafayette contemplated transfer to the southern department to participate in active military operations (see his letter to GW, 28 Nov., and n.7 to that document).

4The Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Philadelphia) for 2 Dec. reported that on 29 Nov. “the brigantine Duke of Leinster” arrived at Philadelphia from Lorient, France. “By this vessel we learn, that the court of Portugal had acceeded to the Family Compact, and forbid the sale, in any of their ports, of prizes to British vessels, and also directing them to depart within a limited period.

“Captain John Paul Jones, in an American frigate, is hourly expected to arrive in this port having sailed from France with the brigantine Duke of Leinster” (see also the source note above and n.5 below).

5A storm damaged the Ariel and forced John Paul Jones back to Lorient for repairs. He finally brought the Ariel with arms and ammunition to Chester, Pa., on 17 Feb. 1781 (see Rochambeau to GW, 21 Aug. 1780, and n.2 to that document).

The Serapis, which Jones famously had captured on 23 Sept. 1779, had become a French ship and did not sail to the United States. It caught fire and exploded in the Indian Ocean in July 1781. For details, see Pierre van den Boogaerde, Shipwrecks of Madagascar (New York, 2009), 205–7.

6Lafayette refers to John Ross, a purchasing agent in France (see Lafayette to GW, 4 July, and n.2 to that document; see also “Memoir of John Ross, Merchant, of Philadelphia,” Pa. Mag. description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 139 vols. to date. 1877–. description ends 23 (1899): 77–85).

A report on the further delay of clothing expected from France came to GW in a letter James Wilkinson, clothier general, wrote GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman from Philadelphia on 18 December. Wilkinson described the delay as a “Misfortune” that “ought to stimulate the exertions of the States, for if they are not more attentive to the Subject they will find it impossible to form a Southern Army & the Northern commands will dissipate—I have made known the precise Circumstances of the Pensya. Line to the Legislature of the State, & received liberal assurances from different Members, but I have not yet experienced any effects & indeed I believe no Measures have been yet proposed.

“Inclosed are returns of the Articles in Store at this place, and of the Clothing sent to the Southward, likewise of the Supply forwarded by Messr Otis & Henly to Springfield, when you cast your Eye over the latter you will probably be struck with the Misconduct of the Purchases, The Loan laid out in Articles which cannot be applied to the immediate necessities of the Troops, might have been usefully employed in procuring Coats, Blankets or Woollen under Cloths—It remains with the Board of War to correct this mismanagement—I am in hopes most of the Clothing forwarded by Otis & Henly has reached New Burgh. …

“The Congress have received a report on the revision of the Clothing Dept, but have postponed its ultimate consideration without Day, I expect it will be resumed as soon as some depending European Arrangements are determined and the Moment I find it placed on a useful establishment & can resign without Public Injury I shall leave the Office, for my ignorance of the Mercantile Business will incapacitate me for it under the proposed regulation—My regard for the Public induces me to wish Mr Moylan may be my Successor: I am prompted to this desire by a thorough consideration of his Integrity & knowledge of the Department but as there will be many Candidates for it among the Scoundrels of this City & as he is a stranger to the Members of Congress, I fear it will fall into bad Hands, for my influence is too insignificant to avail him any thing.”

Wilkinson had promised to return to headquarters, but he had delayed his departure to wait for “the Interesting occasion” of becoming a father. Until that event, he closed, “I shall endeavour to Perswade Congress to form a decisive Contract with the Merchants of the City or prevail on the Assembly to seize the Goods which are in it” (DLC:GW; see also Wilkinson to GW, 7 Nov.; John Sullivan to GW, 12 Nov., n.4; and GW to Timothy Pickering, 19 Nov.). Wilkinson enclosed a “Return of Clothing issued Colo. Febiger for the use of the southern Army,” completed at Philadelphia on 9 December. It listed “Virginia Cotton” items (3 coats, 3 vests, 3 breeches), 543 felt hats, 2,900 shirts, and 343 pairs of shoes (DLC:GW). He also enclosed a “Return of Clothing on hand at the Magazine at Philada,” completed on the same date. It listed 95 hats, “Cloth” items (509 coats, 5 vests, 14 breeches), “Virginia Cotton” items (64 coats, 57 vests, 40 breeches), 408 shirts, 367 pairs of shoes, 39 pairs of boots, 36 blankets, 2 hunting “Tracks” (probably a mistake for shirts), and 106 pieces of “Narrow Linens—a Number of which are damaged” (DLC:GW). The enclosure headed “A Return of Clothing forwarded by Otis & Henly to springfield agreeable to Invoices of the 6th & 16th Ultmo Transmitted the Honble Board of War,” completed at Philadelphia on 15 Dec., was more extensive. It listed 304 soldier’s coats, 3,193 vests, 132 linen and cloth breeches, 597 leather breeches, 3,602 wool overalls, 26 linen overalls, 282 officer’s shirts, 941 soldier’s shirts, 22 hunting shirts, 3,452 blankets, 4,031 wool socks, 229 wool mittens, 278 watch coats, 2,923 wool hose, 70 Indian robes, 60 rattan coats, 48 officer’s stocks, 42 yards of scarlet plush, and 84 yards of “Blue &ca” (presumably cloth). Monetary values were given for selected items: “70 Indian robes,” £21,000; 3 pieces plush, £10,395; 2,923 pairs wool hose, £52,066; 51 flannel breeches, £2,550; 22 hunting shirts, £1,120; and 20 oznabrig overalls, £1,000; for a total of £88,131 (DLC:GW).

7Colonel Arendt, who had commanded the German Battalion, had gone back to Prussia on a leave of absence to recover from injuries. Upon his return to the United States, he sought compensation from Congress and Virginia officials for his unsuccessful efforts to obtain clothing and arms from the Prussian government (see Virginia Delegates to Thomas Jefferson, 1 Jan. 1781, and n.2 to that document, in 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 , 16:528–29; see also Arendt to GW, 25 Dec. 1780).

Frederick II (Frederick the Great; 1712–1786), renowned for his military accomplishments, became king of Prussia in 1740.

8A congressional committee had reported on 21 Nov. that with the British appearing to “have abandoned the Idea of conquering the Northern and Eastern states” in favor “of subjugating the Southern states,” GW should be informed that Congress believed “his taking the Command of the Southern army in person will be highly important to the welfare of those states” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 18:1078).

9The Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Philadelphia) for 2 Dec. printed a notice for a public auction on 4 Dec. of cargo from “the Prize Ship SARAH; Taken by the Privateer Ship Viper: Consisting of BEEF and PORK in Barrels, BUTTER in Firkins, RAISINS in Casks, And a VARIETY of other ARTICLES.”

11The Continental frigate Confederacy frequently carried out diplomatic missions.

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