George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Lafayette, 5 December 1780

From Major General Lafayette

philadelphia December the 5th 1780

My dear General

By My letter of Yesterday I have Mentionn’d to You that A spanish Expedition Was intended Against st Augustine—They Mean to Set out at the End of december which will Certainly delay them till the Middle of january—it Consists of twelve ships of the Line, Some frigats, Bomb Ketches, and a Large Number of troops1—I have Advis’d the Minister to Communicate officialy to You this intelligence, and Also to Count de Rochambeau that proper Means, if Convenient, Might be taken to improve it.2

for My part, My dear General, I have Conducted Myself Agreably to what you Said to me in our last Conversations—That if in the Course of the Winter A Naval Superiority Was obtain’d our Business Was to push for the South Ward, and that You Would take for that purpose four thousand french and two Thousand Americans—Nothing Against Newyork May be Undertaken Before the End of May—Any thing therefore that Could employ us during february, March, and April is Worthy of our Attention.

The Confederacy Was Going to Sail for Some Cloathing Which We have in the West indias—No time Was left to wait for an answer from You—I Knew perfectly Your sence of this affair—I therefore, with The Advice of Chevalier de La Luzerne, wrote him a letter dated from Camp, Wherein I explain to him that Some thing Might be Made in Conjunction for the public Good, and Wherein I strengthen My opinion By your sentiments on this Matter, without however Bringing Myself, and You still less in Any formal Application to the spanish Generals.

inclos’d You will find a Copy of this Letter, The first part of which Mentions that if After having landed theyr troops in Florida They Would Send theyr Ships of the Line for us, We Might on three Weeks Notice Before the departure of the Squadron have in Readiness six thousand men for a powerfull diversion in Carolina—Theyr own interest is the only thing I Seem to Consider in this Business, and I Endeavour to invite spanish Caution into this Measure—But unless a More particular Application is Made, I do Not Believe that this part of My letter Will have Any Effect.

The second part Will, I hope, be productive of Some Good for America—I urge The Necessity immediately to open a Correspondance With General Greene that he May By his Maneuvres facilitate the operations of Spain—I tell Them that Unless they land A Corps of troops on the Boundaries of Georgia With a View3 at least to threaten Augusta and savahna theyr Expedition will Run a Great Risk—I Advise the Measure of Cruizing off Charlestown harbour, the whole under theyr idea of theyr own interest.4

I have also writen to the Naval french Commander of the West indias, Advising him to succour Chevalier de ternay Which I know he Will Not do—But I take this opportunity of Damning theyr foolish Neglect in not Appearing on our Coasts when they Return to Europe—and I do also advise that in theyr Cruizes from st domingo they May Some times Appear off savahna and Charlestown harbour—inclos’d You Will find A Copy of this letter.5

Tho I do alwais speack of the Beggining of february, it is however Certain that Any time in february should be Convenient to Go to the south ward—March and April are More than Sufficient to the taking of Charlestown—and in All Cases, I know from our last Conversations that You Wish for A Naval Superiority this winter in order to Succour the Southern States.

I had this Morning, My dear General, a Long Conversation With the Chevalier de La luzerne Relating to A Southern operation. he is as well as Myself Clearly of opinion that Unless a formal application and a plan of Campaign are propos’d to them, they will Not send theyr Ships to us—in this Late Case theyr Coming ought still to be questionn’d—But if You thought it Better to try, You Might propose to the french Generals to Send there A frigat and See with them What Might be done in Conjonction—Suppose they were to take four thousand men, leaving Some and the Militia at Rhode island—We Could on our part Muster Two thousand Americans—however the Spaniards are So positive and Strict in following litteraly theyr instructions that I don’t Believe Any thing will Engage them to Come—But My letter which I Look upon as A Mere Cipher on the first proposition Will, I hope, engage them to impart theyr projects to General Greene, and of Course this diversion Will Become Useful to us.

suppose Count de Rochambeau and chevalier de ternay Were to send to havana A Copy of Your letter I think they ought to intrust it to Vicomte de Noailles who will Soon Return to Rhode island and Whose Name is highly Respected By the Court of Spain for Many particular Reasons too long to be here Mentionn’d.6

I have Seen Mister Ross and find that Very Little Cloathing is to be immediately Expected—They have Some Arms on Board the Alliance, and I think hundred Bales of Cloth on Board a vessel under jones’s Convoy—The Remainder Will Come With the Serapis—Unless the Storm has forc’d jones to put in Some french harbour, he May be Expected every Minute.7

The Assembly of pennsilvania have Before them the Affair of The Recruits—But proper Arrangements are Not properly Supported—They are fond of Volontary inlistements—I have An appointement for to morrow with General Mifflin Where I will debate this Matter with him.8

To Morrow, My dear General, I will Go to Brandiwine with chevalier de Chattelux, and Also to Red Bank, fort Mifflin &c. on My Return, I hope to find News from france,9 and I will write You My determination about My Going to The South Ward.

inclos’d You Will find a Newspaper Wherein Congress have printed a letter from General Gates Relating to a New Success of Sumpter.10

Congress have Lately Receiv’d letters from Mister jay and Mister Adams But Nothing very particular, They have More fully writen By other opportunities that are expected11—portugal have Entered into the Convention of Neutrality, and With Such Conditions as Show theyr partiality to our Side of the Question.12 Adieu, My Dear General,13 Most Respectfully and Affectionately Yours


My Respects to Mistress Washington and Compliments to the family14—Mister Washington is Gone today.15

1See Lafayette to GW, 4 Dec., and n.10 to that document.

3Lafayette wrote “Wiew” for this word.

4The enclosed copy of Lafayette’s letter to French minister La Luzerne has not been identified, but see 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.

5The enclosed copy of Lafayette’s letter has not been identified.

6Colonel Noailles recently had visited GW (see GW to Samuel Huntington, 27 Nov., source note; see also GW to Rochambeau, same date).

7See Lafayette to GW, 4 Dec., and notes 5 and 6 to that document.

8Lafayette attended the session of the Pennsylvania legislature on this date (see Chastellux, Travels in North America description begins Marquis de Chastellux. Travels in North America in the Years 1780, 1781 and 1782. Translated and edited by Howard C. Rice, Jr. 2 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1963. description ends , 1:144). The new establishment of the Continental army required six infantry regiments and one regiment each of artillery, cavalry, and artificers from Pennsylvania (see General Orders, 1 Nov.; see also Lafayette to GW, 16 and 19 Dec.).

9Lafayette and Major General Chastellux on 6–8 Dec. 1780 toured battlefields from the Continental army’s unsuccessful defense of Philadelphia in 1777 (see Chastellux, Travels in North America description begins Marquis de Chastellux. Travels in North America in the Years 1780, 1781 and 1782. Translated and edited by Howard C. Rice, Jr. 2 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1963. description ends , 1:147–64). Chastellux wrote in his journal entry for 7 Dec. that after learning of the arrival of “two vessels” following “a thirty-five day crossing from Lorient,” Lafayette “sent off a rider to Philadelphia, to bring back news and letters, in case there were any. This courier returned before nine; he brought only a single note from the Chevalier de La Luzerne, by which we learned that these ships had brought no letters” or significant intelligence (Chastellux, Travels in North America description begins Marquis de Chastellux. Travels in North America in the Years 1780, 1781 and 1782. Translated and edited by Howard C. Rice, Jr. 2 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1963. description ends , 1:153).

10Lafayette probably enclosed the extract from a letter Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates wrote Congress, dated 14 Nov., printed in The Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser for 5 December. Gates reported Brig. Gen. Thomas Sumter’s defeat of Maj. James Wemyss “and his whole command, having wounded and taken the major prisoner, with twenty-five of his party. … The enemy do not now possess a single post east of George-Town, or north of Camden; while colonel Marian and general Harrington command the country east of the Santee, and are continually interrupting the enemy’s craft upon this river” (see also Huntington to GW, 4 Dec., n.3).

11Congress had read letters on 4 Dec. from John Jay, minister to Spain, dated 16 Sept.; and John Adams, envoy to Holland, dated 24 Aug. and 4 Sept. (see 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 , 18:1116, 1120). Jay’s letter communicated a promise from King Charles III of Spain to provide a $150,000 loan, “payable in three years,” as well as “some cloathing—This need not be kept secret” (Selected Papers of John Jay description begins Elizabeth M. Nuxoll et al., eds. The Selected Papers of John Jay. 6 vols. to date. Charlottesville, Va., 2010–. description ends , 2:250). The letters from Adams enclosed declarations of neutrality from the kings of Sweden and Denmark and notice of losses among British convoys (see Papers of John Adams description begins Robert J. Taylor et al., eds. Papers of John Adams. 17 vols. to date. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1977–. description ends , 10:87, 110).

12See William Carmichael to the Committee of Foreign Affairs, 22 Aug., especially the postscript, in Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed. The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States. 6 vols. Washington, D.C., 1889. description ends , 4:38–41; see also 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 , 18:1120.

14Lafayette means GW’s military family (see General Orders, 28 Oct., source note).

15GW’s nephew George Augustine Washington served as an aide-de-camp to Lafayette.

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