George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Lafayette, 9 December 1780

From Major General Lafayette

philadelphia december the 9th 1780

My dear General

You Will be Surpris’d to hear That other Vessels Are Arriv’d from france, And That We have Not Receiv’d By them Any public Nor private dispatches—All the paquets Were on Board The Ariel who Was dismasted in the Storm and put Back into L’orient—Mister de Vauban who was intrusted with these letters thought it Not Adviseable for himself or his pacquets to Come on Board of Merchant Vessels and Very foolishly Rode Back to Versaïlles—how disappointed and displeas’d I have been with the Account, You May Easely Guess1—I have made Myself Certain that Since the letter Receiv’d in the Same time as Mine, No other public dispatch is Arriv’d in the Minister’s hands.2

But I have Receiv’d By these Vessels An intelligence Which Both on private and public Accounts Makes me Extremely happy—The Marquis de Castries whom I have Sometimes Mentionn’d to You as A Man of Great Worth and My intimate friend has been Made Minister of the Navy—I told You My opinion of Mister de Sartine, and You May See that We Are Greatly Benefited By the Alteration—Mister Sartine was an honest Man, and Good enough to other purposes But Entirely Unfitt for Such a departement—Marquis de Castries is the Very Man I had often Mentionn’d as the object of My Wishes—I Am Going to write to him A Confidential letter Relating to Money, Ships &c.—The Vessels left france about forty days Ago, and As the Appointment Was Recent, I hope Marquis de Castries Will Soon Send us intelligences—The More so as his Son is the friend I some times Spoke You of as Being in this french Army—Marquis de Castries is Very intimate With the Minister of finance.3

By the Captains of those Vessels We hear that Count d’estaing has been Made Generallissimo of the Spanish forces, and is Gone to Sea With a Combin’d Squadron of Sixteen ships—perhaps is he gone to the West indias where if You Approuve of it I may write to him—perhaps st Augustine will be the object of his enterprises—God grant we Might Combine Some thing.4

Mister Laurens has been Confin’d into the tower Under suspicion of high treason, and Congress seem determin’d to Retaliate.5

They have after Many debates decided that An Envoy be Sent to france and Not a Secretary—That Envoy is to Give an account of our situation, ask Succours, and Return immediately—he will be Nam’d The day after to Morrow—Laurens who Refuses, Mister henry who knows Nothing of our Affairs, and hamilton are spoken of—I think they Will choose this Last—Who ever Goes Must Go Soon—when it is decided I will write to You as the Expresses of Congress don’t Ride Very speedily.6

I have found here lt clel Nevill My old aid de Camp—he Came With general Woodford to Newyork—it is Said That general Lincoln’s aids have been exchang’d and that it is Generally the case with aids de camp to General officers actually in our Service7—I Warmly desire to have him—I am told Cornwallis has no powers to treat those Matters—Can you, my dear General, think of Some Method to Get him out which it is proper for me to take?8

I am More than Ever puzzled, My dear General, to know What to do—this change of Minister May send us some intelligences—Every Body advises Against My Going to the South Ward—There is alwaïs a possibility of An Expedition where You Will Want me—I see that the people in whom You Confide the Most are in a Great part for the present far from You—I also Candidly Confess That private affection for You Makes me hate the idea of leaving the man I love the Most in the World to Seek for Uncertainties at a period when he May Want me—on the other hand The Southern Members want me to go—there is a possibililty of Being useful, and The love of Glory spurs me on—I waït for your answer and Your opinion to My 1st letter9—in two or three days I shall write to you.10 Adieu, My dear general Most affly and Resptly Yours


My Best Respects waït on Mistress Washington and My Compliments on the family11—This New change of the Minister and the hope arising from it add to determine Count de damas and Viscount de Noaïlles to Return Soon to Newport—I Request, my dear General, You will please to order that the Bearer have means to proceed on as he Carries to Count de Charlus the intelligence.12

A letter dated Cadix September 25th Mentions That Count d’estaing Commands The Combin’d Fleet and is Gone to sea—in this Case his Going With 16 ships Could not be true—I will endeavour to ascertain this matter.13

Mister Carmichall writes that Spain has lent hundred and thirty thousand dollars—it is not a great deal—The disposition of that Court are Very Satisfactory—portugal does Every thing we want14—letters are just arriv’d from St domingo But Not deciphered.15


ALS, PEL; ADf, in French, Lafayette Papers, LaGrange, France. The French draft does not include the final two paragraphs of the postscript. GW replied to Lafayette on 14 December.

Lafayette showed less reserve when he wrote GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton from Philadelphia on this date: He had discussed with congressional delegates Hamilton’s suitability for the assignment as envoy to France and believed he knew “a number of voices that will Be for you. … I think you ought to hold yourself in Readiness, and in case you are call’d for Come with all possible speed.” Lafayette expressed his disappointment over clothes not arriving from France and his eagerness for Spanish offensive operations in Europe and the West Indies. Uncertainty persisted over whether he should go to the southern department: “I don’t like to lay still, and if I think that, upon the whole, I may be useful, I shall go” (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 252–53; see also n.6 below and Lafayette to GW, 28 Nov., and n.5 to that document).

1Lafayette adds details to the report given when he wrote GW on 4 December.

Jacques Anne Joseph Le Prestre de Vauban (1754–1816) joined the French army in 1770 and served as one of Lieutenant General Rochambeau’s aides-de-camp during the Revolutionary War. He did not sail with the French expeditionary force in spring 1780 and finally reached the United States in 1781. Vauban left France during the French Revolution but eventually returned to fight for the royalists.

2Lafayette refers to French minister La Luzerne (see Lafayette’s first letter to GW, 5 Dec., and n.4 to that document).

3Jacques Necker served as French minister of finance. For official notice of Marquis de Castries replacing French naval minister Sartine, see Rochambeau to GW, 19 Dec., and n.5 to that document; see also Lafayette’s first letter to GW, 13 Nov., postscript, and Lafayette to Marquis de Castries, 30 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 , 3:294–301.

4The Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Philadelphia) for 5 Dec. 1780 printed under the heading “CADIZ, July 31,” that the Spanish court had chosen “count d’Estaing to command the combined army” and that an attack upon “Gibraltar seems determined upon” (see also Rochambeau to GW, 13 and 22 Dec.).

5The British held the captured Henry Laurens in the Tower of London (see Stephen Moylan to GW, 7 Dec., and n.4 to that document).

6Congress chose Lt. Col. John Laurens as its envoy to France (see Laurens to GW, 6 Nov., n.2; see also Lafayette to GW, 16, 19, and 26 Dec.). Maryland delegate John Henry, Jr., had received consideration for the assignment (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 , 18:1080; see also the source note above).

7The French draft indicates Lafayette meant general officers on active duty.

For the exchange of Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln’s aides-de-camp, see GW to Lincoln, 8 Nov., and n.1 to that document.

8The French draft describes Lt. Col. Presley Nevill’s situation as sad but does not hint at inquiring about his exchange.

Nevill had been taken prisoner at Charleston in May 1780. His exchange occurred in 1781. For his employment as a courier, see Daniel Brodhead to GW, 18 Feb. 1781 (DLC:GW).

9Lafayette had socialized at Virginia delegate Theodorick Bland’s residence on the evening of 5 Dec. 1780 (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 , 1:146–47). Lafayette did not venture to the southern department until late winter (see his letter to GW, 28 Nov., and n.7 to that document; see also GW to Lafayette, 8 Dec.).

11Lafayette means GW’s military family (see General Orders, 28 Oct., source note). For Martha Washington’s travel and arrival at GW’s headquarters, see Robert Hanson Harrison to GW, 28 Nov., n.15.

12See n.3 above.

13This letter from Cadiz, Spain, has not been identified, but see n.4 above.

14For the Spanish loan and recent diplomatic decisions in Portugal antagonistic to British interests, see notes 11 and 12 with the letter referenced at n.2 above; see also Samuel Huntington to GW, this date, and n.1 to that document.

15These letters have not been identified.

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