George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Lafayette, 19 December 1780

From Major General Lafayette

philadelphia December the 19th 1780

My dear General

None of Your Answers to my several letters has Yet Come to hand1—I am told that You have writen to Congress Giving an Account of a Large Embarkation Under knypausen2—how far it Will influence Your projects, and Of Course Your Advices for my private Conduct I hope to know By your Next letter3—A vessel is, it is Said, Arriv’d in Boston After a Short passage from france—her Dispatches have Not Yet Been Receiv’d.4

By letters from the Southern states it is said that Tarleton Met With a defeat—But these are Mere Reports, tho’ Accompagnied With Some degree of probability.5

A letter Dated Edenton North Carolina Mentions that A Vessel Was just Arriv’d from spain having on Board an American gentleman Who Says that Count de Guichen Was Arriv’d in Cadiz—that the Combin’d fleet Amounted then to 74 Ships of the Line, Exclusive of Barcelo’s Squadron, of five Ships cruising off The Capes, five other Gone on A secret Expedition, and those which are in Brest—The Combin’d fleet Under Count d’estaing Was Going to sea—other intelligences Say that the Affrican princes have excluded the British from theyr ports, and that the English Channel fleet had been Much shattered in A Storm.6

God Grant that in this last Motion of the Combin’d fleet Common sense May have dictated the Necessity of increasing the Naval force on our Coast—I have Again writen Very pressing letters to Governement in General, and Some Ministers in particular Urging the Necessity of furnishing us With Ships, Money, Stores, Cloathes, &c.7

I think Clel Laurens Will Go to france—But there Will be Many debates, I Believe, Before he sets out.8

The Assembly of pensilvania Will this day pass the Bill for Recruiting theyr troops By Classing property9—some Members of Congress have Mentionn’d to me the idea of Sending the pennsilvanians By land to Carolina Which I Made it A point to discourage. Adieu, my dear General, Most Affectionately and Respectfully Yours


My Respects if you please to Mistress Washington and Compliments to the family.10

ALS, PEL; ADf, in French, Lafayette Papers, LaGrange, France. The draft does not include the postscript. GW replied to Lafayette on 26 December.

3Lafayette refers to whether he would leave to serve in the southern department.

4Lafayette apparently remarks on “a brig from Nantz, 28 days out,” that arrived at Boston on 10 Dec. (see Independent Ledger, and the American Advertiser [Boston], 11 Dec. 1780). Similar information appeared in The Pennsylvania Gazette, and Weekly Advertiser (Philadelphia) for 20 December.

5Lafayette comments on an action at Blackstocks, S.C. (see Nathanael Greene to GW, 7 Dec., n.12).

Banastre Tarleton (1754–1833) received an education at Oxford before joining the king’s dragoon guards in 1775 and going to America. He participated extensively in northern and southern campaigns, generally with success, until a defeat at Cowpens, S.C., on 17 Jan. 1781 lessened his reputation as leader of the notorious and seemingly invincible British Legion. Tarleton operated in Virginia prior to the siege at Yorktown and returned to England in 1782. For his account of his later southern operations, see Tarleton, Campaigns description begins Banastre Tarleton. A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America. 1787. Reprint. Spartanburg, S.C., 1967. description ends . Despite scandal in his personal life and a penchant for gambling, Tarleton later served as a member of Parliament for Liverpool, was promoted to general in 1812, and was created baronet in 1815.

6Lafayette reports on parts of a letter from Edenton, N.C., dated 2 Dec., published in The Pennsylvania Journal; and the Weekly Advertiser (Philadelphia) for 20 Dec. 1780 that relayed intelligence from a passenger on a ship that had arrived at that port after leaving Cadiz, Spain, on 24 October. One sentence pertained to Africa: “It is said, the Moors have given our Allies leave to cut any British vessels out of their ports.”

Antonio Barceló y Pont de la Terra (1717–1797) rose from privateer to great prominence as an officer in the Spanish navy.

7Lafayette had written French foreign minister Vergennes from Philadelphia on 16 Dec. that “the number of troops” needed from France “will always grow in proportion to how much time we lose and how much the British increase their means of defense.” He promised “that we shall have American troops on whose good qualities we can rely completely, and our officers and the soldiers, trained by combat and hardened by suffering, can only win the hearts of all who know them.

“The two points especially important to our success are some kind of loan, necessary to pay and feed this army, and a well-maintained naval superiority. The expenditures on these items must be taken into account, especially in the arrangements for the next campaign” (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 , 3:265–67, quotes on 266).

8Lt. Col. John Laurens accepted the assignment as congressional envoy to France (see Laurens to GW, 6 Nov., n.2).

9See “An Act to Complete the Quota of the Federal Army Assigned to this State” (Pa. Statutes description begins The Statutes at Large of Pennsylvania from 1682 to 1801. 18 vols. Harrisburg, Pa., 1896-1915. description ends , 10:259–64). Lafayette’s reference to “Classing property,” which does not appear in his draft, refers to local commissioners and tax assessors dividing “the taxable persons and property within the said city and counties, respectively, in such manner that the said property, together with a proportionable sum on all taxable single freemen shall be divided into as many equal parts as the said quota of men, which the said city or counties, respectively, are by this act required to enlist” (Pa. Statutes description begins The Statutes at Large of Pennsylvania from 1682 to 1801. 18 vols. Harrisburg, Pa., 1896-1915. description ends , 10:260).

10Lafayette means GW’s military family (see General Orders, 28 Oct., source note).

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