George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant General Rochambeau, 19 December 1780

From Lieutenant General Rochambeau

Newport Xber 19. 1780


Your Excellency has certainly by this time been informed of the death of the Ch. de Ternay by a Letter from the Baron de Viomenil1 The day of my departure for Boston, I had left him without fever, and I must confess I have cruelly surprised to Learn his death, there, after so short a sickness, that has become so tragical. It is a real loss for our Service, he was a very brave man, a very honest man, and an excellent sea-officer, whose loss I very much Lament. He is succeeded by Mr Destouches, Brigadier of the naval forces, a man of merit, and esteemed in his corps.2

Since the Letter, I had the honour to write to Your Excellency from Boston, I have myself spoke with the french Captain of a small ship, that had set sail from Nantz, on the 4th of 9ber.3 he has assured me in so positive a manner of the retreating of Mr Desartine from the Ministry, and his being succeeded by the Marquis de Castres, who is one of our best Lieutenants General, whose only son is here in the Army,4 that I don’t believe that this piece of Intelligence can be any ways doubtfull. If this be true, he will be a very firm Minister, very active, intimate friend of the Minister of the Finances and I believe I can give hopes to Your Excellency that we shall be succoured in a vigourous manner. It is impossible that we don’t soon get direct news.5

I have received a Letter from the Governor of Martinico, of the 27. 8ber it says that the Endymion, a 44 gun ship and two British frigates have perished on his coast, he speaks of the dispersion of a convoy of 52. french sails, that had arrived at Martinico the day before, and that have been obliged to go out of the road.6

Your Excellency’s favor of the 13. instt comes just now to hand, with the news of another embarkation of 2500. men, commanded by Knyphausen, If that is true, it is most likely, they are bound to the South.7 I am, with respect Sir, Your Excellency’s Most obedient and humble Servant

le Cte de Rochambeau

LS, DLC:GW; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 7; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 8. GW acknowledged this letter when he wrote Rochambeau on 3 Jan. 1781 (CtY-BR:R).

1See Vioménil to GW, 15 Dec. 1780, found at Destouches to GW, same date, n.1.

2Rochambeau subsequently recalled that he had departed for Boston with “Ternay confined by a fever” but without “alarming symptoms. … I had no sooner arrived than I received the afflicting intelligence of the death of the Chevalier de Ternay. His most bitter enemies must allow that he was a man of most exemplary probity, and a very skillful navigator” (Rochambeau, Memoirs description begins M. W. E. Wright, ed. and trans. Memoirs of the Marshal Count de Rochambeau. Relative to the War of Independence of the United States. Paris, 1838. description ends , 29–30).

4Rochambeau refers to Colonel Charlus (see Lafayette’s first letter to GW, 13 Nov., postscript).

5More than two months passed before official notice reached French officers in the United States to confirm Castries as the new French minister of marine in place of Sartine (see the entry for 25 Feb. 1781 in French captain Berthier’s journal, in Brown, American Campaigns of Rochambeau’s Army, 240). Jacques Necker served as the French minister of finance.

6Rochambeau mentioned this letter, dated 27 Oct., when he replied to French governor-general Bouillé of Martinique on 19 Dec. (DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 7).

François-Claude-Amour, marquis de Bouillé (1739–1800), joined the French army at an early age and pursued a distinguished military and political career, primarily in the West Indies. He became the governor-general of Martinique and St. Lucia in 1777 and returned to France in 1783. Bouillé supported the royalists during the French Revolution and died while in exile in England. His memoirs have been published as Mémoires de M. Le Marquis de Bouillé: Pendant son Administration aux Isles du Vent de L’Amérique (Paris, 2015).

The American Journal, and the General Advertiser (Providence) for 16 Dec. printed an extract from a letter written at Saint Eustatius on 30 Oct. reporting that the Egmont, “of 74 guns, has not been heard of since she drove out of St. Lucia, by the late gale.” Additionally, the Endymion “of 28” and two other British warships “were drove on the rocks and went to pieces.” The correspondent praised Bouillé for his humane assistance to British sailors from sunken ships. The New-York Gazette: and the Weekly Mercury for 25 Dec. printed an item under the heading “NEW-YORK,” same date: “His Majesty’s Ships the Egmont and the Endymion, that were blown out of St. Lucia in the late Hurricane, are arrived at Jamaica.” A letter written on board the Egmont while in Jamaica described the ship’s experience, which included the loss of “three masts and bowsprit” (New-York Gazette, and Weekly Mercury, 1 Jan. 1781).

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