George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant General Rochambeau, 22 December 1780

From Lieutenant General Rochambeau

Newport, Xber 22d 1780


Your Excellency’s favor of the 15th instant, addressed to the Ch. de Ternay and me, I have received to day, by this time you must have had intelligence of his Death and I dare say you have sincerely lamented him, as well as I.1

Since the Epocha of time wherein Your Excellency has wrote me, you must have received several letters whether they be the news I sent you from Boston, or those that have come to you from Philadelphy, confirmating the same news, which appear to me to have changed very much the state the affairs were in, at the moment that your Excellency wrote to me.2

1[st] The Change of our ministry for the naval affairs, the succeeding of the Marquis de Castres, One of our best Lieutenant Generals, and a most firm man, is a sure, undubitable token of the sending of a Frigate which in all probability, will bring us a plan of operations and a Certainty of our being powerfully succoured. 2[d] The unanimous report that there is preparing at Brest a grand armament of men of war, of thirty transports and three Pinks loaden with provisions, for this country.3 3[d] the news that seem equally sure, they coming different ways, that the King of Spain has given the general command of his land and sea forces to the Count d’Estaing, that he is imbarked on the Terrible, and that he is to set sail from Cadiz, wit⟨h⟩ 16. sail of the line. I presume that he is bound to the West indias to take the general Command of the forces of both nations.4

Considering the actual state of affairs, Your Excellency will observe as well as I, that it would be prudent not to form any partial plan in these parts, that might any ways hurt that which Your Excellency has agreed on at Hartford, and which I believe our ministry will certainly prefer.5 Besides, I see a great inconveniency to send hence a frigate carrying a requisition from us to the Spanish fleet to come to Join us to disembogue us and convoy us in South Carolina, there to act conjointly with them It does not belong to me to search how far Spain is allied with the United States, But I dare assur⟨e⟩ Your Excellency that Mr De Solano, having received his orders from his court for the plan of his operation, on Pensacola, or St Augustine, that General, won’t stop a single minute, from the course of these two expeditions, to come and fetch us, and that befor⟨e⟩ they be over, we will certainly have had News from France, and the project of a Plan, and reinforcements, for the next campaign.6

As to the Ch. de Monteil, who commands now the little french fleet in the West indias, I have intelligence from the Governor of St Domingo, (whose letter in Cyphers I here send you a Copy) of the 11th Novr, that he was cruising with five men of war at the landings of the Cap, and that he had sent four to Martinico,7 Your Excellency will easily judge that in that position upon the defensive, specially after the return of Rodney to the Leeward islands, he can only think of their safety, waiting greater forces from France, and that we can not reckon at all on him.8

These are the reflexions that I dare offer to Your Excellency, by your permission, on the plan that you have sent us, to which I must add that the news of the embarkment of 2500. men at New-york seems positive, but that its destination to the South does not seem so sure, because, from the news that I have had from small vessels victuallers to the army that come from the Sund,9 there is a publick rumour that many transports loaden with troops have passed thro’ Hell gate, with a View of an Expedition in Connecticut, that the Governor Trumbull sends word to the Duke de Lauzun that Arnold is gone out of New-york with 3. or 4. Regiments, and that he goes toward West chester.10 I am afraid this will take up the attention of Your Excellency, and it would seem difficult to me that the British could at the same time furnish out troops for another expedition in the South.

All these, reflections are (as most reasonably, it should) submitted to Your Excellency, exceeding good judgemen⟨t⟩ and I quit my pen for the Chr Destouches who will write you his opinion concerning what regards the Sea affairs.11 I am with respect, Sir Your Excellency’s Most obedient, and Most humble Servant

le Cte de Rochambeau

P.S. I have given orders to the Duke of Lauzun to be ready to march at the requisition that may be made to him by Your Generals.12

LS, DLC:GW; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 7; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 8. Only the LS includes the postscript. GW replied to Rochambeau on 9 Jan. 1781 (CtY-BR:R).

1GW mentioned Rear Admiral Ternay’s death when he wrote Samuel Huntington on this date (see also GW to Rochambeau and Ternay, 15 Dec., and Destouches to GW, same date).

3The letter-book versions indicate that “Pinks” were warships serving as supply vessels.

4For this intelligence, see Lafayette to GW, 9 Dec., and n.4.

5GW and Rochambeau had agreed at Hartford to request funds and reinforcements from France (see The Hartford Conference, 20–22 Sept., editorial note).

6For Spanish operations against the British in Florida, see Lafayette to GW, 4 and 5 (two letters) December (first letter; second letter).

José Solano y Bote, marqués del Socorro (1726–1806), fought the British during the Seven Years’ War as governor of Venezuela and a Spanish naval captain. Having risen to rear admiral in 1779, he led a fleet from Spain to the West Indies in February 1780. Unable to wrest Jamaica from British control in conjunction with French forces, Solano and the French helped Governor General of Louisiana Bernardo de Galvez drive the British from Florida in 1781. Solano returned to Spain in 1782, became the first marques del Socorro, and attained the Spanish navy’s highest rank.

7Rochambeau enclosed a document in French presumably extracted from a letter Brigadier General Reynaud, French governor of Saint Domingue, had written at Cap Français on 11 November. This enclosure is filed with a translation in the writing of GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman, which reads: “The Squadron of Mr Monteil is reduced to five Vessels by sending four to the Windward Islands agreeable to his instructions. The non effectiveness] of our troops increases daily, and there is good reason to fear that the Recruits which waited there and which were embarked under Convoy at Martinique have [for] the most part perished, and that those which have escaped will arrive to us in such a condition that we shall be reduced to the defensive. sickness still continued at the Havanna to the end of september to that degree that the Spaniards cannot undertake any considerable expedition. We have lost the true opportunity of attacking Jamaica. It would have fallen to us if we had made it a combined enterprize the last Month, when that Island was stripped of all kind of force and when it experienced a storm which desolated it.

“Mons: solano went out of the Havanna the 17: Sepr to endeavour to intercept an English Convoy—he returned the 25th without having fallen in with it—He is going to sea again upon the Expedition ag[ains]t pensacola” (DLC:GW; see also Huntington to GW, 7 Aug., n.1, and Rochambeau to GW, 8 Dec., n.2).

Rochambeau apparently enclosed another document in French, dated 27 Oct., that contained intelligence on British responses in Jamaica to natural disasters, inflation, and rebellious “Négres” (blacks). It also conveyed erroneous intelligence that American forces had besieged Charleston and accurate intelligence about a British convoy captured in August (DLC:GW; see also Rochambeau to GW, 23 Oct., n.3, and William Burdett, Life and Exploits of Mansong, Commonly Called Three-finger’d Jack, the Terror of Jamaica in the Years 1780 & 1781 [1800]).

8British admiral George Rodney’s fleet had sailed to the Windward Islands (see Rochambeau to GW, 8 Dec., n.1).

9Rochambeau presumably refers to Long Island Sound.

10For this erroneous intelligence regarding a British expedition under Brig. Gen. Benedict Arnold, see Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., to GW, 15 Dec., and n.1 to that document; see also Rochambeau to GW, 25 December.

11Captain Destouches wrote an undated note in French for GW on the LS below Rochambeau’s signature. A translation in Tilghman’s writing reads: “After having read the Memorial addressed to the Chevalier de Ternay and the remarks which the Count de Rochambeau made upon it, I have the honor to observe to His Excellency General Washington that the season throws great obstacles in the way of the project in question. The constant Winds at N. and N.E. will not permit the Maritime forces of Spain to lay at Anchor near Rhode Island, and I think that occupied as they are in their particular operations and rigidly attached to the letter of their instructions, it would be difficult to bring them to determine upon the enterprise.

“I have also the honor to represent to your Excellency that the Squadron of the King will not be in a condition to put to sea because it is in want of Biscuit. Flour arrives so slow to us, that we have not enough at a time to begin to make Biscuit.

“I wish most ardently to remove all these obstacles—Nothing is more irksome to me than the inactivity in which we have some time been, and I have nothing more at heart than to be useful to our Allies and to merit the Esteem of your Excellency” (DLC:GW; see Destouches to GW, 20 Dec.).

12See Rochambeau to Lauzun, this date, in French, (DLC:GW, Rochambeau Papers, vol. 7); see also Rochambeau to GW, 10 Nov., n.5.

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