George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant General Rochambeau, 20 January 1781

From Lieutenant General Rochambeau

Newport, January 20th 1781.


I Learned by a Letter from General Knox then at Lebanon, about eight days ago, the unhappy rebellion of the Pennsylvania Line.1 As I have had no Letter from your Excellency Since that time, I will be very much concerned till I know the issue of it, and for the trouble and uneasiness it must give your Excellency to quell it. We expect here our Frigates that set sail from Boston Six days ago, with a few transports coming here under their convoy. This morning two of our men of war went out to endeavour to find them and protect their entry here, as they have had a gale of wind that may have thrown them on the open sea.2 I am with respect, and personal attachment, Sir, Your Excellency’s most obedient and humble Servant

le cte de rochambeau

I beg you would forward with the greatest speed the inclosed dispatches to Philadelphy.3

LS, DLC:GW; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 7; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 8. The two letter-book copies are dated 21 Jan. and have some variation in wording from the LS. GW wrote “recd 3d Feby. Go: W——n” after the postscript on the LS. For GW’s acknowledgment, see his letter to Rochambeau, 7 Feb., postscript.

1Brig. Gen. Henry Knox’s letter to Rochambeau, dated at Lebanon, Conn., on 11 Jan., is in CtY-BR:R; see also Knox to GW, 7 Feb., and n.3 to that document.

2Rochambeau’s aide-de-camp Ludwig von Closen wrote in his journal entry for 20 Jan. about the sailing of these two 64-gun warships and an accompanying frigate: “On the 20th, the Ardent and Éveillé, preceded by the Gentille, left the harbor to meet two frigates and some other ships that were being expected in [from] Boston; but a gale from the South Southeast forced them to put about, to spend the night at anchor near the entrance to the harbor, and to return the next day. The Ardent even lost its mizzen-yard in this abortive excursion” (Acomb, Closen Journal description begins Evelyn M. Acomb, ed. The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Closen, 1780–1783. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1958. description ends , 54). For the arrival of the two frigates from Boston at Newport, see Rochambeau to GW, 26 January.

Upon learning of the sailing of these vessels, the British reacted quickly but misinterpreted French intentions. British major Frederick Mackenzie wrote in his diary entry for 21 Jan.: “The Admiral has received intelligence that three ships of the line have got out of Rhode Island. In consequence of this information he is going off in the Morning to the Fleet at Gardiner’s bay. ’Tis highly probable those ships may be intended for the Chesapeak to attack the ships there with General Arnold” (Mackenzie Diary description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 2:459–60).

3The enclosures have not been identified.

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