George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant General Rochambeau, 3 February 1781

From Lieutenant General Rochambeau

Newport. February. 3d 1781.


I send to your Excellency a copy of the report of the naval officer who has seen and constated1 at Plumb island the real state of the English fleet.2 I am going this moment a board of the Admiral[’s ship] to know whether he intends going out with all his ships, or at Least send a detachment of some of them to Chesapeak bay. It is generally looked on as dangerous to go and attack them in the bay, whose entry is much straiter than it is marked in the Maps. But I think that two men of war and two frigates will destroy all the expedition of Arnold’s in Chesapeak bay, and that in this moment of time, we have a fair chance for the accomplishing of that plan.3

I join a copy of a Letter which I received from Mr De St Simons, commanding at the Cape the two regiments that were to act conjointly with the Spaniards.4 The Count de Custine has given me Your Excellency’s Letter of the 24th Last. I am very sorry of All the trouble which Your Excellency experiences at these movements of Unquietness and dissatisfaction which these unhappy circumstances5 occasion among the Troops, and I very earnestly desire that after they are becalmed, your Excellency may have tranquility enough to come and see us here. I am with respect and great personnal attachment Sir, Your Excellency’s Most obedient humble Servant

le comte de rochambeau

LS, DLC:GW; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 7; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 8. GW replied to Rochambeau on 15 February.

1On both letter-book copies, this word is “constaté,” to state as fact or affirm.

2The enclosed undated report, in French, listed the British warships in Gardiners Bay and gave information about their strength, movements, and condition. The reporting officer listed the following ships as present in the bay: Adamant, 50 guns; Bedford, completely dismasted, 74 guns; Europe, 64 guns; London, 90 guns; Prudent, 64 guns; Robust, 74 guns; and Royal Oak, 74 guns. The frigate Guadeloupe was expected to sail for New York City with the first favorable wind. The Culloden, 74 guns, was wrecked on shore by the storm, but no men were lost from the crew and the ship’s masts and cannons had been salvaged to refit the Bedford. The Bedford’s bottom had been badly damaged, and it would have to return to a port for repairs. The America had reportedly lost two masts, but was not present in the bay (DLC:GW; see also Rochambeau to GW, 2 Feb.).

3For British brigadier general Benedict Arnold’s expedition, see Steuben to GW, 8 Jan., and n.1 to that document.

4The enclosed “Translation of a Letter from the marquis de St. Simon to the Count de rochambeau,” dated 7 Jan. at Cap Français in Saint Domingue, reads: “I found here, Sir, at my arrival, the Letter which you have favored me with from Newport of the 27th 7ber I directly wrote you to express my gratitude for the Friendship and concern you bear to me; I mentioned the fear I was in, Lest we should not undertake any thing in these seas. Mr De ⟨Navia’s⟩ army has very much suffered by sickness since his arrival at Cuba. he has lost more than one third of his men, and my corps whose destination is to serve with them, has lost one fourth. Besides, it is divided, there is one half here, and the other at San Domingo. That division had engaged me to go to the Havannah to try to obtain from the Spanish General that it might be reunited, and to have Leave from him to imbark upon the ships of the Chevalier de Monteil, in expectation of his making some enterprise. I would have travelled the Seas, and I expected to attack Providence, thence I would have gone to San Augustin &cc. Before hand I had well taken my measures with the Admiral, and we were perfectly united. But the Spanish General has refused me: I could not have been better received, and treated with more distinction nor heartiness, than I have been at Havannah, not only by the Generals, But yet all the inhabitants. that Colony looks much more considerable than any of ours, all the Proprietors abide in it, so that the Town has the air of a Town of Europe, the Society numerous, and it has an opulent Look. if Spain extended her Trade Cuba would grow immensely rich in a very short time. But the prohibitory Laws are so strong, the punishments so rigorous, that they discourage the Industry. However there is more spirit in that Colony than in the others. Very Likely, the Vicinity of the French and English, between whom it is Situated, is the reason and the Cause of it. I Lately received Letters thence, which mentioned the re[e]ntry of solano, who had cruised for 16. Days at the Rendezvous assigned for the Expedition of Pensacola, and he had seen nothing. They are in fear for the Dragoon, a 64. two Cutters and 50. Transports with Troops, provisions & Munitions. They very Likely have been pushed down the Gulf of Mexico by the Hurricane. There is the effect of that expedition that had been concerned and given to Mr De Galves Gouvernor of Louisiana, nephew of the Minister for the Indian department, who had done it on purpose that he might have a reason to make him Lieutenant General. he justifies perfectly well the concern that his uncle takes for him, he is much esteemed by the Spaniards, and beloved by the Frenchmen of Louisiana whom he treats exceeding well, and he is full of Ardor and good will. On new year’s day a Vessel arrived here, belonging to the Empress Queen, coming from Martinico, it brought some Letters that announce a convoy for this place, be arrived at Martinico where they are a making considerable preparations to receive a great number of Troops, among which they talk of the regiments of normandy, Neustrie, Auvergne and rouerque, it is your second division. I desire much to have an order to join it. I would be very glad to be under your orders, and I would willingly Leave the command in chief that I have here. I believe your campaign will be warmer than ours. This is the season to act in these climates and we Lose it. I am very sorry of it. it is hard to be in a country so exceeding destructive of men, and to do nothing in the military way” (DLC:GW).

5The writer of the LS rendered “circuntances” for this word.

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