George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant General Rochambeau, 8 February 1781

From Lieutenant General Rochambeau

Newport. February 8th 1781.


I am exceeding glad of the good news which your Excellency gives me about the entire reduction of the Last mutinery that had taken place among a part of the Jersey Line, and of the example of rigor that you thought necessary to give to terminate in a solid manner these movements of Mutinery.1 I cannot flatter myself that I shall have the honor to see here Your Excellency but only after you will have established supplies and provisions for your army, so as to have no uneasiness about the wants that it might have in your absence.

The Chevalier Destouches waits only for a favorable wind to send a Line of battle ship, a 64. copper­bottomed, with two frigates to go and warmly fall upon Arnold’s convoy in the rivers of Virginia. he has not chosen to add to that detachment another ship, as none of the 64s in this squadron are copper bottomed, and he dares not venture in these rivers a 74., he says further that he will be more able, with the rest of his fleet that he will hold in readiness to set sail, to hold in respect the enemy’s fleet in Gardner’s bay, to hinder it from making another detachment, and that his ship being as fast a sailor as his frigates, will be superior in its force to the 40. gun ship and the frigates that escort the convoy of Arnold, to destroy it and afterwards cruize, without danger at the entry of Chesapeak bay, as they are very fast sailors and very sure ones.

I join here for your Excellency the Last intelligences I have received, the first from Grenada by a Brig arrived at New London, the 2d from the Consul of Boston.2 Your Excellency will see that tempests are gathering at the Leeward islands, the English meteors are there already, but I cannot not flatter myself that a big cloud conducted by the Count d’Estaing will Likewise fall in these parts, besides the 2d Division, to give us, at the first unfolding of the Leaf, the superiority upon these seas, the Intelligence from Boston seems to Me to be too old Not to be anticipated, but there is no harm, tho’ the Count d’Estaing should arrive Last of all. however, it may be, we are at the eve of great events, and the Chevalier Destouches will not to be impruden⟨t⟩ in the mean time, as he [has] nothing new for to refit his ships, even after a successfull fight. such is the Last resolution that he had communicated to me in our Last conference. The British have masted the Bedford with the masts of the Culloden, he is distinctly seen from New London.

If your Excellency thinks proper to communicate this Letter to the Chevalier de La Luzerne, I beg you would recommend him to keep secret even from Congress the plan of the Ch. destouches.3 I am with respect and personal attachment, Sir Your Excellency’s Most obedient most 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. Although the LS is docketed “Ansd 22d. 81,” GW acknowledged this letter when he wrote Rochambeau on 24 February.

2The enclosed undated document contains intelligence from both Grenada in the West Indies and from Boston. The first part of the document, headed “Extract of a Letter from An Officer of Lauzun’s corps at Grenada to his Lieutenant Colonel at Newport,” reads: “January[.] A Large convoy escorted by Mr De La Touche treville was expected at Martinico next month.

“Rodney is at Barbadoes with sixteen men of War four of which are bad, seven are cruizing at St Lucia and it is believed that there are two yet at Antigua. That great man who wanted to strike a blow which should astonish the whole world, expected (after the success of the treason in New-England) to burn the Chevalier de Ternay in the harbour of rhode-island, and to become master of our Land army: All the English at Grenada saw it had been done and confirmed it, for fifteen days.

“That Same Rodney has crowned his glorious campaign by the false step that he taken against St Vincent.

“On the 4th instt at one o’clock in the morning, the alarum gun was fired at Grenada, in six minutes time, the whole garrison was under arms to expect Rodney, who, to our great sorrow, did not appear, that mistake has kept us till four in the morning at our posts.

“Grenada with 1600. men who are now there, can sustain a Siege of 8000. men during two months, were they even commanded and Led on by rodney.

“Mr De Bouillé, An active General, having Learnt, the arrival of admiral [Samuel] Hood at Barbadoes with eight men of war and 3000. men which joined to 8. men of war and 5000. men that rodney has brought to St Lucia, makes the number of 16. line of battle ships and 8000. men, Mr De Bouillé is come to Grenada with 250. men, a Brigadier major, a Lieutenant Colonel and an Artillery officer, all, men of great experience.”

Another report then begins: “Extract of a Letter from the same officer of the 15th Jany 1781. from Grenada.

“The English have made an enterprize against St Vincent, which has not been successfull: As it is not Honorable for them, there is not neither much glory to be got by it for us; there was no great merit to repulse men who went of[f] as soon as they saw that their summons of Surrender were not complied with. It seems that they expected Intelligences. One single man has been wounded on our Side, it has been said that the English had had 100. men killed, afterwards 35., now it i[s] but 5. or 6. At this moment that I write, Mr De Bouillé is arriving with 300. men. As Admiral hood is arrived from Europa with reinforcements and the English fleet under sail, it is feared least Grenada, St. Vincent or the Spanish dominions be attacked. Mr De Bouillé will go every where, and will stay with us as long as the Danger will last. as our fleet from Europa is not arrived, we expect to see the English here every minute, they never will have a more favorable occasion but they will be well received every where. They have a great mind to Grenada. If they come here, we shall talk to them, and we will write you w[hat] has passed.

“Mr De La touche treville is expected with troops. and it will be indifferent to Mr. De Bouillé to send you such or such corps. If the Duke Loved us well enough to ask us from Mr De Bouillé, We are persauded that he would be very glad to find that occasion to oblige him.

The second part of the document reads: “Declaration of Mr Le Febvre passenger on board the Ship the Postillion of Salem, commanded by Captain Friend, and arrived at Falmouth on the 25th Jany and on the 1st of same month gone from Guadeloupe.

“About the 16th of December is arrived at Pitre’s point a Transport, of the fleet under the orders under Mr D’Estaing from whom he had parted eleven or twelve days before. That fleet was composed of 40. men of war or Frigates and a great number of Transports and were expected every day. Before Mr Le febvre’s departure, it had been Learned at Guadeloupe that admiral rodney had been forced to Leave St Vincent where he had landed, after having lost seven hundred men, and he was gone into the harbours of St Lucia” (DLC:GW). The fleet under the command of Vice Admiral d’Estaing was in European waters (see Dull, French Navy description begins Jonathan R. Dull. The French Navy and American Independence: A Study of Arms and Diplomacy, 1774-1787. Princeton, 1975. description ends , 205, 216). For Vice Admiral George Rodney’s abortive attack on St. Vincent in December 1780, see Clowes, Royal Navy description begins William Laird Clowes. The Royal Navy: A History From the Earliest Times to the Present. 7 vols. London, 1897-1903. description ends , 3:479.

3No letter from GW to French minister La Luzerne on this subject has been found.

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