George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant General Rochambeau, 18 February 1781

From Lieutenant General Rochambeau

Newport. February 18th 1781.


Three days ago, there arrived at Bedford a vessel, that brought a piece of Intelligence, of which I expected the particulars and further confirmation, before I chose to send it to your Excellency. That Vessel coming from Mole St Nicholas, has brought Letters from Cape François, mentioning the arrival of a Frigate, sent by Mr D’Estaing, who had beaten Admiral Hood, taken Six men of War and 95. Transports, and was then busy a-securing them to make them follow the fleet. The same news arrived at Salem with Letters from Martinico to Several Gentlemen at Boston, they are dated 29th January, they repeat the Same things, and add that Admiral Hood is arrived at St Lucia with only 4. men of War.1

The french Martinico Gazette mentions the Same, and the Passengers Say that they have Seen the forts and the road of that Island decorated as a rejoicing for that Victory. Every Sensible person at Boston Look upon these news as very sure. The English man of War, the Fair American that was Said to have gone to sea after the Gale, dismasted, is come back in Gardner’s bay,2 where they now have 8. men of the Line anchored in a state of Defense, a 50. gun Ship and the Bedford, very ill masted, in closed.3 I join herein for your Excellency the pla⟨n⟩ which before yesterday was sent to me from Plumb-island.4

The frigate L’hermione will set sail this night and will go to join itself to our fast sailing squadron, I hope, they will have fulfilled their enterprize.5

I always wait for the arrival of your Excellency with great desire.6 I am with respect and personal attachment Sir, Your Excellency’s Most obedient & Most humble Serva⟨nt⟩

le cte de rochambeau

LS, DLC:GW; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 7; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 8.

1These reports were false. British rear admiral Samuel Hood with eight ships of the line had joined Adm. George Rodney’s fleet in the West Indies in January.

Promoted to rear admiral in September 1780 and sent to the West Indies, Samuel Hood (1724–1816) operated in 1781 with Rodney in the West Indies, and with Rear Adm. Thomas Graves in North American waters during the Yorktown campaign. In 1782, he again operated with Rodney in the West Indies, distinguishing himself at the Battle of the Saints in April 1782. Hood entered Parliament in 1784 as an Irish peer. In 1787, the king named him a vice admiral, and the following year he joined the Board of Admiralty. In the 1790s, he was commander in chief in the Mediterranean. He was made a full admiral in April 1794 before his recall to England the following October, and he resigned from the navy shortly thereafter.

2Rochambeau refers to the 64-gun warship the America.

3These reports were not entirely accurate. British major Frederick Mackenzie recorded in his diary entry for 11 Feb.: “The Commander in Chief received an Express this Evening from Admiral Arbuthnot, informing him, that the America was arrived safe in Gardner’s bay, that the Bedford had got up other Masts and was fit for Action, and that every thing belonging to the Culloden, even greatest part of her Copper sheathing, had been saved. The hull of the ship cannot be got off” (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 , 2:470).

4The enclosed document, headed “Situation of the British fleet in Gardner’s bay,” reads: “Two days ago there arrived a 64. gun ship that had cut her cables, in the night that the Gale came on, being then at the East of Fisher’s island. A little coasting vessel has brought 80 and upwards fathoms of the cable, 22 inches in circonference.”

At this point is a sketch charting the positions of the individual British vessels. The sketch is oriented from south to north with Gardiners Island and Gardiners Point at the top and Plum Island, Great Gull Island, and Little Gull Island at the bottom. Seven British ships, labeled from north to south 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8, are shown anchored in Gardiners Bay in an arc extending from Gardiners Point to shoal water above (south of) Plum Island. Two ships, numbered 9 and 6, are shown anchored to the right (west) of the other ships. Another ship, labeled 10, is shown off the right (west) shore of Gardiners Island. The sketch is accompanied by explanatory text: “The ship (4) is the Admiral, the flag is at the Little top-gallant mast. (5) flag at mizen mast, three decker. (6) dismasted, (8) Last arived, (9) either 50 gun ship, or frigate. the Vessel Lost off the island cannot be seen.”

The document continues: “16th February 1781 8 o’clock A.M.

“The Vessel most at the North as well as the rest of them have Lengthened out a great deal of cable to the Northward, have an anchor S.E.-ward, another N.O.-ward, the Northernmost ship is upon the edge of the Current, which setts from Gardner’s point, goes to the N.O. and N.O.¼ N., at the rate of 4. or 5 knots an hour, so that all the ships in case they be attacked can get into the middle of the Current stream, they fear most to be attacked on the Est side, according to their Laying” (DLC:GW).

5For the dispatch of this French squadron, see Destouches to GW, 7 Feb.; see also Rochambeau to GW, 12 February.

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