George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Officer Commanding the French Naval Forces in Chesapeake Bay, 20 February 1781

To the Officer Commanding the French Naval Forces in Chesapeake Bay

New Windsor Feby 20th 81


The Chevalier Des Touches having been pleased to inform me that he had detached one sixty four and three frigates to act against the enemy in Chesapack bay & held the remainder of his fleet ready to support the operation;1 persuaded that a maritime operation alone would probably not be effectual, as the enemy might secure their vessels under their land batteries—and at the same time that the Militia were not proper for dislodging them from their works unaided by regular troops—I have therefore on the first notice of the Chevaliers intention detached a corps of troops from this army under the command of the Marquis De la Fayette to act in conjunction with you.2 I am not informed precisely what are your instructions, nor would it be my wish that in expectation of this cooperation you should delay any measures which you judge practicable on your arrival for effecting the object of your commission—I only mean to propose if you should meet with the difficulties I have anticipated, and if it be compatible with your instructions that you will continue in such a position as you think eligible to blockade3 the enemy, till the arrival of the detachment I have announced and that you will then protect and aid the ulterior operations.

The detachment will proceed immediately to the head of Elk, where I hope it will arrive by the fifth or sixth of March, to embark there and proceed down the bay to the point of operation. I beg leave to observe to you the utility (if convenient to you) of sending a frigate up the bay to protect the passage of the troops; in all cases they must dep⟨end⟩ upon you for security in this operation.

I have instructed the Baron De Steuben who now commands in Virginia to procure for you trusty pilots well acquainted with the navigation of the several rivers and every information that may be of use to you, and to make all the necessary preparations with the militia for acting in conjunction.4

The Marquis De la Fayette will immediately open a correspondence with you to concert your future arrangements. I entreat you will be pleased immediately to impart to him your ideas and intentions.5

The capture6 of the corps of the enemy under Arnold will be of the greatest importance to these states and will be as pleasing as it will be useful to them. I am persuaded you will do every thing that depends upon you to contribute to this end as far as your instructions & the circumstances will permit.7 I have the honor to be with the Most perfect consideration Sir Yr most Obedient & most hume sr.

Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The addressee comes from the docket on the draft: “The Officer Commanding The Naval Forces of His Most Christian Majesty Chesapeak.” Captain de Tilly commanded the French squadron (see Rochambeau to GW, 12 Feb., n.1).

2See GW to Lafayette, this date (both letters [1 and 2]).

3Hamilton wrote “blokade” for this word on the draft.

5The next paragraph on the draft is struck out: “The most expeditious way of conveyance for your letters will be to send it to addressed to the American Quarter Master there.”

6Hamilton initially wrote “destruction” on the draft. He then struck out that word and wrote “capture” above the line.

7GW shared similar sentiments when he wrote Rochambeau on 19 February.

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