George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Samuel Huntington, 26 February 1781

To Samuel Huntington

Head Quarters New Windsor February 26th 81


I had the honor of receiving last night, your Excellency’s two letters of the 20th instant, one of them in Congress, with their inclosures.1

The situation of the Southern states is alarming—the more so, as the measure of providing a regular and permanent force was by my last advices still unattempted, where the danger was most pressing and immediate. Unless all the states in good earnest enter upon this plan, we have little to expect but their successive subjugation. Particular successes obtained against all the chances of war have had too much influence to the prejudice of general and substantial principles.

In obedience to the orders of Congress I have imparted their wish to His Excellency the Count De Rochambeau, informing him that the proposal was made on the presumption of a naval superiority.2 But as this superiority has ceased by the safe return of the America a sixty four, which was missing and supposed to be dismasted, and by a detachment of one vessel of the line and two or three frigates into Chesapeak bay, it will of course be out of the power of our allies to transport the whole or any part of their troops to the succour of the Southern states. Besides this obstacle the present instructions and expectations of The French General and naval commander are opposed to an immediate change of position.

The order for the Pensylvania line to march to the Southward interferes with the conditional arrangements of the next campaign, but in the present exigency of accumulating danger in that quarter, I am intirely of opinion that those troops ought to be detached.

On the first notice of the storm and its ill-effects, I intimated to the French General the possibility and importance of improving the opportunity in an attempt upon Arnold.3 When I received a more distinct account of the damage sustained by the British fleet (which was a long time coming to me) I immediately put in motion as large a part of my small force as I could with any prudence spare to proceed under the command of the Marquis De la Fayette to the head of Elk; and made, without delay, a proposal for a co-operation in Chesapeak-bay, with the whole of the fleet of our allies and a part of their land force.4 Before my proposition arrived, in consequence of an application to him, through the Chevalier De la Luzerne, Mr Des touches had sent the force I have already mentioned to Chesapeak bay.5 This separation and the return of the America prevented the execution of my plan; but the Marquis De la Fayette still continues his march to attempt whatever circumstances will permit.

It is probable Congress before this reaches them will have heard of the arrival of the ships in the bay, but if they should have met with any delay, I need not observe how necessary it will be to conceal our expectations, as the only chance of success to a merely maritime operation depends on surprise.

I take the liberty to suggest that the American frigates in the Delaware may perhaps at this juncture be usefully employed in Chesapeak or Cape-fear. The latter may be preferable but secrecy and dispatch will be essential. I have the honor to be With perfect respect and esteem Yr Excellency’s Most Obedient & Most humble servant

Go: Washington

P.S. I was duly honored with your favour of the 14th and immediately communicated the agreeable intelligence of his son’s arrival to The Count De Rochambeau.6

The copy of The letter from General Greene to Baron Steuben, which as appears from the manner of Governor Jeffersons speaking of it to be an interesting one is not among Your Excellency’s dispatches. I should be happy to be favoured with a sight of it—as I have no letter from General Greene since that containing an acco[un]t of Morgans affair.

I have just received the letter since writing the above.7

LS, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The last two paragraphs of the postscript appear only on the LS and the copy. Congress read this letter on 2 March and “Ordered, That so much thereof as relates to the frigates be referred to the Board of Admiralty” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 19:224). Huntington replied to GW on 2 March.

1See Huntington to GW, 20 Feb. (both letters [1 and 2]).

4See GW to Rochambeau, 15 Feb., and to Lafayette, 20 Feb. (both letters [1 and 2]).

7Major General Steuben enclosed the undated letter from Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene when he wrote GW on 12 Feb. (see n.2 to that document; see also Greene’s first letter to GW, 24 Jan., and GW to Steuben, 27 Feb.).

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