George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant General Rochambeau, 27 February 1781

From Lieutenant General Rochambeau

Newport. Februy 27th 1781 11. oclock. A.M.


I this minute received your Excellencys favor of the 24th inst. and I have directly sent to Mr Destouches the one which was inclosed for him, and I send you his answer.1

All that regards the Land forces will be ready in 24. hours hence, but the Navy may yet be eight days before every thing be ready on her part.2

I am very sorry that the News of Count d’Estaing’s success be not further confirmed3 and I am of opinion that Mr Carmichaels Letter, dated, “Madrid 17th xber,” infirmates4 it rather, as the vessel that brought it Left Cadiz only on the 28th. Can it be natural that these news of the sea fight in the European seas should be known in our Western islands about the 18th of January when it was not at Cadiz on the 28th xber.5 I hope that your Excellency has received speedily My Letter brought by the Baron de Closen my Aid.6 You may be assured, that, on my part, nothing shall be wanting to make the greatest diligence. I am with respect and personal attachment Sir, Your Excellency’s Most humble and most obedient Servant

le Cte de Rochambeau

3’ o clock. P.M.

I this moment received an express from Boston with the good news that the Frigate L’Astree commanded by Mr De La Perouse, had just arrived, that she brings Money and Dispatches from Court, and that the Captain was to Land them the next day. The Captain was to send me My dispatches by an Express.7

On dit que la Somme dargent est forte, que Le Cte d’estaing est arrivé a brest avec 150 voiles, et qu’il Se prepare un si puissant armement pour venir icy.8 C’est un garde marine qui ecrit icy a Son Camarade et qui a debarqué dans la chaloupe pour venir chercher un pilote.9 L’a⟨str⟩ée est une fregate neuve de 42 Canons de 18 elle a eté 62 jours de traversée, c’est le meme Capitaine qui a mené mon fils en france.10

LS, DLC:GW; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 7; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 8. The postscript appears only on the LS. GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman wrote “recd on the Road” in the docket of the LS. GW received this letter while en route to Newport (see his reply to Rochambeau, 2 March).

Rochambeau wrote the final paragraph on the LS. He advises GW that the intelligence came from a private letter and that the new French frigate Astrée, armed with forty-two 18-pounders and carrying a large sum of money, had crossed the Atlantic in sixty-two days.

2Rochambeau refers to the detachment from his army and the French naval squadron, both of which were being readied for an expedition to Virginia (see Rochambeau to GW, 25 Feb.).

3For this false report of a naval victory by French vice admiral d’Estaing, see Rochambeau to GW, 18 Feb., n.1; see also Rochambeau to GW, 20 February.

4Infirmer in French means to weaken or invalidate.

5Rochambeau evidently meant William Carmichael’s letter dated at Madrid on 19 Dec. 1780. On 12 Feb., Congress had read Carmichael’s letter of 19 Dec. (see 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 , 19:140). In that letter Carmichael mentioned d’Estaing’s fleet sailing from Cadiz, Spain, on 7 Nov. (see Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed. The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States. 6 vols. Washington, D.C., 1889. description ends , 4:198). On 12 Feb., French minister La Luzerne wrote Rochambeau about Carmichael’s letter but gave it the wrong date of 17 Dec. (FrVinSHD).

6Rochambeau refers to his letter to GW of 25 February.

Hans Christoph Friedrich Ignatz Ludwig von Closen-Haydenburg (1752–1830), a captain of the French Royal Deux-Ponts regiment, became an aide-de-camp to Rochambeau in July 1780 shortly after the French expeditionary army debarked in Newport, Rhode Island. For a full biographical treatment, see Acomb, Closen Journal description begins Evelyn M. Acomb, ed. The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Closen, 1780–1783. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1958. description ends , xxii–xxxv.

7Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse (d. 1788) joined the French navy as a cadet in 1756. Named a chevalier of the royal and military order of Saint-Louis in 1777, La Pérouse commanded the frigate Amazone from 1778 to 1779 and rose to the rank of captain and command of the frigate Astrée in 1780. From 1782 to 1783 he captained the Sceptre. La Pérouse became a chef d’escadre in 1786, and he died leading a reconnaissance expedition.

8D’Estaing, sailing from Cadiz, arrived at Brest, France, on 3 Jan. 1781 with a large convoy of merchantmen. His arrival gave the French forty-seven ships of the line in their Atlantic ports, but the reinforcement planned for the western hemisphere was to sail for the West Indies, not Newport, under the command of French admiral de Grasse (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 , 189, 216, 222).

9At this point, Rochambeau wrote and then struck out a sentence in French requesting that GW forward this intelligence to French minister La Luzerne.

10For the sailing of Rochambeau’s son, the vicomte de Rochambeau, for France onboard the frigate Amazone, then commanded by La Pérouse, see Rochambeau to GW, 29 Oct. 1780, and n.1 to that document; see also Rochambeau to GW, 5 Oct., and n.2 to that document.

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