George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Gordon, 28 February 1781-1 March 1781

From William Gordon

Jamaica Plain [Mass.] Feby 28[–1 March] 1781.

My dear Sir

The multiplicity of business upon your hands will apologize sufficiently for your not answering my last wrote when the campaign was going on;1 nor is it strange, that after a while you should forget it: but wishing to hear from your Excellency before your attention becomes wholly engrossed by more important matters, I now send You my hearty congratulations, upon the several appearances of Heaven in our favour, & upon the more promising aspect of public affairs than hath before offered for some time past. The treachery by which the enemy meant to carry their points was mercifully discovered in season, like what had happened at New York;2 & was an additional striking proof that divine Providence watches over us for good—The escape of Arnold may in the issue injure them, far more than the loss of Andre. Villainy is often punished in this life: but be that as it may, the traitor is always despised at heart, however ceremonial appearances may announce the contrary. The loss of Charlestown & the defeat of Gates, like many other events, were temporary evils, that I apprehend will be of more disservice to Great Britain in the end than to us.3 The ministry have been encouraged by them to persist; & the cruelties that have been practised by their partizans through the expectation of carrying all before them have roused up a spirit that may prove their ruin. Where men’s minds have been broken, before they have commenced hostilities against a tyrannic power, severities may answer, but persons accustomed to liberty will be exasperated thereby, & grow more fierce & terrible in their opposition. May the sufferings of the Carolinians put them upon remembering aright that Negroes are fellow creatures, & should be treated as parts of the same human nature, tho’ of a different colour from them!

Morgan’s success will be more important in its distant consequences, than it was on the day of victory.4 I have a double pleasure in considering the stroke that has been given in the Chesapeak because of its being concerted by your Excellency.5 The sentiment of the public, including high & low, is so variable, & shifts so with good or bad success, that I feel myself peculiarly interested in your plans of operation. Let a commander deserve ever so well, yet if he miscarrys he will suffer in his credit, & the envious will not fail of improving the opportunity given them against him.

We are told that the French are going out again, back to Chesapeak.6 The last I cannot believe: but should rejoice to find that under your Excellency’s direction, they were gone against Penobscot, & had taken the fort & shipping. It would be a most acceptable service to ⟨this⟩ State. The place might have been taken in the last attempt, had it not been for the pride of some of our Ma⟨assachusetts gen⟩try, who would not apply in time to Gates for any continental troops, lest they should carry ⟨mutilated⟩ Had they consulted the General & sailed with the regiment he afterwards sent them upon appli⟨cation we would have su⟩ffered neither in property nor character so scandalously as we did.7

I have read with the greatest satisfaction, that Maryland has acceded to the Confederacy.8 I felt very uneasy till the Confederation was compleated; as I thought, that, till the event had taken place, Britain would hope that we should never be consolidated. That & the establishment of the Massachusetts government, & the ease with which the new machine works, must have great influence on the minds of men of understanding on the other side of the Atlantic.9 Our State will gather firmness & become more vigorous. We are doing better than formerly, tho’ not well enough; & I am afraid shall not have half the new levies upon the ground in time. Your Excellency would be likely to hasten the enlistment, could You inform our government that the other States were much more forward than they; & that it would be highly dishonourable to them to lose the character they acquired in the beginning of the contest & be the first in flagging after having acted so nobly.

The accounts from the West-Indies are such, that I cannot but hope, that Count d’Estaing has fallen in with, & taken a great part, of the armament destined for America under Adml Hood.10 The confirmation will put me upon looking for peace sooner than otherwise. Great Britain will never come to, while she can find men, money, & shipping; a failure in the last will render the others useless. The continuance of the war under our i[n]ternal difficulties, thro’ the want of a stable currency & proper funds, has the appearance of a great calamity; but may be mercifully ordered & occasion those regulations, reforms &c., that might not have been effected without it. The States individually may be so reduced, & jointly may be so melted down together by the continuance of the war, that we may constitute a firmer mass than otherwise, & be in no danger of separating from each other, thro’ any state attractions & cohesions.

The way of Heaven is constantly best. Whatever is, is right; & in a much brighter sense than the Poet might mean. Mrs Gordon joins me in sincerest regards to Self & Lady, who we suppose to be still at Head Quarters. Pray my respects to Genl Knox, Genl Hand, and Cols. Harrison & Tilghman. Few, if any are more mindful of your Excellency in their most serious moments or more hearty in wishing You all suitable support from the several States & answerable success, than your Excellency’s most humble servant & sincere Friend

William Gordon

Col. Sears & family are well, & were they acquain⟨ted⟩ with my writing I know would desire to be remembered.

Mar. 1. When I wrote as above about the French, I was to⟨mutilated⟩ they had succeeded fully & were all returned; since learn that the 64 gun ship is left in the Chesapeak.11

ALS, DLC:GW. Gordon addressed the cover to GW at New Windsor. Solomon Southwick, deputy commissary general of issues, then in Newport where GW was visiting, wrote an unaddressed note dated 9 March on the back of the ALS: “Just recd & forwarded.” GW replied to Gordon on the same date (DLC:GW).

2Gordon refers to the British attempt to take West Point with the aid of former Continental army major general Benedict Arnold (see The Discovery of Major General Benedict Arnold’s Treachery, 25 Sept.–24 Nov., editorial note). For the British plot to sabotage American defenses in and around New York City, see Arrest Warrant from a Secret Committee of the New York Provincial Congress, 21 June 1776, source note.

3For the British siege and capture of Charleston, see Duportail to GW, 17 May 1780. For Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates’s defeat at the Battle of Camden, S.C., see Gates to GW, 30 Aug. 1780.

4For Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan’s victory at the Battle of Cowpens, see Nathanael Greene to GW, 24 Jan. 1781 (first letter), n.3.

5Gordon refers to recent French naval operations in and near Chesapeake Bay (see Destouches to GW, 25 Feb.). GW had urged a larger operation (see GW to Rochambeau, 15 Feb.).

6For the French plan to return to Chesapeake Bay, see Rochambeau to GW, 25 February.

7For the disastrous attempt by Massachusetts forces to take the British outpost at Penobscot Bay in Maine, see GW to the Massachusetts Council, 3 Aug. 1779, n.3.

8For the Maryland government’s ratification of the Articles of Confederation, see James Duane to GW, 29 Jan. 1781, and n.7 to that document.

9A new state constitution had gone into effect in Massachusetts in 1780 (see James Bowdoin to GW, 6 April 1780, and n.1 to that document).

10These reports were false (see Rochambeau to GW, 18 Feb., and n.1 to that document).

11The French squadron had returned to Newport with all its warships.

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