George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Béhague, 3 June 1792

To Béhague

[Philadelphia, 3 June 1792]


I have received the duplicate of the polite letter which you did me the honor of writing to me on the 28th of may 1791.1 The first has not reached my hands.

The obliging2 manner in which you express your wishes to prove the sincerity of your attachment to the United States by keeping up and encouraging the treaty of amity which unites France and America, merits the acknowledgements of the good citizens of this Country, as well as the protection which you mention to have given to the American Vessels on the coast of the Isle of Belle Isle, where you commanded in the late war.

The Constitution of the Society of the Cincinnati does not permit the President to decide on the qualifications for admission into that Society. He can only grant diplomas to such as may have been admitted in confo[r]mity to the general Institution.3 And in order to be better informed of the pretensions of foreign Officers for admission, power was given to the Count de Rochambeau, the Marquis de la Fayette and the Count d’Estaing to admit such as should appear to have well-grounded pretensions, to wear the Insignia of the Order; and the Certificate of those gentlemen being4 transmitted to the Secretary of the Society5 (which office is now filled by General Knox) will entitle the person to whom it is granted to a Diploma. With sentiments of due consideration I have the honor to be, Sir, Your most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tobias Lear’s hand, PHi: Dreer Collection; Df, in Lear’s hand, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DLC:GW.

An undated note written in another hand in the left-hand margin of the first page of the LS reads: “This letter from Genl Washington was transmitted to me confidentially during the civil Commotions then existing in the French Windward Islands. The Governor Genl (Behague) had been driven by the Revolutionists from the Island of Martinique. This letter therefore retained by [Consul] F[ulwar] Skipwith.”

Jean-Pierre-Antoine, comte de Béhague (1727–1813), who had served in the French army from the early 1740s until 1776, was named commandant of Belle-Île, France, in October 1777. In August 1790 he was appointed to command the troops forming in France to pacify the French Windward Islands. Arriving at Martinique in March 1791, Béhague acted quickly, some said despotically, to put down the rebellion there. Denounced in the National Assembly by deputies from Martinique in December 1791, he was replaced in early June 1792. Upon learning of Louis XVI’s downfall, Béhague went over to the émigré princes and the British. In 1793 he assisted the British in their attempt to retake Martinique from the French. In the fall of that year, Béhague traveled to London, and five years later he was named commander of the émigrés’ army of Brittany.

1The translation of Béhague’s letter to GW of 28 May 1791 written at Fort Royal, Martinique, reads: “Being appointed to the general government of the Windward Islands, his Majesty chose me, at the same time, to command the sea & land forces which the National Assembly had decreed, by a law of the 8h of december last, to re-establish tranquility in this part of America.

“I shall be much flattered if, under these circumstances, I can prove to the United States over which your Excellency presides, and particularly to you, Sir, how much I have it at heart to keep up and encourage the treaty of amity which unites us.

“Your Excellency will see by the Manuscript, to which I have joined the homage of one of my memorials on the Colonies, that I have not been the last to signify that desire. The approach of that period to which I have restored the late M. [Jean-Frédéric Phélypeaux, comte] de Maurepas, and the events which have been the consequence, will put your Excellency in a situation to judge of the influence of this manuscript.

“It is upon this consideration, Sir, as well as for the constant services which I have been so happy as to render to American Vessels against the Guernsey Cruisers, which never ceased to trouble their navigation on the coast of the Isle of Belle Isle, where I commanded last war, that M. de la Fayette has authorized me to be decorated with the insignia of the Cincinnati, expecting that the United States would readily grant me the honor of a Diploma in conformity to his letter, of which I join a copy. . . . P.S. M. de Pressineaux, an officer of the highest distinction, and who fought, during the whole of the last war in the cause of the United States, begs me to address to you his memorial on the same subject. I beseech your Excellency to take his request into serious consideration. I shall participate in the acknowledgement.

“It is to the Consul of the United States of America for the French Antilles [Fulwar Skipwith], that the first of my letters to your Excelleny has been confided I beg the acceptance of the memorial which accompanies this, as well as that which accompanied my first dispatch” (translation, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

2At this place in the draft manuscript, Lear first wrote and then struck out the words “offer of your services.”

3At this place on the draft manuscript, Lear wrote and then struck out “Meetings of the Society.” He then wrote “Institution” above the line.

4Lear’s first draft of the remainder of the letter, which he subsequently struck out, reads: “laid before the General meeting of [the Society] will enable the Society to judge of the propriety of such admissions—and the Diplomas of such as are admitted are laid before the President by the Secretary of the Society for his signature.”

5At this place on the draft manuscript, Lear first wrote “Genl Meeting.” He then struck out these words and wrote “Society” above the line.

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