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General Washington to Joseph Reed



Cambridge, February 10, 1776.

DEAR SIR: If you conceive that I took any thing wrong, or amiss, that was conveyed in any of your former letters, you are really mistaken. I only meant to convince you, that nothing would give me more real satisfaction than to know the sentiments, which are entertained of me by the publick, whether they be favourable or otherwise; and I urged as a reason, that the man who wished to steer clear of shelves and rocks must know where they lie. I know the integrity of my own heart, but to declare it, unless to a friend, may be an argument of vanity; I know the unhappy predicament I stand in; I know that much is expected of me; I know, that without men, without arms, without ammunition, without any thing fit for the accommodation of a soldier, little is to be done; and, what is mortifying, I know that I cannot stand justified to the world without exposing my own weakness, and injuring the cause, by declaring my wants, which I am determined not to do, further than unavoidable necessity brings every man acquainted with them.

If, under these disadvantages, I am able to keep above water, in the esteem of mankind, I shall feel myself happy; but if, from the unknown peculiarity of my circumstances, I suffer in the opinion of the world, I shall not think you take the freedom of a friend, if you conceal the reflections that may be cast upon my conduct. My own situation is so irksome to me at times, that, if I did not consult the publick good more than my own tranquillity, I should long ere this have put every thing on the cast of a die. So far from my having an army of twenty thousand men, well armed, I have been here with less than one-half of that number, including sick, furloughed, and on command, and those neither armed nor clothed as they should be. In short, my situation has been such that I have been obliged to use art to conceal it from my own officers.

The party sent to Bunker' s Hill had some good and some bad men engaged in it. One or two courts have been held on the conduct of part of them. To be plain, these people are not to be depended upon if exposed; and any man will fight well if he thinks himself in no danger. I do not apply this only to these people. I suppose it to be the case with all raw and undisciplined troops.

You may rely upon it, that transports left Boston six weeks ago with troops; where they are gone, unless driven to the West-Indies, I know not. You may, also, rely upon General Clinton' s sailing from Boston about three weeks ago, with about four or five hundred men; his destination I am, also, a stranger to. I am sorry to hear of the failures you speak of from France. But why will not Congress forward part of the powder made in your Province? They seem to look upon this as the season for action, but will not furnish the means. I will not blame them. I dare say the demands upon them are greater than they can supply. The cause must be starved till our resources are greater, or more certain within ourselves.

With respect to myself, I have never entertained an idea of an accommodation, since I heard of the measures which were adopted in consequence of the Bunker' s Hill fight. The King' s speech has confirmed the sentiments I entertained upon the news of that affair; and, if every man was of my mind, the Ministers of Great Britain should


know, in a few words, upon what issue the cause should be put. I would not be deceived by artful declarations, not specious pretences; nor would I be amused by unmeaning propositions; but in open, undisguised, and manly terms, proclaim our wrongs, and our resolution to be redressed. I would tell them, that we had borne much, that we had long and ardently sought for reconciliation upon honourable terms; that it had been denied us; that all our attempts after peace had proved abortive, and had been grossly misrepresented; that we had done every thing which could be expected from the best of subjects; that the spirit of freedom rises too high in us to submit to slavery; and that, if nothing else would satisfy a Tyrant and his diabolical Ministry, we are determined to shake of all connections with a state so unjust and unnatural. This I would tell them, not under covert, but in words as clear as the sun in its meridian brightness.

I observe what you say, in respect to the ardour of the chimney-corner heroes. I am glad their zeal is in some measure abated, because, if circumstances will not permit us to make an attempt upon Boston, or if it should be made and fail, we shall not appear altogether so culpable. I entertain the same opinion of the attempt now, which I have ever done. I believe an assault would be attended with considerable loss, and I believe it would succeed, if the men should behave well. As to an attack upon Bunker' s Hill, unless it could be carried by surprise, the loss, I conceive, would be greater in proportion than at Boston; and, if a defeat should follow, it would be discouraging to the men, but highly animating if crowned with success. Great good, or great evil, would consequently result from it.

The Congress have ordered all captures to be tried in the Courts of Admiralty of the different Governments to which they are sent. Some irreconcileable difference arising between the resolves of Congress, and the law of this Colony, respecting the proceedings, or something which always happens to procrastinate business here, has put a total stop to the trials, to the no small injury of the publick, as well as the great grievance of individuals. Whenever a condemnation shall take place, I shall not be unmindful of your advice respecting the hulls. Would to Heaven the plan you speak of for obtaining arms may succeed. The acquisition would be great, and give fresh life and vigour to our measures. Our expectations are kept alive, and if we can keep ourselves so, and our spirits up another Summer, I have no fears of wanting the needful after that.

We have had a most laborious piece of work at Lechmere' s Point, on account of the frost. We hope to get it finished on Sunday. It is within as commanding a distance of Boston as Dorchester-Hill, though of a different part. Our vessels now and then pick up a prize or two. Our Commodore, Manly, was very near being caught about eight days ago, but happily escaped with his vessel and crew, after running the former on shore, scuttling, and defending her.

I recollect nothing else worth giving you the trouble of, unless you can be amused by reading a letter and poem addressed to me by Miss Phillis Wheatley. In searching over a parcel of papers the other day, in order to destroy such as were useless, I brought it to light again. At first, with a view of doing justice to her poetical genius, I had a great mind to publish the poem; but not knowing whether it might not be considered rather as a mark of my own vanity, than as a compliment to her, I laid it aside, till I came across it again in the manner just mentioned. I congratulate you upon your election, although I consider it as the coup-de-grace to my expectation of ever seeing you a resident with me this campaign. I have only to regret the want of you, if that should be the case; and I shall do it the more feelingly, as I have experienced the good effects of your aid.

I am, with Mrs˙ Washington' s compliments to Mrs˙ Reed, and my best respects, dear sir, your most obedient and affectionate servant, GEORGE WASHINGTON.

To Joseph Reed, Esq.