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Letter from General Lee to the Governour of Cape Francois



Savannah, August 30, 1776.

SIR: It will be necessary, in addressing a letter of this nature so abruptly to your Excellency, that I should inform you who the writer is. I have served as Lieutenant-Colonel in the English service, Colonel in the Portuguese, afterwards as Aid-de-Camp to his Polish Majesty, with the rank of Major-General. Having purchased a small estate in America, I had determined to retire for the remainder of my days to a peaceful asylum. When the tyranny of the Ministry and Court of Great Britain forced this Continent to arms for the preservation of their liberties, I was called by the voice of the people to the rank of second in command.

I make no doubt of this letter' s being kindly received by your Excellency, both in the character of a good Frenchman and friend to humanity. The present conjuncture of affairs renders the interest of France and of this Continent one and the same thing. Every observation drawn from history must evince that it was the exclusive commerce of these Colonies which enabled Great Britain to cope with France, gave to her a decided superiority in marine, and of course enabled her, in the frequent wars betwixt the two nations, to reduce her rival to the last extremity. This was the case so peculiarly in the last war, that had the British Ministry persevered, Heaven knows what would have been the fate of France. It follows, that if France can obtain the monopoly, or the greater part of this commerce, her opulence, strength, and prosperity, must grow to a prodigious height; and nothing can be more certain than that if America is enabled to preserve the independence she has now declared, the greater part of this commerce, if not the monopoly, must fall to the share of France.

The imaginary plans of conquest of Louis the Fourteenth, had they been realized, would not have established the power of that Monarchy on so solid and permanent a basis as the simple assistance, or rather friendly intercourse, with this Continent, will inevitably give. Without injustice, or the colour of injustice, but, on the contrary, only assuming the patronage of the rights of mankind, France has now in her power to become not only the greatest, but the most truly glorious Monarchy which has appeared on the stage of the world. In the first place, her possessions in the Islands will be secured against all possibility of attack, the royal revenues immensely increased, her people eased of their present burdens, an eternal incitement be presented to their industry, and the means of increase, by the facility of providing sustenance for their families, multiplied. In short, there is no saying what degree of eminence, happiness, and glory, she may derive from the independence of this Continent. Some visionary writers have indeed asserted, that could this country once shake off her European trammels, it would soon become more formidable alone, from the virtue and energy natural to a young people, than Great Britain with her Colonies united in a state of dependency. But the men who have built such hypotheses must be utter strangers to the manners, genius, disposition, turn of mind, and circumstances, of the Continent. Their disposition is manifestly to agriculture and the simple life of shepherds. As long as vast tracts of land remain unoccupied, to which they can send colonies (if I may so express it) of their offspring, they will never entertain a thought of marine or manufactures. Their ideas are solely confined to labour and to planting, for those nations who can, on the cheapest terms, furnish them with the necessary utensils for labouring and planting and clothes for


their families; and till the whole vast extent of continent is fully stocked with people, they will never entertain another idea. This cannot be effected for ages, and what then may happen it is out of the line of politicians to lay any stress upon; most probably they will be employed in wars amongst themselves before they aim at foreign conquests. In short, the apprehension is too remote to rouse the jealousy of any reasonable citizen of a foreign State.

On the other hand, it is worthy your Excellency' s attention to consider what will be the consequences should Great Britain succeed in the present contest. America, it is true, will be wretched and enslaved; but a number of slaves may compose a formidable army and fleet. The proximity of situation, with so great a force, entirely at the disposal of Great Britain, will put it in her power to take possession of your Islands on the first rupture. Without pretending to the spirit of prophecy, such, I can assert, will be the event of the next war.

Upon the whole, I must repeat, that it is for the interest as well as glory of France, to furnish us with every means of supporting our liberties, to effect which we only demand a constant, systematick supply of the necessaries of war. We do not require any aid of men; we have numbers, and I believe courage, sufficient to carry us triumphantly through the struggle. We require small-arms, powder, field-pieces, woollen and linen to clothe our troops; also drugs, particularly bark. In return for which, every necessary provision for your Islands may be expected, as rice, corn, lumber, &c. If, indeed, you could spare us a few able Engineers and Artillery officers, they may depend upon an honourable reception and comfortable establishment.

The Sieur De la Plain, one of your countrymen, now engaged in the cause of the United States of America, will have the honour of delivering this letter to your Excellency. I have no doubt of his being received with that politeness and kindness to be expected from a gentleman of your rank and character.

I am, with the highest respect, your Excellency' s most obedient servant,

To His Excellency the Governour of Cape François.