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Letter from Joseph Reed to General Washington



Philadelphia, March 15, 1776.

MY DEAR GENERAL: This morning your express arrived, with an account of the interesting events which have taken place since this month began. I beg leave to congratulate you on appearances so favourable to the interests of our country, and your own character; not that, in my opinion, it was the least clouded by your inactivity, as the causes


were well known; but it is certain that enterprise and success give a brilliance and lustre, which cannot be unacceptable to a good mind. We shall be very anxious for further accounts, as these have left you at a critical period of suspense, when we are led to expect some very important change may soon happen.

I shall be careful of your confidential account of your Council of War. I wish the event may prove me mistaken, but I am strongly possessed with an idea that some members of your Council never will concur in' any measure which leads to danger; and I think you will make less and less use of them in that way every day you are with them.

Thomas, I presume you know, is made a Major-General, and ordered to Canada, where old Wooster was throwing everything into confusion, and a superior officer was necessary to keep the peace. I do not much like their thus taking away the men on whom you may most trust; but your camp is considered as a school, and I fear the service will require all their separated attention and ability. I wrote you before, that General Lee was ordered to Virginia, Armstrong to South- Carolina, and Thompson to New- York.

We have everything to fear from the southward: a cursed spirit of disaffection has appeared in the back parts of North and South- Carolina, which, if riot subdued before the forces arrive from England, will prove a most formidable piece of business, especially when connected with the hosts of Negroes in the lower part of the country. Instead of painting their strength and power of resistance in ostentatious terms, as is the fashion of some folks, the gentlemen of that country acknowledge their weakness, and dread the consequences. I am really concerned for old Armstrong; I think the climate will destroy him.

You have had much reason to think the Congress neglect your camp in the article of ammunition; but I hope by the time this reaches you, ten tons of our last importation will be in your camp. The vessel brought but three hundred stand of arms, but they are the best yet imported.

If Howe should leave Boston, we expect he will make for New- York; and, at all events, we look upon that as one of the scenes of the summer business: in the former case, I find it supposed you will move southward. By General Lee' s account, no dependance is to be put on their professions, and the late delegation from Congress came back with a very slender opinion of their conduct, which is timid and trimming to the greatest degree. I am glad you have informed me how the matter stood with the Connecticut men. I had no doubt but the step you took was founded upon necessity, which would justify the directing troops to be raised; but I found it gave an alarm to some folks, and I believe I hinted it in a former letter; but your state must, and, I doubt not, has given perfect satisfaction. I have thought it a duty I owe you to mention anything of this kind occurring, as your distance might otherwise prevent a suitable explanation.

Most of your camp equipage will be completed this week, or the beginning of next. I shall obey your commands with respect to the wagon and horses. There will be no difficulty about the money, should the Treasurer here have any scruples, as I shall advance it, and we can settle that when we meet. I had ordered the tables, and several other things which appeared to me to be necessary, though not in your order. I hope, when you see them, they will prove agreeable. I have consulted economy as much as I thought consistent with your rank and station. Most of our workmen are such strangers to these things that they are very slow and tedious. Two of the tents are finished, and the other just completed. I am never happier than when I am on your business, so that you may depend upon it that I shall spare no pains to have them done in the best manner, and forwarded with the greatest expedition.

The destruction of the mortars, is very extraordinary; there certainly must be some want of skill in the management of them.

I suppose old Putt was to command the detachment intended for Boston, on the 5th instant, as I do not know any officer but himself who could have been depended on for so hazardous a service. Should Howe decamp, I cannot say I should much regret that day' s passing over so quietly, as, if the troops had behaved well, there would have been a great loss; and, if ill, would have ruined your whole plan.

We have some accounts from Virginia, that Colonel Henry has resigned in disgust at not being made a General


Officer; but it rather gives satisfaction than otherwise, as his abilities seem better calculated for the Senate than the field. We have no very late accounts from thence. A man-of-war and some tenders lately went up to Baltimore, and gave them an alarm, which drove all their women, children, and valuable effects, out of town; but we have heard nothing since.

Poor Frye! Heaven and earth was moved to get him in — the was everything that was great and wonderful; now, I suppose we shall hear no more of him.

Not a syllable yet from our fleet — it is four weeks to-morrow since they left our Capes. Should they fall in with the twelve men-of-war conveying the transports to Virginia, it is all over with them; and we think there is very great danger of it. My next must certainly give some intelligence.

Now for our own news. The packet arrived last week at New- York, and in her came passenger Mr˙ Robert Temple, (owner of the late beautiful farm below our lines.) He came to town last night. The report is, that, in papers under his buttons, he has brought a letter from Arthur Lee, advising that the Commissioners were coming out instructed to settle the dispute; to get from us as much as they can; but, if peace cannot be had on their terms, to make it on ours. I mention it to you as a report; for to me it seems so inconsistent with all that we have seen and heard, that I do not believe a word of it. I shall get more certain intelligence soon of his business; and it shall make a part of my next letter. We every moment expect to hear of these gentry' s arrival; they are, if possible, to treat with the Assemblies, but if that cannot be obtained, then with Congress. A little time will show what we are to expect from this new project. For my part, I can see nothing to be hoped from it, but it has laid fast hold of some here, and made its impression on the Congress. It is said the Virginians are so alarmed with the idea of independence, that they have sent Mr˙ Braxton on purpose to turn the vote of that Colony, if any question on that subject should come before Congress. To tell you the truth, my dear sir, I am infinitely more afraid of these Commissioners than their Generals and Armies. If their propositions are plausible, and behaviour artful, I am apprehensive they will divide us: there is so much suspicion in Congress, and so much party on this subject, that very little more fuel is required to kindle the flame. It is high time for the Colonies to begin a gradual change of Delegates; private pique, prejudice, and suspicion, will make its way into the breasts of even good men, sitting long in such a council as ours; and whenever that is the case, their deliberations will be disturbed, and the publick interest of course suffer.

We have made a very great change in the councils of this Province, and I hope a favourable one for the common cause, having introduced seventeen new members at once into the House of Assembly. The increase of representation is in those parts of the Province where the spirit of liberty most prevails, and, of consequence, our measures will partake of it.

We have had a vessel load of linens, on account of Congress, arrived within these few days past; but I do not hear a word of tents. What our Army is expected to do without them, I cannot conceive.

Lord Stirling has stopped some of our troops bound to Canada, as it is not possible to keep the Connecticut people beyond their own time. General Lee, with great difficulty, induced some of them to prolong their stay two weeks, which I believe was more than could be done with you.

Mr˙ Deane, of Connecticut, is gone to Europe; his errand may be guessed, though little is said about it. The French vessels begin to find their way to our ports, two or three having come in this spring; but their cargoes are chiefly West-India goods; a little, very little powder, merely as a cover.

Since writing the above, I have conversed with some gentlemen who have seen Mr˙ Temple. I find he only brings two letters, written by Doctor Lee to himself, and that his information of the powers of the Commissioners is not built on any certain authority, but rather his own conjectures. He says the Ministry are resolved on peace if to be had: they are willing to treat with Congress, but the King would not hear of it. The difficulty of recruiting is very great in England, Scotland, and Ireland — scarce a man more to be had on any terms. I send you a morning paper, containing the current news. My respectful compliments, with Mrs˙ Reed' s, to Mrs˙ Washington; and am, dear sir, most sincerely and affectionately, yours.