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General Washington to Joseph Reed



Cambridge, January 31, 1776.

DEAR SIR: In my last, by Mr˙ John Adams, I communicated my distresses to you on account of my want of your assistance. I have since been under some concern at having done it, lest it should precipitate your return before you are ready for it, or bring on a final resignation, which I am unwilling to think of, if your return can be made convenient and agreeable. True it is, that from a variety of causes, my business has been, and now is, multiplied and perplexed, whilst the means of execution are greatly contracted. This may be a cause for my wishing you here, but no inducement to your coming, if you hesitated before.

I have now to thank you for your favours, and for the several articles of intelligence which they convey. The account given of your navy, at the same time that it is exceedingly unfavourable to our wishes, is a little provoking to me, inasmuch as it has deprived us of necessary articles, which otherwise would have been sent hither, but which a kind of fatality, I fear, will forever deprive us of. In the instance of New-York, we are not to receive a particle of what you expected would be sent from thence; the time and season passing away, as I believe the troops in Boston also will, before the season for taking the field arrives. I dare say they are preparing for it now, as we have undoubted intelligence of Clinton' s leaving Boston with a number of troops, believed to be designed for Long-Island or New-York, in consequence of assurances from Governour Tryon of powerful aid from the Tories there.

I hope my countrymen of Virginia will rise superior to any losses the whole navy of Great Britain can bring on them, and that the destruction of Norfolk, and the attempted devastation of other places, will have no other effect than to unite the whole country in one indissoluble bond. A few more of such flaming arguments as were exhibited at Falmouth and Norfolk, added to the sound doctrine and unanswerable reasoning contained in the pamphlet


"Common Sense," will not leave numbers at a loss to decide upon the propriety of a separation.

By a letter of the 21st instant, from General Wooster, I find, that Arnold was continuing the blockade of Quebeck on the 19th, which, under the heaviness of our loss there, is a most favourable circumstance, and exhibits a fresh proof of Arnold' s ability and perseverance in the midst of difficulties. The reinforcement ordered to him will, I hope, complete the entire conquest of Canada this Winter; and except for the loss of the gallant chief and his brave followers, I should think the rebuff rather favourable than otherwise; for had the country been subdued by such a handful of men, it is more than probable that it would have been left to the defence of a few, and rescued from us in the Spring. Our eyes will now be open, not only to the importance of holding it, but to the numbers which are requisite to that end.

In my last I think I informed you of my sending General Lee to New-York, with the intention of securing the Tories on Long-Island, and preventing, if possible, the King' s troops from making a lodgment there; but I fear the Congress will be duped by the representations from, that Government, or yield to them in such a manner as to become marplots to the expedition. The city seems to be entirely under the government of Tryon and the Captain of the man-of-war.

Mrs˙ Washington desires me to thank you for the picture sent her. Mr˙ Campbell, whom I never saw to my knowledge, has made a very formidable figure of the Commander-in-chief, giving him a sufficient portion of terror on his countenance. Mrs˙ Washington also desires her compliments to Mrs˙ Reed, as I do, and with the sincerest regard and affection, I remain, dear sir, your most obedient servant,


P˙ S˙ I had written the letter, herewith enclosed, before your favour of the 21st came to hand. The account given of the behaviour of the men under General Montgomery is exactly consonant to the opinion I have formed of these people, and such as they will exhibit abundant proofs of, in similar cases, whenever called upon. Place them behind a parapet, a breastwork, stone wall, or any thing that will afford them shelter, and from their knowledge of a fire-lock, they will give a good account of the enemy; but I am as well convinced, as if I had seen it, that they will not march boldly up to a work, nor stand exposed in a plain; and yet, if we are furnished with the means, and the weather will afford us a passage, and we can get in men, for these three things are necessary, something must be attempted. The men must be brought to face danger; they cannot always have an intrenchment or a stone wall as a safeguard or shield; and it is of essential importance that the troops in Boston should be destroyed, if possible, before they can be reinforced or removed. This is clearly my opinion. Whether circumstances will admit of the trial, and, if tried, what will be the result, the allwise Disposer of events alone can tell.