<br /> Lee Letter: b182

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: John Dunlap

Mr. Dunlap, –

I have said that the news of Burgoyne’s surrender arrived in Paris December 4th, 1777, when Doctor Lee had no Secretary; and that February 21st, misprinted by you 11th, cannot be termed “about that time,” so as to answer the malignant purposes of the published insinuation. But Mr. Deane himself had an acting Secretary, living under the same roof express with the Commissioners at Passy, who went off express for London the very day the news arrived. An appeal for the truth of this is made to Mr. Austin, who carried the dispatches to France, and to other Americans who were in Paris or in London at that juncture. Whatever of infamy was in that transaction was charged upon Mr. Lee in common with his colleagues, as may be seen by Thornton’s unlucky letter long concealed from Mr. Lee. “Lord North told Mr. Hartley last Saturday, the 3d of January, 1778, that he knew of several persons who had come to London from Messrs. Franklin, Deane, and Lee; and that Doctor Bancroft had been sent by those gentlemen on stock-jobbing business.” Worse may be seen by the following certificate, dated Paris, the 11th of April 1778: “I do hereby certify, that I was shown a letter in London, dated the 27th of January last, which I was told was written by Doctor Bancroft to Mr. Wharton, informing him, that he might depend upon it, he had it from the very best authority that the treaty with the Court of France was to be signed the 5th or 6th of February, and desiring him to make his speculations accordingly; in the above words, or words to that effect. I do also certify, that I have seen Doctor Bancroft’s hand writing on other occasions, and that I believe the above-mentioned letter to have been written by him.”


Witness, Geo. Digges

This certificate is from a gentleman of unimpeached character, some time Lieutenant on board the Boston frigate, which he quitted with a recommendation to Congress from the Commissioners. He now commands the Governor Livingston, and is hourly expected in America. Here is the secret betrayed not after, but before, the treaty was signed. I deal in facts. They are other people who throw out insinuations about Secretary Bancroft’s best authority, and the corroborating circumstance of Samuel Wharton’s draft of Feb. 17, 1778, for 19,520 l. 14 s. on Mr. Silas Deane.

I will finish this business quite, now it is on hand. Thornton was unlucky in telling Mr. Deane and Doctor about Doctor Bancroft’s and Mr. Deane’s speculations in the stocks. There were soon whispers that Thornton had been concerned. Mr. Lee taxed him with it, but was satisfied, by the sight of a letter from Mr. Wharton, that tho’ strongly solicited, Thornton would not hold a correspondence with him. The whispers grew stronger during his absence. Droll arts were used, but in vain, to deprive him, while innocent, of Mr. Lee’s confidence. At length the right mode was pursued. The man was inveigled into delinquency; and being called to render an account, he absconded. These things appear by letters from Mr. Lee, and other papers. He writes to Thornton, May 17th, 1778. “I received yours of the 7th and the newspapers. I mentioned to you the charges against you here of stock-jobbing. You must avoid giving any foundation for them. You know the quarter from which the accusation comes. It would be doubly improper for any one employed by me to be doing that which in itself is wrong, and which I am censuring in others.” He writes to a friend in London, July 25th, 1778. “As Mr. T’s conduct has appeared to you suspicious, I shall be obliged to you for any information that may be relied upon relative to his proceedings, which are the more to be watched as he has staid a long time contrary to my orders, alledging sickness.” It is needless to give other extracts. What satisfied Mr. Lee was Mr. Austin’s testimony that he had seen a note of Mr. Wharton to Mr. Thornton for 500 l. payable on condition that war should be declared before a certain day.

I promised to show the honorable nature of the only two letters written to Lord Shelburne by Doctor Lee after he became our Commissioner.

My Lord, – A very few hours after my last letter to your Lordship, brought me the desire of my country to serve here in a public character. Your Lordship, I hope, thinks too well of me to suppose I could hesitate a moment. In fact, almost the same moment saw me bid adieu, perhaps forever, to a country where, from choice, I had fixed my fortunes, and to a people whom I most respected and could have loved. But the first object of my life is my country; the first wish of my heart is public liberty. I must see, therefore, the liberties of my country established, or perish in her last struggle.

In truth, I have long despaired even of a struggle for liberty in England. I will not insult Scotland with the idea. It is not the subtle Wedderburn poisoning the fountain of public security; nor the ruthless Thurlowe, deliberately butchering the liberties of his country, that makes me despair; but – and yet, perhaps, the people are only not virtuous, and America may yet, with a sort of filial piety, reanimate her expiring Constitution.

Our pater patriot, with whom and Mr. Deane, I am  joined in power, is in good health and spirits. If Fate will have it that America, as she has reared her temples and her altars to Liberty, must furnish her victims too, I know not where she can find a sacrifice more respectable.

Should the event of this measure be found fatal to England, it is the perfidy of her Ministers, which would never offer anything that could be trusted, which compels it, and to which the consequences are justly imputable.

I beg your Lordship to remember me as one who can never cease to have the most perfect esteem for you. I have communicated to the Abbè Raynal all the facts I could collect, in answer to his questions. He will write to you soon.

May I beg to be remembered to our friends in the College, and to those out of it, who, I hope, will always do me the honor of remembering me – Col. Barré, Mr Dunning, Doctor Priestly, Doctor Price, &c. I have the honor to be, &c.

My Lord, – I have the honor of enclosing you the copy of a letter, transmitted at the same time, to the first Lord of the Treasury. The honor of the nation and the rights of humanity are too much interested in the object of it, not to receive your Lordship’s advocation. The enclosed papers contain the principal transactions between the northern armies. The burning defenceless towns and everything before him, as General Clinton has done, will probably draw upon him and his the vengeance which such enormities deserve, in spite of all the endeavors of Congress to prevent any hasty retaliation. The South-Carolina Gazettes mention the arrival of an American Captain who had been taken by Captain Jarvis, and who mentions with the highest raise the generous and humane treatment he received from that officer. We have had from other prisoners accounts equally to his honor, which I am sure will give your Lordship pleasure. Capt. Jarvis may be assured that such conduct will command from us the praise and esteem which is always due to a generous enemy.

The necessity which has made us enemies for a time, and separated us forever from the same government, has not altered the esteem felt for the good and wise in England. Among these I hope your Lordship and your friends will accept an assurance of my respect and friendship. I condole most sincerely with the family at Coombwood for the misfortune at New-York.

I have the honor to be, &c.,

A. Lee.

I must not now send you counter proofs to the insinuation that Doctor Lee was “dragged” into the Treaty, because I shall, perhaps, fancy to give extracts from all those of his public and private letters written about that period which have come to my view. I cannot close, however, without noticing the insidious use of the singular number. There were two treaties. Did he not joy and rejoice at the treaty of Alliance? He objected to one single article in the treaty of commerce, which the equanimity of France readily abolished upon a suggested wish of Congress.


Deane PapersNew York Historical Society

Printed in the 17 August 1779 issue of the Pennsylvania Packet. Printed also in New York Historical Society Collections, The Deane Papers, 4:63 Printed also in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 125 – 29.