<br /> Lee Letter: n285

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Charles Lee

My Dear Friend,

Since I wrote you last nothing of consequence hath happened, unless it be,
that the Roebuck & Liverpoole coming up the river Delaware, were
met a few miles above New Castle by the 13 Gondolas of this city, and
after a cannonade of 3 hours each day for two successive days, the
ships returned down the river, and the Gallies to their former Station –
The latter unhurt, and the former repulsed after being pretty well
pepper’d with shot from 18 to 32 pounders.1
My friendship for you is so strong, and the sense I have of the
obligations America is under to you so high, that I shall ever pray the
liberty of being full and free on every subject that materially
concerns you. I find a spirit prevailing here, which leads its
possessors to regard with a jealous eye, every instance of deviation
(in a military or naval Commander) from the line of instructions, and
every undertaking productive of expense which is not warranted by
express order of Congress. Thus animated, I find some Gentlemen
expressing dissatisfaction at your having promised forage and rations
to such Cavalry as might be assembled in Virginia, & likewise
because of the boats you had ordered to be built for the security of
the Rivers.2 You know my friend that the
spirit of liberty is a jealous spirit, and that Senators are not always
wise and candid,3 but that frequently they
are governed by envy, enmity, and a great variety of bad passions – Upon
these considerations, may it not be prudent when it can be done,
without danger, to the common cause previously to obtain the Consent of
Congress, where much deviation from the usual routine of business is
requisite, and especially where expence is created thereby. Such is the
opinion entertained of you, that when you press a thing as necessary,
if it is in the power of Congress, I am inclined to think a majority of
that Body will readily adopt the measure. What I hear and see has
induced me to say thus much – I am satisfied that verbum sapienti sat
est – some still continue to gape for Commissioners, altho’ there is no
more reason to expect any than to look for virtue from a Tory, or
wisdom from a fool. I fancy the Hessian, Hanoverian, & Highland
Commissioners, will shortly give us a different kind of treaty from the
one that has been expected. We have no very late authentic accounts
from Canada, but those we have, do not remove all hope of Quebec being
ours before assistance can reach it.

The Proprietary Colonies do certainly obstruct and perplex the American
Machine – Those who wish delay, and want nothing done, say, let the
people in the Colonies begin, we must not go before them – Tho’ they
well know the language in the Country to be, Let the Congress advise.
In fact, the other Colonies must do what is right, and on giving proper
and positive orders to their Servants in Congress, the Proprietary men
will be obliged to pursue the right road. Before this reaches you I
suppose the powder and medicines will be arrived, and the Blankets and
shoes will quickly follow.4 We have had 23
Tons of powder, and a good deal of Saltpetre arrived within these 10
days. Since writing the above, a french Gentleman, who appears sensible
and clever, has been with us.5 His letter is
enclosed. He has been bred to Cavalry, and wishes to serve in Virginia.
As a Committee of Congress has already reported against having
Continental Cavalry in North Carolina, I suppose the same opinion will
prevail respecting Virginia.6 But the
measure is so wise and necessary for the defence of our Colony, that I
wish and hope a few squadrons will be formed on Colonial expence, in
which case, this Gentleman wd answer well as an Instructor &

Farewell my dear friend,
Richard Henry Lee.


Lee PapersVirginia Historical Society

Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 1, 1762 – 1778, pp. 189 – 90. Printed also NtHS Collections 5 (1872): 24 – 26. Addressed “Commander of the Continental Armies in the Southern Department.”

1 See Marine Committee to John Barry, May 8 1776, note 1.

2 General Lee’s April 19 letter to Congress and his proposal for recruiting
volunteer cavalry are in NEHS Collections 4 (1871): 432 – 36. For the
official response of Congress to his requests, see the resolutions of
May 18, JCC, 4:363 – 65. A fragment of General Lee’s response to
Richard Henry and his July I comments to Washington on the urgency of
raising cavalry are in NTHS Collections 5 (1872): 99 – 100, 102 – 3. A
Continental cavalry regiment was not authorized until December 1776.
JCC, 6:1025, 1045.

3 An incomplete draft of this letter is in the Lee-Ludwell Papers, VHi, and
was printed in Richard Henry Lee, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee,
ed. James C. Ballagh 2 vols. (New York: Macmillan Co., 1911 – 14),
1:189 – 90. At this point Lee apparently changed his mind about how to
continue and therefore omitted most of the following passage from the
letter he sent to General Lee. “Upon this consideration, will it not
be prudent to put it out of the power of any person to complain with
justice, by a timely representation of such things as are necessary,
and unless in great and most urgent cases, not to let the adoption
precede the Congressional order of any measure I am very sufficiently
conscious of the thousand occasions in which the service must suffer
immensely if Commanders at a distance are not to accommodate conduct
to circumstances – But I know also that all men are not candid, not
wise; and that some are governed frequently by envy, by enmity, and
by evil designs. I would therefore carefully avoid furnishing such
men with the opportunity of cavil, by obtaining the proper sanction
for all such things as were extraneous to the immediate line of duty,
unless, as I have before mentioned, in cases where the Distance, time
and public good would not admit of delay.”

4 See JCC, 4:296 – 97, 324.

5 Probably Caunier de la Berthaudure. See JCC, 4:348.

6 See Joseph Hewes to Samuel Johnston, May 16, 1776.