<br /> Lee Letter: n314

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: William Lee

As I have but now been made acquainted with this opportunity that is just
departing, you will therefore excuse my not gratifying your curiosity
so fully as it might wish, and the same reason will be an apology for
my considering this letter as written both to you & your
acquaintance in the Temple.1 Early
preparations had been made to receive the force coming against America
as you will perceive by the manner in which that force has been
received. The Troops ready in Virginia & North Carolina, with the
united alertness of those States (for so they are now called) to meet
Gen. Clinton, occasioned him to go with his whole force against Charles
Town in South Carolina, where his landing was prevented, and Sr. Peter
Parkers fleet beaten and repulsed as you will see in the inclosed
paper, which is a very authentic account. Thus defeated and
disappointed they returned to join Lord & Gen. Howe then before New
York. Lord Dunmore, after having figured most contemptibly in Virginia
for some time, was at length compelled by hunger, disease, and fear, to
retire to N. York likewise. You will see herein a printed true account
of the last attack made on him and the consequences. The small pox
having raged with pestilential fury and universality, leaving not above
one in ten of the American Army unattackt in Canada, in that state the
British troops &c. arrived in that Country. It is realy not
surprising that the former retreated to the east side of Lake
Champlain, but it is most astonishing that they effected their retreat
with little or no loss. The American strength on that Lake is at this
time so great both by land and water that they rest secure against any
attempts from Gens. Carleton and Burgoyn. When the whole Fleet and Army
were collected before New York, the British Troops had been for some
time in possession of Staten Island, they landed the greatest part of
their Army on Long Island, where they had not been long, before an
engagement happened between 3000 of the American troops and (as the
best accounts here agree) at least 18,000 of the regulars, which ended
in the loss of about 1000 Men taken, killed, & wounded of the
Americans, who made few prisoners, but who slaughtered of their enemies
many more than were killed of their own people. It being very evident
that Long Island and the City of N. York were not to be defended
against a potent land army & sea force acting in conjunction, both
these places were in their turns evacuated, and the American Army
retreated to their present post on the heights of Haerlem about 8 or 10
miles above the City and on the same Tongue of land upon which the Town
stands. This is a very strong post by nature and strongly fortified by
Art. 30,000 men are there placed to prevent the further progress of Mr.
Howe, and to this time he has been effectually prevented. A thousand
men under command of Brigr. Gen. Leslie lately attempted some of Gen.
Washingtons Outposts, and was beaten off with the loss of about 400
killed & wounded. Thus things remain this 2d of October. The
British Army have Connecticut on their right where they do not incline
to go, Gen Washington with 30,000 men on the heights of Haerlem in
their Front, and on their left the Jersies in which an army of
Observation is posted either to prevent penetration that way or to aid
Gen. Washington occasionally. The N. river is so obstructed that
Vessels cannot go above the heights of Haerlem, and these obstructions
are covered by 50 pieces of heavy Cannon placed on the heights. This
you may depend upon it is a true state of things at present, and you
will readily see how poor a compensation it promises for the expence of
12 millions this Campaign, and the loss of America forever. You may
remember that I wrote you my opinion 14 months ago, that if the
Ministry pushed the war another year this would be the consequence, and
facts seem to authenticate my judgment. The manner in which the last
petition of the Congress, was treated and the last speech to Parliament
alarmed the people here, but when the Army and Fleet destined against
America was made known, the eyes of all Men were opened, the blind saw,
the timid became determin’d, and all joined in commanding the Congress
to declare the Colonies Free & Independant States which they did,
as you will see among the inclosures. A very trifling few indeed,
amazingly few excepted, saw that it was no longer optional in America
to be connected with G.B. on Constitutional terms, but that this
Country was reduced to the Alternative of Slavery or Independency, and
they hesitated not to choose the latter. In most of the States new and
regular Governments are established. The Legislature in most consists
of two branches, the third being confined to the executive line. Since
Lord Howes arrival he has not mended matters in the way of treaty. The
Americans say the insidious nothings that he proposes is adding insult
to injury. You will see by one of the inclosures how his plan was bared
to public view by a conference he had with a Committee of Congress,
that, it would seem, had been sent on purpose to expose to the World
that nothing but Subduction was ever intended. We understand the
Hessians carry it with a high hand over the British Troops who are
obliged to truckle on every occasion! The number of Prizes taken by the
American Cruisers is wonderful. At least 6000 hhds of Sugar and a world
of other Goods are already safe in these Ports, and the American force
by Sea daily increasing. I do realy think, that if a great Statesman
with proper powers were to arise in England, he would endeavor to save
his Country by immediately acknowledging the independence of North
America and forming with these States an advantageous Treaty of
Commerce. Shortly it may be too late.

A new Stewart is placed at Green Spring in the room of Fauntleroy who is
removed. A Mr. Ellis of Hanover, extremely well recommended for
sobriety, honesty, skill & diligence is appointed. An Acquaintance
of yours would be happy if two in the North could be contrived to him,
provided every thing relative to learning is not likely to go on well.

Adieu.

[P.S.] One fourth of the City of New York has been burnt since it fell into
the hands of the B. forces.

In great haste.

Notes:

Receiver’s copy, Colonial Office 5, 40, British Public Record Office. In
the hand of Richard Heury Lee, though not signed.

1 This indirect reference to Arthur Lee and the reference in the concluding
paragraph to “Green Spring,” William Lee’s Virginia estate,
constitute the evidence for identifying William Lee as the intended
recipient of this intercepted letter.