<br /> Lee Letter: n387

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: John Page

My dear Sir.1

I shall endeavour to answer your several queries concerning Gen. De Borre,
but in the first place permit me to lay down a certain general
principle by which I am actuated.2

To counteract by all prudent and possible means a certain rage against
foreigners that has unhappily possessed the American mind, and which I
fear will injure our cause extremely in Europe.

Gen. De Borre is certainly an officer of rank and old service in France,
and I believe of more military knowledge than many Continentals
Generals that I could mention. It is not true that any real misconduct
at Brandywine occasioned the proceedings against him that happened in
Congress. The matter stands thus. The Maryland troops behaved ill that
day, and their advocate, Mr. Chace, with some other noisy members,
attributed the cause to the insufficiency of Generals Sullivan and De
Borre. Many aspersions was thrown on the characters of both these
officers, and they were both ordered before a Court of Inquiry. The
former passed through his trial, and has been acquitted with much
honor. The latter being old, passionate and fractious, was so disturbed
that he, without knowing the consequences, hastily resigned. His
enemies were satisfied, since all that they wanted was to remove him
from the army. It is true that he afterwards desired the rank of Major
General, but this is rather a fashion of his country than vice in the
man. Eager after military honors, nothing stops their pursuit. I am of
opinion that there is no person who can now produce any fact against
the reputation of this gentleman. And therefore I might well say that
he was rather unfortunate. Wishing him to return to his own country as
little hurt with our treatment as possible, and knowing that he was to
pass thro Williamsburg, I gave him the letter which has fortunately
produced your civil notice of him. You do not mention Monsieur Balford
[Valfort], to whom I gave a letter also, as he thought of visiting you
on his way to Charles Town. This gentleman is of singular worth, and
far above the action of our little paltry American Wits, who think it
so clever to insult foreigners with their silly attempts at ridicule.
It is certainly wise, dear sir, to be guarded against impositions from
foreign Adventurers, but it is equally unwise to cast into one
undistinguished group all of other countries, without distinguishing
the good from the bad. This is a remnant of English unsociability and
self sufficiency, which it becomes us now to get rid of as quickly as
possible. In a former letter you desire to know my reasons for
contending against Maj. Butler that Ticonderoga was an important post,
and you concluded it was for the sake of
argument.3 I am not fond of such practice,
and consider it the product of vanity or idle amusement. The truth is
that Ticonderoga in its modern sense, being the place where the French
fortified on the West side of Lake Champlain, is not a place of
consequence, altho Mount Independence, opposite it on the East side, is
a very important Post. It was seen that the former might fall, as it
was not a very good situation, and required a great number of men to
hold it, while Independence was very tenable by a much inferior force,
and really of more consequence. It was judged proper to guard the
public mind against false conclusions in case of advancements, and
therefore it was that I more than once in public contended for the same
thing that I then did with Maj. Butler. Ticonderoga in the Indian
language signifies the congregation of many waters, and comprehends the
whole district, but the modern meaning of the word is the old French
fort. I will not trouble you here with a minute recital of the foreign
intelligence we have received. Suffice it to say that a war between
France and G.B. seems inevitable immediate. Its certain that all
homeward bound French West Indiamen are stopt Embargo to prevent their
falling into the enemies hands. The French General has been ordered to
put his hands into immediate state of defence, and is assured that 5000
additional troops shall directly be sent over.

Portugal has acceded to the family compact. Prussia has opened his ports to
the Americans. M[adras] it is reported has been taken from the English
by the natives. No foreigners would meddle with the last Parliament
loan, altho the inducements were greater than usual. These are all
favorable circumstances, yet we stand on precarious ground without
immediate and extensive taxation, great economy, and wise attention to
our military defences. How does it happen, my dear Sir, that the Barges
of the men of war take our vessels at the mouths of our rivers, when we
incur so great an expense in Gallies? These vessels, instead of being
constantly at the mouths of the respective rivers, and the best of them
in the Bay, looking the men of war in the face, are generally far
distant in some snug creek or harbor, living at ease and diverting
themselves on shore. This will not do. Our marines must be better
managed, I am glad to hear we have got an able Engineer, and hope no
time will be lost in strengthening and securing our harbors and rivers.
Accessible as we are by water, this is of great consequence. Mons.
Loyeaute declines the command of the Academy. He says that military
honors and a desire to help secure the liberties of America by
immediate action, not the desire of money, brot him to America. If he
can’t be in the War, he will return to his own country. His father is a
General of estimation in the Artillery of France, and has taken pains
with the education of his son, who is sensible, well bred, and an able
officer in the Artillery branch; but we have lost him, and I hope the
person prefered to him in the command of our Regiment will be able to
serve the public. I am sure we want such knowledge extremely, and
unless skillful men are appointed to the principal commands in that
Regiment, how shall the great expense it will create be compensated by
real utility?

Bad water, bad air, and bad every thing else, joined to excessive business,
have injured my health and compels me to go home for the winter season.
When I am at Chantilly I shall be glad to hear from you when you are
most at leisure, or when any important news shall reach you.

I am, dear Sir, most affectionately yours,

Richard Henry Lee

Notes:

MS not found; reprinted from Magazine of American History 2 (October 1878).
614 – 16.

1 Although the recipient of this letter was not identified, Lee was writing
in response to questions raised in Page’s 11 September and November
14 letters to Lee, which are in the Lee Family Papers, University of Virginia Archives.

2 In his 14 November letter Page had asked Lee to give him information about
General de Borre’s character and his conduct at Brandywine. See also
John Hancock to Washington, 13 September 1777, note 1.

3 In his 11 September letter Page had asked Lee to explain the statement that
Ticonderoga was “a Place of little consequence,” which Lee had made
during a “Conversation with Majr. Butler of Chas. Town in the coffee
House Porch at Williamsburg.”