Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: George Washington

Dear General

The subject of your letter of the 17th is a very important one, and whilst it deserves the greatest attention, is certainly involved in great difficulty.1 Of one truth however, I beg you Sir to be convinced. That no desire to get rid of importunity has occasioned these appointments, but motives military and political meerly. These Adventurers may be divided into three Classes, some who came early and without any recommendation but apparent zeal, with Commissions shewing that they had been in service - Others that brought with them recommendations from our good friend the Count D’Argout General of Martinique, and from Mr Bingham the Continental Agent in that Island - A third Class includes those who come from France, generally under agreement with our Commissioners, or one of them at least. The strongest obligations rest upon us (tho’ the inconvenience is great) to make good engagements with the latter, and if the second had been disregarded we might have offended a good & powerful Friend in Martinique who has done many good offices there, or have brought our Agent into disrepute. Among the first Class, I realy believe there are many worthless Men, and I Heartily wish we were rid of them. All this is true, and yet I feel the great force of your reasoning, and the many difficulties in the way of providing for them properly and that may be tolerably agreeable to them. It is of some consequence that we all, <in> our several departments, endeavor to smooth this rugged business as much as possible. When Gen. Conway was appointed, I did hope that as he knew most of them, and spoke both French & English well, that he might relieve you from the greater part of this difficulty, for realy, the discontented importunity of the greater part of these Gentlen is too much <to> be borne under our various & important attentions. I will prevail with the Committee for foreign applications to furnish you with the most explicit views of Congress in every appointment, as well as with the recommendations under which each appointment was and is made. We have written both to France & to Martinique to stop the further flow of these Gentlemen here, and after the letters arrive I suppose we shall have no more. Many of the last Comers are, I believe, Men of real merit, and if they will learn to express themselves tolerably in English, may be of service to the Army. The desire to obtain Engineers and Artillerists was the principal cause of our being so overburthened. The first that came had sagacity enough quickly to discern our wants, and professing competency in these branches They were too quickly believed. And when our Commissioners abroad (in consequence of directions for this purpose) enquired for those Artists, Military Speculation was immediately up, and recommendations were obtained from persons of so much consideration in France, that the success of our applications then made it quite necessary not to neglect them. And at this moment I am apprehensive that the discontent of many may injure our cause abroad where we would wish it to stand well. As you express it Sir, this affair requires great delicacy in its management, as well in the account of our own Officers as on that of these Foreigners.2

Notes:

Lee PapersAmerican Philosophical Society

Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 1, 1762 - 1778, pp. 293 - 95.

1 For Washington’s 17 May letter to Lee, in which he questioned the propriety of Congress’ appointing numerous foreigners to military positions of high rank, as well as his June 1 reply to this letter, see Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 8:74 - 76, 159 - 61.

2 Washington was the most likely recipient of a brief note Lee wrote on 26 May introducing a Mr. Demmere of Georgia, "who comes to the Army with a strong desire of becoming a part of it." Fogg Collection, MeHi; and Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, 1:303.