Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

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the Schuj lkill river, about half way be
tween Philadelphia and Valley Forge.
Here his troops were encamped on com
manding ground, with the artillery in
front, the Schuylkill and rocky precipices
on the right flank, and wooden and some
strongly-built stone houses on the left.
In advance of the left wing was posted
Captain M Lane with his company, and
about fifty Indians. On the roads lead
ing to Philadelphia, videttes and pickets
were stationed ; and six hundred Penn
sylvania militia were ordered to watch
those which led to Whitemarsh. At a
short distance from the left of the en
campment was a church, where two roads
joined, both of which led to Valley Forge,
one by Matson s ford and the other by
Swedes ford, leading across the Schuyl



May 20.

Early on the second morning


after encamping, while Lafay
ette was conversing with a young girl,
who was about setting out for Philadel
phia, to collect information, under the pre
text of visiting her relatives, intelligence
was brought to him that some cavalry,
dressed in red, had been seen at White-
marsh. The marquis was expecting some
American dragoons; and at first he in
ferred that, as they were to come in that
direction, those reported to have been
seen were his own men. To make sure,
however, he sent out an officer to recon
noitre, who soon returned with the alarm
ing intelligence that one column of the
enemy was in full march from White-
marsh to Swedes ford, and that their
front had already gained the road which
led from Barren hill to Valley Forge ;
while another column was approaching
by the Philadelphia road. The Pennsyl
vania militia, whose duty it was to watch
at Whitemarsh, had shifted their position
without orders, and thus exposed Lafay
ette to a surprise.

The young marquis now found himself
in a critical position ; but, without losing
for a moment his presence of mind, he
calmly yet rapidly set about extricating
himself. He first changed the front of
his troops, and, having so disposed them
as to bring them under the cover of the
woods and stone-houses, in case of a sud
den attack from the approaching enemy,
he then strove to seek out a way of re
treat. The direct road to Valley Forge,
by Swedes ford, was in possession of a
large force of the British. The only route
left was the somewhat circuitous one by

Matson s ford. This was his only chance
of escape, and this he availed himself of.
He first sent off the advanced guard, un
der the command of General Poor, and
followed himself with the rear.

To conceal his intention, however, from
the enemy, who, as the road to Matson s
ford was hidden by an intervening hill
covered with trees, could not see the re
treating Americans, Lafayette now and
then despatched small parties through the
woods to make a demonstration, as if they
were heads of columns inarching to an
attack. The enemy were completely de
ceived. General Grant, w 7 ho commanded
the detachment of British advancing in
that direction, halted and prepared for
action. This gave the young marquis an
opportunity of accomplishing his purpose;
and he succeeded in throwing his main
body across the Schuylkill at Matson s
ford, without the least interruption, and
posting it on some stony ground on the
opposite bank. The artillery naturally
lagged behind, and, before it could pass
the river, some skirmishing occurred with
the enemy, who came up, undeceived, at
the last moment. The Americans lost
nine killed and taken prisoners, and the
British two or three in all.

General Grant, finding himself outma
noeuvred, pushed on toward Swedes ford,
where he joined the other British detach
ment, which Sir Henry Clinton himself
commanded. They reached the river,
and took a survey of the marquis and his
troops on the other side; but, finding
them too securely posted to be dislodged,
they turned and marched back to Phila




When Washington heard the firing, he
was in great anxiety for the safety of the

o / J

marquis. He and his officers ascended
some rising ground beyond the camp at
Valley Forge, and with their field-glasses
watched the movements of the troops
with the deepest solicitude, which was not
relieved until Lafayette arrived in camp,
bringing the report and proof of his clev
erly-managed escape from the enemy.

The British were more successful in a
raid which they made upon the water.
A party ascended the Delaware in flat-
bottomed boats, and set fire to the small

American vessels which had sought ref-


uge in the shallow part of the river above.
and destroyed the storehouses at Borden-
town, on the New- Jersey side.

There was little else accomplished, wor
thy of record, until the beginning of sum
mer. There were, however, other events
occurring in the meantime, which were
of more importance in their effect upon
the cause of American independence than
any of the inglorious feats of arms that
we have had occasion to narrate in this
chapter. To these matters let us now
turn our attention.


Good News at Valley Forge. Treaty between France and the United States. Celebration. Brilliant Appearance of tne
American Army. -Public Dinner. Huzzas! Simeon Deane. His Arrival at Yorktown. French Diplomacy.
Lord North s " Conciliatory Bills." British Commissioners. Free Circulation of the Bills. Counter-Statements.
Warm Reception of the Bills in Rhode Island. Arrival of the Commissioners. The " Dandy Carlisle." His Asso
ciates. Secretary Ferguson. Departure of Sir William Howe. Evacuation of Philadelphia. Discouragement of
the Inhabitants. The Commissioners refused a Passport. British Address to Congress. No Negotiation without
Independence. Intrigue. Attempt at Corruption. Memorable Reply of Reed. Justification of Johnstone. Appeal
to the People. Lafuyetta challenges Lord Carlisle. A Sensible Answer.


WEDNESDAY, May 7th, was a day
of such exulting joy in the camp at
Valley Forge as the most sanguine, du
ring that winter of privation and suffer
ing which had just passed, never ventured
to hope for. " Our independence is un
doubtedly secured our country must
be free !" was now the feeling which glad
dened the hearts of even the most de
sponding patriots, on learning that a trea
ty had been signed between France and
the United States. It was proper that
such an ocoasion should be marked by

every observance and ceremonial which
could fix it in the memories of all. Ac
cordingly, Washington determined to cel
ebrate the auspicious day.

With that reverence for religion which
was a strong characteristic of the com-
mander-in-chief in his public as well as
private conduct, the first part of the day
set apart for the celebration of the occa
sion was devoted to a grateful acknowl
edgment of the Divine goodness, " it hav
ing pleased the Almighty Ruler of the
universe to defend the cause of the Uni-



ted American states, and finally," in the
words of Washington s order for the day,
" to raise us up a powerful friend among
the princes of the earth, to establish our
liberty and independence upon a lasting
foundation." The brigades were all as
sembled at nine o clock in the
May 7, . .

morning ; and the intelligence

of the treaty having been communicated

j o

to them by the chaplains, prayer, thanks
giving, and a " discourse suitable to the
occasion," followed.

At half-past ten o clock, a cannon was
fired, as a signal for the men to be under
arms. The dress and accoutrements hav
ing been inspected, the battalions formed,
and, the order to load and ground arms
given, a second cannon was fired as a sig
nal to march. The whole army then pa
raded. A discharge of thirteen cannon
now took place, followed by a fcu-de-joie
of musketry running along each line. A
signal having been given, the entire ar
my burst forth, shouting, "Long live the
king of France /" A second discharge of
thirteen cannon, and a feu-de-joie of mus
ketry, followed. Then another shout
"Lone/ lice the friendly European powers I"
Again, a third discharge of artillery and
musketry, closing with a loud huzza for
< The American Slates /"

The army made a most brilliant appear
ance on parade, and entered with great
spirit into the celebration. In the after
noon, Washington dined in public, with
all the oflicers of the army, and attended
by a band of music. " I never was pres
ent," wrote one of the American oflicers,
where there was such unfeigned and
perfect joy as was discovered in every

April 13.

countenance. The entertainment was
concluded with a number of patriotic
toasts, attended with huzzas. When the
general took his leave, there was a uni
versal clap, with loud huzzas, which con
tinued till he had proceeded a quarter of
a mile, during which time there were a
thousand hats tossed in the air. His ex
cellency turned round with his retinue,
and huzzaed several times."

The treaties of commerce and alliance
between France and the United States
were signed as early as the 6th of Feb
ruary. They were brought to the Uni
ted States by Simeon Deane, the brother
of Silas Deane, one of the American com
missioners in Paris. He arrived at Fal-
mouth (now Portland), in Maine,
on board the French frigate Sen
sible, of thirty-six guns, which Louis XVI.
had expressly ordered to convey him.
Deane did not present himself to Con
gress, at Yorktown, until the 2d of May ;
and five days more passed before the im
portant intelligence which he bore was
received at the camp at Valley Forge.

The French government strove to con
ceal from England the fact of the signing
of the treaty with the United States un
til it had made some progress in carrying
out its objects. The British cabinet, how
ever, though not directly informed, had
received such intelligence as to induce
its members to believe it, and act accord
ingly. Lord North, the prime minister, in
order to counteract the French alliance,
immediately introduced his " conciliatory
bills," which were rapidly passed through
Parliament. conceded more than
was ever asked by America as a colony,



[PART u.

and would have been thought generous
in 1774. In 1778, all concessions offered
by Great Britain to the United States
were considered as gratuitous insults to
an independent nation, and were thrown
back with indignant contempt. British
ministers, however, were still hopeful ;
and, having secured the passa-ge of the
conciliatory bills, they sent copies of them
to be industriously circulated in America,
and appointed three commissioners to car
ry out their purpose.

There was some anxiety felt even in
the United States about the possible ef
fect of these measures of the English gov
ernment. Lafayette declared he feared
the arrival of the commissioners more
than that of ten thousand men. Wash
ington himself was fearful that Congress


might not be equal to the emergency.
" This more than ever," said he, " is the
time for Congress to be filled with the
first characters from every state, instead
of having a thin assembly, and many states
totally unrepresented, as is the case at

The British agents spared no exertions
in distributing copies of the conciliatory
bills ; and Tryon, the tory governor of
New York, was, as usual, among the most
prominent of them, lie sent Washing
ton a supply, impertinently asking him
to circulate them among his officers and
men. " They were suffered," wrote the
American general, in answer, " to have a
free currency among the officers and men
under my command, in whose fidelity to
the United States I have the most perfect
confidence." lie also returned Tryon a
Roland for his Oliver, in the shape of sev

eral printed copies of a resolution of Con
gress, offering pardon io all who had taken
up arms against the United States, with the
request that he would be instrumental in
communicating its contents, as far as it
might be in his power, to the persons who
were intended to be the objects of its op
erations. - The benevolent purpose it is
intended to answer," added Washington,

O 7

sarcastically, " will, I persuade myself, suf
ficiently recommend it to your candor."

The popular feeling in reference to the
" conciliatory bills" was in character with
that so emphatically expressed by the peo
ple in Rhode Island, who seized and burnt
them under the gallows. Congress, as
well as the nation, was proof against the
British bills. That body unanimously re
solved "that these United States can not
with propriety hold any conference or
treaty with any commissioners on the
part of Great Britain, unless they shall, as
a preliminary thereto, either withdraw
their fleets and armies, or else in positive
and express terms acknowledge the inde
pendence of the said states." This did
not promise very favorably for the com
ing commissioners.

In accordance with the provisions of
the "conciliatory bills," three commission
ers were duly appointed, who arrived at
Philadelphia in the early part of
the summer. They were all no
table men, though perhaps not the best
adapted for such an embassy. The earl
of Carlisle was well known as an aristo
cratic dandy or maccaroni, as he would
have been called in those days. No one
had fluttered his ruffles more gayly on
the matt in St. James s park. He was fresh

June 6.



from exchanging scandal with Walpole at
"Arthur s," and from playing hazard at
" Brooke s," where his companions may
have been statesmen, but he knew them
only in their pleasures, and not in their
business. His intimate friend was George
Selwyn, the man of fashion, of whom he
was a correspondent ; and not Charles
James Fox, the statesman and orator, who
condemned his appointment declaring
that Governor Johnstone was the only
member of the commission " who could
have the ear of the people in America."*

Johnstone, who had been governor of
Florida, was prominent in Parliament as
an advocate for the American cause, and
was believed to be a firm friend of the
colonies. He, however, like the earl of
Chatham and others, who boldly stood
forward, at the beginning of the struggle,
for political concessions to the Americans
as colonists, was strenuously opposed to
their acknowledgment as an independent
nation. The third commissioner was Wil
liam Eden, afterward Lord Auckland, the
brother of the colonial governor of Ma

The secretary of the commission was
Doctor Adam Ferguson, who was at that
time about fifty-five years of age, and,
by his "Essay on ike History of Civil Socie
ty" had obtained a high rank, among the
Humes and Smiths of his native Scotland,
as a philosophical writer. He subsequent
ly became still more famous by his pro
found and learned " History of the Progress

* " Lord Carlisle was a voting man of pleasure and fash
ion ; fond of dress and gaming, by which he had greatly hurt
his fortune; was totally unacquainted with business; and,
though not void of ambition, had but moderate parts and
less application." HORACE WALPOLK.

and the Termination of the Roman Republic."
Ferguson had a most gallant spirit in a
martial frame of body, and was as well
fitted to fight battles as to describe them.*

When the commissioners reached Phil
adelphia, the easy, indulgent Sir William
Howe had been gone a fortnight. His
departure was deeply regretted, for he
was greatly beloved by both his officers
and men ; having been, as is sarcastically
observed by an English writer, "on all
occasions extremely careful of their lives" and
attentive to their comforts. The parting
was tender and affecting. The bravest
of the band are said to have shed tears
when the general stepped into his barge.
Admiral Lord Howe would have accom
panied his brother home to England, but
he had been urged to stay by the British
ministers, who anticipated that a, French
war, which was imminent, would soon fur
nish an occasion for the active services
of him and his fleet. Although their
names were included in the commission,
the Howes resolved not to act under the
leadership of Lord Carlisle, from some
feeling of pique or jealousy toward him,
or from discontent with the conduct of
the ministers.

The commissioners were received by
the inhabitants of Philadelphia with ev
ery manifestation of joy ; and
they would have been sanguine
of the success of their embassy, had they
not found, much to their surprise and vex
ation, that orders had been sent out to
Sir Henry Clinton, unknown to them, to
evacuate the city. Everything was in
great confusion as the British army was

* Pictorial History of En<rland.

June 6.



[TAUT n.

about leaving; and thousands of Philadel
phia tories were crowding on board the
transport-ships, as they did not care to
trust their loyalty to the tender mercies
of the pat-riots. The inhabitants, loath
to leave their homes, clung to the com
missioners with earnest appeals for pro
tection. " Why were you so long in com
ing? Do not abandon us!" they cried,
and entreated that the army should be
retained and sent against Washington.
They were also liberal of promises, and
declared that twenty thousand men were
ready to arm as soon as they were sup
plied with the means and the British gen
eral should take the field. Johnstone was
inclined to believe them, and said after
ward in Parliament, "I am persuaded, if
we had been at liberty to have acted in
the field, our most sanguine expectations
would have been fulfilled." But General
Howe could have told them that the
American loyalists were more liberal in
promise than in execution. The commis
sioners, however, had no power to alter
the destination of the army, as Sir Henry
Clinton s orders to evacuate Philadelphia
were peremptory.

The first act of the commissioners was
to charge their secretary with despatches
for Congress; and Sir Henry Clinton ad
dressed a letter to Washington, asking
for Ferguson a passport to York town,
where that body was in session. English
writers have declared that this request
was harshly refused. Washington s let
ter on the occasion to Sir Henry Clinton
disproves the charge. Nothing can be
more courteous than the terms in which
it is couched :

" HEADQUARTERS, Jane 9, 1778.

"SiK: At nine o clock this evening I
had the honor to receive your excellen
cy s letter of this date. I do not conceive
myself at liberty to grant the passport
you request for Doctor Ferguson, without
being previously instructed by Congress
on the subject. I shall despatch a copy
of your letter to them, and will take the
earliest opportunity of communicating
their determination.

"I have the honor to be, sir, &c.,


Without waiting for the decision of
Congress upon the application of Sir Hen
ry Clinton for a passport for Ferguson,
the commissioners forwarded their de
spatches. Among these was an "address"
to Congress, which the president was de
sired to read immediately. He began at
once, and continued reading till he came
to a passage containing strong expres
sions of disrespect to the king of France,
when he was interrupted ; and the house,
directing him to seal up the papers, ad
journed. At a subsequent session, the
subject was resumed ; when Congress or
dered a reply to be sent to the commis
sioners, in which their previous resolution
was reiterated, not to enter into negotia
tions with Great Britain for peace with
out an explicit acknowledgment of (lie
independence of the United States, or a
withdrawal ef British ileets and armies.

The commissioners, now" giving up all
hope of formal negotiation, made a vain
effort to effect by intrigue and bribery
what they had i ailed to obtain by honest
means. Governor Johnstone wrote a let
ter to Robert Morris, the financier, in


which he said: I believe the men who
have conducted the affairs of America in
capable of being influenced by improper
motives. But in all such transactions
there is a risk, and I think that whoever
ventures should be secured at the same
time; that honor and emolument should
naturally follow the fortunes of those who
have steered the vessel in the storm and
brought her safely into port. I think
Washington arid the president [of Con
gress] have a right to every favor that
grateful nations can bestow, if they could
once more unite our interests, and spare
the miseries and devastations of war. I
wish above all things to see you, and hope
you will so contrive it."

Morris was an acquaintance which
Johnstone had formed while living in
America as governor of West Florida-
Henry Laurens, of South Carolina, who
was now president of Congress, was an
other old friend, to whom a similar epis
tle was addressed. A correspondence also
took place with General Joseph Reed, but
a still bolder attempt was made upon his
integrity, as he stilted in Congress, of
which he was a member. A " married
lady of character, having connections with
the British army," intimated to Reed that
ten thousand pounds in money, and any
office in the colonies which the king could
bestow, awaited his exertions toward the
reconciliation of the colonies with the
mother-country. Reed s memorable an
swer was: "I am not worth purchasing;
but, such as I a,m, the king of Great Brit
ain is not rich enough to do it."

It is but just to Johnstone to state that
Adam Ferguson, who w r as the soul of



honor and truth, declared that Johnstone
denied (and confirmed the assertion by
proofs and documents) that the bribe
proffered to Reed was authorized by him.
He could not, however, deny the letters
to Laurens and Morris, although his as
sociates in the commission (Lord Carlisle
and Eden) disclaimed all responsibility
for or even knowledge of them, until they
appeared in the newspapers. Congress
had declared these letters of Johnstone to
be atrocious attempts upon its integrity,
and resolved that no further correspond
ence should be held with the commission
er who had been guilty of them.

Finding all their efforts to negotiate
with the members of Congress in their
private or public capacity fruitless, the
commissioners appealed to the people,
and artfully strove to bring the prejudice
against the French, which the Americans
shared in common with their English rel
atives, to bear in opposition to the alli
ance with France. Lafayette s Gallic sen
sibility was greatly wounded by the at
tacks upon his native land, and in his
youthful ardor he challenged Lord Car
lisle ; but his lordship coolly answered
that he did not hold himself responsible
to any but his king and country for his
public conduct, and refused to accept the

* "Lord Carlisle, before lie left that quarter of the world,
had received a challenge from the marquis de Lafayette, a
young Frenchman of quality, married into the powerful
family of Noaillcs, and who, from enthusiasm for liberty,
had resorted to America seemingly without the approbation
of his court, though certainly with its connivance, as at his
return he received only a short exile ten miles from Paris,
and had been very active in the service of the Congress.
This young adventurer hud taken offence at expressions
reproachful to his country in the proclamation of the com
missiuners, and very absurdly had addressed himself to Lord




This last effort of the British commis
sioners, however, proved no less unsuc
cessful than their previous attempts ; and
being thus totally balked, they finally
left the country with a feeling of con

tempt on the part of the American peo
ple toward them, and an ill-concealed dis
gust with themselves for having engaged
in an embassy that proved to be a fool s


Evacuation of Philadelphia. Secrecy of Sir Henry Clinton. Washington in the Dark. A Divided Council. Opinion
of Washington. The Retreat of the British to be harassed. Washington crosses the Delaware. General Lee in Op
position. He gives up his Command to Lafayette, and retreats. Sir Henry Clinton changes his Line of March.- -
Lee ordered to the Advance. His March. Washington s Eagerness. Lee ordered to attack. Contradictory Orders.
Bewilderment. Plans. Lee in High Spirits. General Wayne s Charge. Altercation between Lee and Lafayette.
Washington summoned. Retreat of Lee. Meeting with Washington. Fierce Words. Nothing further to do.- -

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 81 of 126)