Topic: George Washington

Mutual Esteem Between George Washington and Fisher Ames (1758–1808)

By William M. Ferraro, Senior Associate Editor
August 13, 2018

Fisher Ames, from James Grant Wilson and John Fiske, eds., Appleton’s Cyclopedia of American Biography, 7 vols. (New York, 1888–1900).

Massachusetts congressman Fisher Ames performed an important political service for President George Washington on April 28, 1796. On that date, Ames gave a speech that impelled a divided House of Representatives to enact, by a 51–48 vote on April 30, the provisions necessary to implement the contentious Jay Treaty.1 That treaty determined many aspects of the relationship between Great Britain and the United States, and upset numerous people who believed that it showed ingratitude, and even hostility, toward France and the assistance the French had given the nascent United States during the Revolutionary War.

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Washington and the Governors (Part IV)

By Benjamin Huggins, Associate Editor
August 3, 2018

“Washington’s Headquarters, Morristown,” engraving by Joseph Andrews. Courtesy of New York Public Library.

I continue my survey of Washington’s relations with the state governors, but in this post, I will focus on his relations with local civil authorities. One of the best examples of Washington’s diplomacy and the positive response of civil authorities is the army’s gathering of provisions in New Jersey during the winter of 1780. In a circular letter to the states, the general set out the nature of the crisis: “The situation of the Army with respect to supplies is beyond description alarming.” He asked for “extraordinary exertions” and requested “vigorous interposition of the State.”1

To gain immediate relief, he shifted his focus to New Jersey, where the army was camped. Declaring an emergency of a “pressing and peculiar nature,” he described the state of his army in a circular letter to the magistrates of each of the New Jersey counties: “The present situation of the Army with respect to provisions is the most distressing of any we have experienced since the beginning of the War.” Both officers and men were, he explained, “almost perishing for want”; the “uncommon vigour of the Winter” had obstructed the transportation of supplies, and the magazines near camp were exhausted. Unless an “extraordinary exertion” was made in the state, “fatal consequences” were sure to ensue.

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“His Obliging Partiality for Me”: George Washington Meets Rochambeau, September 1780

By Jeffrey L. Zvengrowski, Assistant Editor
July 27, 2018

Gen. George Washington wrote Deputy Quartermaster Gen. Nehemiah Hubbard from headquarters in Bergen County, N.J., on Sept. 13, 1780:

I have made an appointment to meet the Count de Rochambeau and The Chevalier de Ternay. . . at Har[t]ford on the 20th instant. The Marquis de la Fayette—Genl [Henry] Knox and the commanding Officer of the Corps of Engineers in our service [Lieutenant Colonel Gouvion] will accompany me. [Y]ou will be pleased to provide the best quarters which the Town affords, and make every necessary preparation of Forage and other matters.1

Washington first met Lieutenant General Rochambeau, whose French soldiers were stationed near Rear Admiral Ternay’s French fleet at Rhode Island, to plan strategy during a nadir of the American Revolution. Aspiring to take New York City from the British in 1780 before the onset of winter, Washington expected during the first two weeks of September that French reinforcements from Europe or the West Indies would soon arrive. He learned instead on September 16 that a British fleet from the West Indies had recently reached the vicinity of New York City.2 He had informed Rochambeau earlier in September about the defeat and dispersal of Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates’s Patriot army near Camden, S.C., on August 16.3  Washington then imparted the news of British reinforcements arriving at New York City to Rochambeau and Ternay at Hartford, Conn., where Washington attended a strategy conference with the French officers from September 21 to 22 at the home of Jeremiah Wadsworth, a prominent merchant and commissary for the French forces in North America.

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Remembering Washington Irving’s Life of George Washington

By William M. Ferraro, Senior Associate Editor
June 22, 2018

George Washington’s towering stature as a historical figure has attracted several multivolume biographical treatments. John Marshall’s The Life of George Washington . . ., 5 vols. (Philadelphia, 1804-7)—which enjoyed full support from Bushrod Washington, who inherited Mount Vernon and was given control of his uncle’s papers—initiated such works. Probably the best known today are two 20th-century efforts: Douglas Southall Freeman, George Washington: A Biography, 7 vols. (New York, 1948-57); and James Thomas Flexner, George Washington, 4 vols. (Boston, 1965-69). Freeman’s biography commands attention for its thorough research and graceful writing. Flexner’s study draws readers through bold assertions and colorful prose.

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A “New” Samuel Culper Letter

Jeffrey L. Zvengrowski, Assistant Editor
June 8, 2018

One of the most enjoyable aspects of documentary editing at The Washington Papers is making annotated transcriptions of relatively inscrutable manuscripts readily available, manuscripts like spy letters with incomplete decryptions. On Sept. 9, 1780, Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge (alias John Bolton) wrote Gen. George Washington from North Castle, N.Y., and forwarded two letters addressed to him that he had received from Abraham Woodhull (alias Samuel Culper), a farmer and spy on British-controlled Long Island, New York. A preliminary transcription of Tallmadge’s letter to Washington, dated September 9, can be found on Founders Online. No transcription, however, is currently available of the enclosed Woodhull letters, which are among Washington’s papers at the Library of Congress.1 Complete transcriptions of the Woodhull letters Tallmadge sent Washington on Sept. 9, 1780 will be presented in volume 28 of The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series. An initial transcription of the principal Woodhull letter with sketch annotation follows:


Samuel Culper to John Bolton

729 <Setauket>2—6173 <Sepr>–eth <1>–1780


When C. Jurs last 130 <dispatch> came to hand4 He directd me to wait on him at Dilcgq [Jerico] yesterday5 But my present state would not admit6—Therefore Sent the 174 <Express> which handed him your inclosed7—But he hath returnd without any answer—The reason is he had not the counterpt with him8—And in regard of the state of affairs in general He assured the 174 <Express> they remaned as heretofore or as when wrote you last9 nothing new every-thing appeared to be at a Stand, And the Enemy much embarssed expecting an attack10—I am sorry you have to wait so long for an answer, that Judge is of importance. But it must Still unavoidably be lenghtend untill the—enth <10th>—As C. Jur Said he could not be in 727 <New york> before the O <8th>.

Since my last the Infantry have marchd to Huntington and incamped there, Fannings Regt to Loyds Neck, Simcoes Rangers to Oyster bay11—And thers in Setauket the 17 Regt Dragins, Some Huzzars Some Rangers—About 20 Waggons 300 Horses 250 Men 220 [go] Mounted—They are encamped round about Capt. Nathan Woodhulls House12 and Parsons Lyons’13 The former is the Coll Quarters The officers mostly lodge in Camp—at night Thers every appearance of there continueing here Some time And they appear quite easy and off their guard—Am fully of an Oppinion that 500 good Men would make Prisoners of them all, if Secretly conducted on your Shore as well as here—If you intend to attack—direct 725 <Brewster>14 to cross the night before, And will meet him and further advise at all hazzards—Aiqlai Bqyim [George Howel] of Southhampton is now on your Shore, And positively an 23 <Agent> for the 178 <Enemy>,15 he hath bene a long time serviceable in that way, And this is his Second embassy,16 I know it to be true, And have lately had a perfect knowledge of his conduct for this three years past—And have bene Solicited by his friend as an assistant—A Little time Past a Boat from New Haven, Loaded with Provisions met a number of Refugees here—one of the Mens Names was Trowbridge[17] an intimate acquaintance of John Clark18—And you may depend the refugees land on your Shore and hide their boats—The other day I Saw a man that had the appearance of a Gentleman, Told me had had bene three weeks conceald in Middletown and Heartford—the former being his Native Place—but could not find out his Name—He Told me had left 20 od Thousand Pounds of Counterfeit Money—of your late emetions in the hands of the Torys—to Pay their Taxes with19—youll Doubtless take Some notice of this information—And anxiously wait for the arival of our deliverers And am Sincerly your

Saml Culper

N.B. The Enemy are now collecting all the forage they Possibly can the whole will be very little, certainly not half enough for the winter.20


DLC:GW. Tilghman penned decryptions above the line that are included in angle brackets. Additional decryptions are included in square brackets.


Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


1. For quotes from and summaries of these letters, see A Calendar of Washington Manuscripts in the Library of Congress, ed. Herbert Friedenwald (Washington, D.C., 1901), 160, and Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger, George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution (New York, 2014), 173–74.

2. Setauket is about sixty miles east of New York City on Long Island.

3. “617” deciphers as August.

Washington’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman wrote “Augt” above “617” and struck it out. He then wrote “Sepr” between “Augt” and “617.” For the code employed in Culper’s letter, see Tallmadge to GW, 25 July, 1779, and n.2 to that document, in vol. 21 of The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series.

4. Robert Townsend (alias Samuel Culper, Jr.) operated in British-controlled New York City as part of Tallmadge’s New York spy network. His dispatch has not been identified.

5. Jericho, N.Y., is on Long Island about half-way between New York City and Setauket.

6. For Woodhull’s recent ill health, see Culper to Bolton, 27 Aug., enclosed in Tallmadge to Washington, 28 Aug., DLC:GW.

7. Tallmadge presumably enclosed a letter he wrote for Townsend in a letter he wrote for Woodhull, neither of which has been identified.

8. Woodhull is referring to “counterpart,” a liquid to reveal invisible ink.

9. Tallmadge quoted part of a letter Townsend wrote him from New York City on 23 Aug. in his letter to GW dated 28 August.

10. Washington had recently sent a force to Bergen Point, N.J., to collect forage and other provisions opposite New York City (see Washington to Samuel Huntington, 24 Aug., U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Papers of the Continental Congress, item 152).

11. Huntington, Lloyd Neck, and Oyster Bay are Long Island locations between New York City and Setauket.

12. Woodhull’s uncle Nathan was a captain of Long Island Loyalist militia but also part of Tallmadge’s spy network (see Alexander Rose, Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring [New York, 2006], 173–74).

13. James Lyon was an Anglican reverend and Long Island Loyalist leader (see Matthew M. Montelione, “Patriots against Loyalists on Eastern Long Island, 1775–1776,” Journal of the American Revolution, May 21, 2018.

14. Capt. Lt. Caleb Brewster conducted espionage operations sailing between Connecticut and Long Island (see Brewster to Tallmadge, 27 Aug., enclosed in Tallmadge to GW, 28 August.

15. George Howell of Southampton in eastern Long Island was a double agent operating in Connecticut (see Richard F. Welch, George Washington’s Commando: Benjamin Tallmadge in the Revolutionary War [Jefferson, N.C., 2014], 88).

A transcript of a letter Woodhull wrote Tallmadge from Setauket on 14 Oct. is in Morton Pennypacker, General Washington’s Spies On Long Island and In New York (Brooklyn, 1939), 270. Woodhull noted in that letter: “I am pleased with your intention of apprehending Aiqlai Bqyim” (ibid., 270).

16. See Woodhull to Tallmadge, 14 Oct., in ibid., 270.

17. Woodhull might be referring to Joseph Trowbridge, a Connecticut Loyalist “refugee” on Long Island (see David Bell, American Loyalists to New Brunswick: The Ship Passenger Lists [Halifax, 2015], 67). Trowbridge would be captured commanding a Loyalist privateer by Brewster’s operatives in February 1781 (see Rose, Washington’s Spies, 234–35).

18. John Clark, a Continental army major and reconnaissance specialist, had served as a spy on Long Island in 1777 (see Rose, Washington’s Spies, 46).

19. See Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., to GW, 31 Aug., DLC:GW.

20. A force under Tallmadge would raid Long Island in November to destroy forage and other British supplies (see Memoir of Col. Benjamin Tallmadge, Prepared by Himself, at the Request of his Children [1858; reprint, New York, 1968], 40–42; see also Washington to Tallmadge, 11 Nov., DLC:GW). A transcript of a letter Woodhull wrote Tallmadge from Setauket on 28 Nov. is in Pennypacker, General Washington’s Spies, 271–72. Woodhull noted in that letter: “The burning the forage is agreeable to me and must hurt the enemy much” (ibid., 271).

George Washington and Parades in the Early American Republic

by Dana Stefanelli, Assistant Editor
May 14, 2018

Parades, feasts, and festivals were, in the words of historian Simon Newman, “essential components of early national popular political culture.” In the late eighteenth century, these activities allowed regular Americans to participate in politics to a greater extent than ever before. 1 In the nineteenth century, the public pageantry of parades became a more official and hierarchical (and more white and male) component of political party organization. However, in the 1780s and 1790s, participation in public political celebrations usually included a broad and diverse collection of citizens.

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The Dispersal of George Washington’s Library

By William M. Ferraro, Senior Associate Editor
April 20, 2018

George Washington’s interest in books has attracted increasing scholarly attention. Mount Vernon pulled together a major exhibition in 2013 to mark the opening of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington.1 Adrienne M. Harrison’s dissertation on Washington’s self-improvement through reading became a book published in 2015.2 Noted literary biographer Kevin J. Hayes has written a study with even greater range and depth. His book is now a finalist for the 2018 George Washington Prize.3 It has taken time for this scholarship to come forward because George Washington’s impressive library scattered after his death, and it was not his habit to muse about or ponder his reading in his diaries or correspondence. Sustained effort has been necessary to overcome the inaccurate perception that Washington had little curiosity and limited literary ability.4

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“One of the Severest Strokes that Could have been Meditated Against Us”: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, West Point, and British Strategy

By Jeffrey L. Zvengrowski, Assistant Editor
April 6, 2018

Benedict Arnold infamously schemed with Maj. John André, the British adjutant general, to help Britain take West Point in 1780. Yet, how did Arnold actually plan to betray the 11 Continental and militia regiments under his command at or near West Point’s fortifications? The British, moreover, had grander goals in mind than capturing West Point on a kind of large-scale raid. Indeed, when George Washington came to West Point on Sept. 25 after discussing strategy with Lieutenant General Rochambeau at Hartford, he not only foiled Arnold’s design but a British gambit to win the war.

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The Most Difficult Days of the Patriot Cause: Examining the Events of Revolutionary War Series Volume 29

By Dana Stefanelli, Assistant Editor
March 16, 2018

Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, engraving. Image courtesy of New York Public Library.

The winter of 1780-81 was one of the most difficult periods of the American Revolution for the Patriots, though the weather was only indirectly related to the challenges they faced. Coming in the aftermath of American defeats at Savannah, Ga., and Charleston and Camden, S.C., this was undoubtedly a military low point for the Americans. News of Benedict Arnold’s betrayal and suspicions about Ethan Allen’s loyalties raised concerns about popular support for the Patriot cause and the morale of the fighting men. The seeming unlikelihood of the situation improving further dampened spirits. Nothing describes this situation more vividly than the correspondence between Nathanael Greene and George Washington during the late autumn of 1780.

Greene was appointed to replace Gen. Horatio Gates as commander of the southern department after Gates’s defeat at Camden. A skillful general, Greene had earned Washington’s trust and is remembered as one of Washington’s most valued officers. But as he made his way south to assume his new command, the burden of leading a large force of men under such desperate conditions began to weigh heavily on Greene.

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Another Look at Forgotten Biographies of George Washington: Henry Cabot Lodge’s George Washington

by William M. Ferraro, Senior Associate Editor
February 9, 2018

The seemingly endless flow of books on George Washington easily submerges notable past treatments. Bringing these forgotten gems to the surface is a worthwhile endeavor. This contribution to “Washington’s Quill” highlights Henry Cabot Lodge’s George Washington, a two-volume biography published in 1890.

Lodge is best known among historians as the isolationist senator from Massachusetts who frustrated President Woodrow Wilson’s plans for the League of Nations. Decades prior, however, he had gained a reputation as a historical writer and political journalist. He undertook his study of Washington in the mid-1880s for Houghton, Mifflin, and Company’s American Statesmen series after completing volumes on Alexander Hamilton and Daniel Webster.

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