Lafayette to George Washington, 27 April 1780

Lafayette, carrying news of France’s willingness to aid the American effort in the war, announces his arrival to America and urgent wish to speak with Washington in person.

The following letter, which will appear in a future volume of the Revolutionary War Series, is taken from the typed transcript with notes included. A finding aid for this document is available at the Lafayette College.

At the Entrance of Boston harbour 27th April 1780

here I am, My dear General, and in the Mist of the joy I feel in finding Myself again one of your loving Soldiers I take But the time of telling you that I Came from france on Board of a fregatt Which the king Gave me for my passage[1]–I have affairs of the utmost importance that I should at first Communicate to You alone–in Case my Letter finds you Any where this side of philadelphia, I Beg You will wait for me, and do Assure You A Great public Good May derive from it[2]–to Morrow we go up to the town,[3] and the day after I’ll Set off in My usual way to join My Belov’d and Respected friend and general. Adieu, My dear General, You will Easily know the hand of Your Young Soldier[4]


My Compliments to the family.[5]


1. Lafayette had sailed from France aboard the L’Hermione. Inclement weather and damage to the ship delayed his departure until 20 March (see Lafayette to his wife, 18 March, and to Benjamin Franklin, 20 March, in Lafayette Papers, 2:379-80). [back]

2. Lafayette carried instructions from Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes, French secretary of state for foreign affairs, dated 5 March. These instructions directed Lafayette to “hasten to join General Washington. He will inform him confidentially that the king, wishing to give the United States a new testimony of his affection and his concern for their security, has resolved to send to their aid six ships of the line and 6,000 regular infantry troops at the onset of spring.

“The convoy is ordered to land at Rhode Island, if there is no obstacle, in order to be better able to assist the American army and to join it if General Washington considers it necessary. . . .

“The corps of French troops will be purely auxiliary, and in this capacity it will act only under General Washington’s orders. The French land general will take orders from the American commanding general for everything that does not relate to the internal regulation of his corps, which on the whole is to retain its system of justice and govern itself by the laws of its country. The naval general will be enjoined to support with all his power all operations in which his cooperation is required. It is understood that the Americans will be concerned to plan and consult with him and to listen to objections that he might make to them.

“Since operations must depend upon circumstances and local possibilities, we do not propose any. It is for General Washington and the council of war to decide which operations will be most useful. All the king wishes is that the troops he sends to the assistance of his allies, the United States, cooperate effectually to deliver them once and for all from the yoke and tyranny of the English. His Majesty expects that the reciprocal attention that friends owe each other will assure that General Washington and the American general officers see that the officers and the French troops enjoy all the amenities that are consistent with the good of the service.

“It is indispensable that General Washington advise on the means to facilitate the subsistence of the French troops. For this purpose, he must have provisions assembled in advance for the crews and the troops and suitable places prepared to receive the sick at the place where he expects the squadron to land and the troops to disembark. In short, he must take the necessary precautions so that the corps of French troops can be assured of its subsistence and at a reasonable price.

“When M. le Marquis de Lafayette has agreed with General Washington on all the measures to take with respect to the arrival of the corps of French troops and to the security of their disembarkation, he will go to Congress; but first he will decide with the American general to what extent he is to reveal to Congress the secret of our arrangements.

“When he has arrived in Philadelphia, M. le Marquis de Lafayette will first of all see M. le Chevalier de La Luzerne; he will communicate to him his instructions and any additional instructions that may be given to him; he will confide to him everything that has passed between him and General Washington and will take no step without the concurrence and cooperation of the king’s minister, by whose counsels he should guide himself. His Majesty honors his minister with his esteem and wishes him to have a part in everything that needs to be arranged with the United States. . . .

“If the land operations do not require the support of the squadron, it will be free to initiate cruises, at whatever distance from the coasts the commander judges proper to inflict the greatest possible harm on the enemy. He will be especially ordered not to go too far off and not to decide upon any course except in concert with and with the consent of the land generals” (Lafayette Papers, 2:364-68; see also GW’s draft letter to Samuel Huntington, 13 March, DLC:GW). [back]

3. For Lafayette’s arrival in Boston on 28 April, see William Heath to GW, 30 April. [back]

4. GW received this letter on 7 May and replied to Lafayette on the next day. [back]

5. Lafayette is referring to GW’s aides-de-camp and secretaries. [back]

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