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My Dear Father :
I have received your kind favour of the 17th inst.
The information which you give me relative to my hospitable acquaintance, gives me great pain. I had conceived an esteem for him, and it afflicts me to find a new instance of the depravity of my species.
I am sorry that Kinloch did not return to America sooner. His former sentiments on the present con test, give reason to suspect, if he is a convert, that success on our side has alone operated the change. Something may be drawn in palliation of his conduct from the education he received, and the powerful influence which his guardian had over him.
Beresford's circumstances were peculiar, he has been uniformly a friend to his country.
The approach of the period which you allude to, occasions the greatest anxiety in my mind. The public interest and my own lead me to wish that you may continue in the august assembly of the states. I dread your being so remote from where my duty places me, and see collected in one view all the painful consequences of it. It was my intention at all events to have paid you the homage of my love in Philadelphia, at the close of the present campaign. We are at present in a disagreeable state of suspense. Continued preparations in New York announce a very considerable embarkation. Our spies inform us that a council of war had been held, and continued for three days. Lord Howe has certainly arrived. Gen'l Gray's troops had returned by way of the sound and been relanded. Admiral Byron in the Princess Royal of 90 guns, accompanied by the Culloden, Capt. Balfour of 74, had arrived at New York, according to the Gazette of that place ; but I believe the truth was, that they only arrived off the Hook. They are since arrived at Newport where they are refitting. It is probable that the Princess Royal could not get into port at N. York, without taking out the greatest part of her artillery. Accounts from various quarters in form us, that Lord Howe is preparing for England, and that Admiral Byron will take the command.
The arrival of the August packet will in all probability determine his operations. The sickly state of his crews, and the damage which his ships suffered in the storm, have rendered him inactive here till the opportunity is lost for the only enterprise which re mains for the enemy's combined land and naval force in America.
Nothing remains for them, but to render the garrisons of Quebec and Halifax respectable (at the latter place, the seventieth regiment, the Duke of Hamilton's and the Duke of Argyle's highland men, according to the N. York paper, have arrived), to evacuate New York and Rhode Island, and withdraw the flower of the whole British infantry, which in their present situation are useless as to the general operations of the war. The French have more troops in the West India islands, than are necessary for a mere defensive plan. Their magazines are well furnished; the British 011 their parts are weak in both these respects in that quarter, and I am convinced that the slightest demonstration there, would occasion the immediate removal of General Clinton's army. Some think that the British will keep possession of N. York and Rhode Island, to enable them to make better terms.
There is field for conjecture; the British may at this moment be attempting a negotiation with France. It can be neither her interest nor inclination to sacrifice her ally ; a general peace in this case would be the consequence. But accident or the caprice of a minister may disappoint the most rational predictions, and give rise to events which, at present, appear the most improbable.
An unlucky affray has happened at Boston which gives us the deepest concern. We are not acquainted with particulars any farther than that a quarrel arose between some American and French sailors. They proceeded from harsh words to more dangerous blows. Two valuable French officers who attempted to quell the riot were much abused, and one of them, the Count de's Sauveur it is feared will not recover.
Gen'l Greene informs us that the matter has been generally traced and found to originate with the Convention troops. The sailors who were the immediate
instruments were Britons in the privateer service. If this is not strictly true, it is a story which policy w'd encourage.
Gen'l Greene in his first letter on the subject informs us that the French officers seemed satisfied that the mischief had been planned by some artful hand in Burgoyne's army, but he since tells us that there are jealousies on the subject.
I saw very plainly when I was at Boston, that our antient hereditary prejudices were very far from being eradicated.
A sergeant major who deserted from the 2 d batallion of Highlanders gives Gen'l Scott the following intelligence. That the 1'st and 2 d British brigade had received orders to hold themselves in readiness for embarking for the "W". Indies ; that the transports are lying in readiness to take them on board; he has heard officers say that New York is to be evacuated. Another deserter asserts that four regiments are already embarked, and that the horse transports as well as others are ordered to prepare for sea.
I omitted to mention to you that Lord Howe was on board a frigate during the whole time that Count D'Estaing gave him chase. This is a privilege allowed to admirals for their personal security, and is analagous to a general's placing himself on a safe eminence to view an engagement, but it could only be used in a desperate case, and by a man of Lord Howe's established reputation. For want of time to arrange my ideas, I have written you a chaos of intelligence, which I fear you. will hardly be able to reduce to any kind of order.
You will not, I hope, quit Philadelphia immediately after the first of next month. A few days more must develop the enemy's intentions, and may give me an opportunity of obtaining a furlough, at a time when it will not be dishonourable to take one. The campaign in all probability will terminate very insipidly, by the evacuation of N. York and Rhode Island, and I shall have time enough to rejoin the army for the Canadian expedition if it should take place.
Anticipating the happiness which I shall enjoy in embracing you, I commend myself to your love, and my dear father to God's protection.
Gen'l Scott informs us that a party of the enemy have advanced on this side Kingsbridge. Another party have landed at Paulus Hook and advanced beyond Bergen. From the description, they are strong foraging parties, and design to glean the county previous to taking leave. Our General has given orders to parry any stroke which they may meditate against our posts in the highlands, tho the possibility of such an enterprise is exceedingly remote, and their dispositions in this case would be void of common sense.
- John Laurens
- Army Correspondence of Colonel John Laurens in the Years 1777 - 78