Description

    On the loss of Ticonderoga, promoting Gates to command in the north, and the possible fall of Philadelphia to the British

    William Williams (1731-1811), Signer of the Declaration of Independence, extremely fine content Autograph Letter Signed, "Wm. Williams", three pages with integral address leaf in his hand, 7.75" x 12.75", Philadelphia, August 2, 1777 to General Jabez Huntington (1719-1786) discussing a range of war news including the fall of Ticonderoga, a congressional inquiry into the abandonment of the post, and the anticipated appointment of Horatio Gates to command the Northern Department. Williams begins by discussing a more local (and equally troubling) situation: the threat of a British capture of Philadelphia.

    "...this City seems to be relieved of their Fears from Howes Fleet & Army. from their Fears, did I say... however the News now is that the whole Fleet is gone out of the Bay it is very certain I believe. They co[ul]d very soon have possessed this City if Genl. Washington had not arrived... Tho it is possible we may suffer in ye consequences as great or greater Evils if They sho[ul]d return with favorable Wind & push directly up ye N[orth]. river, it will be impossible for our Genl. to meet Them in Time, tis said. They [the British] had a days provision on board, & a H[ogs hea]d of Water for each Horse. Their Ships give them an amazing advantage over us but they as well as we are in the hands of Him that rules the Winds & Seas. if this People had taken Care to secure his Favor by Repentance & we sho[ul]d be perfectly safe. it is a most killing consideration, that there seems to be no appearance of Reformation. I never before heard half the shocking Oaths & Execrations, that daily & hourly torture my Ears, in this City & the Extortion of it is beyond description & every other Sin..." Williams continues in this vein before discussing the developing Saratoga campaign: "We have at length obtained Resolves of Congress. That an Enquiry shall be made into the Reason of giving up Ty. [Fort Ticonderoga] & all ye Gen[era]l. Officers concerned, that Schulyer, St. Clair & ye rest of ye Genl. Officers repair to Head Quarters, & that Genl. Washington be directed to send a Gen. to take ye Comm[and] -- in the room of Schuyler & that a Com[it]te[e] of ye House consider & point out the mode of conducting the Tryal [sic]... have no doubt but Gates ill be ye man, intend my Power to convey to you an adequate idea of the Labor it cost N[ew]. England very especially to obtain these ten times gutted Resolves, four whole Days had been spent... a Folio wo[ul]d not contain all that was said. if the whole Cause of America, was to be gained or lost forever by ye Issue, yea more, if-- but I will not say it. The warmest Friends co[ul]d not possibly exert Themselves more for its Salvation, than Duane, Duer & Sundry more did, to save Schuyler from ye least imputation. if I sho[ul]d ever see you I may say more about it. tell it not in Gath, least our enemies triumph, & Congress sink in ye opinion of ye World, to ye endangering our Cause... " In reality, the abandonment of Fort Ticonderoga in the face of Burgoyne's army was an extremely wise move. The fort had been designed by the French to repulse advances from the south. Arthur St. Clair and his garrison would have been easily surrounded by the British if they had remained. This allowed more time for a larger army to assemble and finally defeat Burgoyne at Saratoga that autumn. This spectacular victory (which had very little to do with the conduct of Horatio Gates) was overshadowed for members of Congress who were forced to flee Philadelphia after the British victory at Brandywine in early September 1777. Congress would remove to York, Pennsylvania, and Washington and his army would spend the winter at Valley Forge, north of occupied Philadelphia.

    Williams is also possibly making a veiled reference (" I may say more about it. tell it not in Gath [probably referencing Philadelphia], least our enemies triumph, & Congress sink in ye opinion of ye World ") to the early stages to what became known as the Conway Cabal, a movement to unseat Washington as Commander-in-Chief. More a general movement than an actual plot, it was centered in the New England delegations to Congress (including Williams) who viewed Washington as an amateur responsible for innumerable defeats and delays. The move to try St. Clair, Schuyler and others over the abandonment of Ticonderoga was part of this general movement to rid the army of Washington's allies. Horatio Gates, who coveted Washington's command, was touted by New England representatives as a better candidate to lead the army. Following the losses at Brandywine and Germantown, Williams agreed with Jonathan Trumbull that the time had come when "a much exalted character should make way for a general" and suggested if this was not done "voluntarily," Congress should "see to it." The faction promoted Horatio Gates (by November the "Hero of Saratoga") as a replacement. (Historians now seriously question Gates' contribution to that victory). The "plot" lost its momentum when a letter from General Thomas Conway to Gates criticizing Washington's conduct became public. Conway resigned his commission March 1778 in disgrace. As it stands today, the tactics Washington used, which involved more maneuvering and retreating than actual battle, forcing the British to keep an enormously expensive army in the field for eight years, was one of the main factors why the British lost. Partial fold separations repaired, repaired marginal losses affect a few words of text, else bright and clean with dark ink, very good condition.

    A great Revolutionary War letter rife with content. From the Henry E. Luhrs Collection. Accompanied by LOA from PSA/DNA.


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    Auction Dates
    February, 2006
    20th-21st Monday-Tuesday
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