An eyewitness account of the celebration at Valley Forge of the announcement of the Franco-American treaty of amity and commerce, by which the French recognized the independence of the United States.
On the first of May, George Washington was informed by Congress that Silas Deane, Arthur Lee, and Benjamin Franklin had negotiated and signed a treaty of amity and commerce in Paris. On 5 May, Washington was authorized to share the news with his entire army, which he did in his General Orders of that day: "It having pleased the Almighty ruler of the Universe propitiously to defend the Cause of the United American-States and finally by raising us up a powerful Friend among the Princes of the Earth to establish our liberty and Independence upon lasting foundations, it becomes us to set apart a day for gratefully acknowleding the divine Goodness & celebrating the important Event which we owe to his benign Interdisposition" (Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, ed. Lengel, 15:38–39). Washington's order outlines the sequence of the day's events, which Major Fish here describes.
"Doubtless You have heard the Cause, and probably the Particulars of our Rejoicings in Camp on the 6th inst. We were for one Hour employed in returning Thanks to the Supream Governor of the Universe for the signal Display and Manifestations of his approbation, of our just and righteous Exertions in Defence of this infant Empire, and applicating a continuance of his Favors. At ten o'Clock a.m. the Signal Gun for assembling the Troops into Brigades was fired, at 11 agreeable to the previous Disposition the Signal was given for the whole Line to move in Columns of Brigades to their Ground, where We past a Review by his Excellency the Commander in Chief. At one o'Clock p.m. a Continental Salute of 13 Cannon was given and immediately succeeded by a feude joy of a running Line from right to left thro' the whole Line, & concluded with three Cheers of the Line, with the following Expression 'Long live the King of France.' The same Process was repeated and concluded with three Cheers and 'Prosperity to the united States of America.' The Afternoon was selebrated by all the Officers of the Army in the most rational and jocund amusemnts. at Head Quarters, and the Day concluded with universal Happiness & the strictest Propriety." (Perhaps contributing to the universal happiness was Washington's direction that "Each man is to have a Gill of rum.")
After leaving the College of New Jersey without a degree, Nicholas Fish studied law with John Morin Scott and became close friends with Alexander Hamilton and Richard Varick. Although his parents were wealthy Loyalists, Fish's allegiance was with the patriots. He was commissioned in a New York regiment at seventeen and saw action from the Battle of Long Island through Yorktown.
Fish opens his letter with commiserations for Varick's plans (which proved abortive) to leave the service and for Scott's loss of the gubernatorial race to George Clinton. "In Your last You speak of Your Intentions of retiring from the Service of Your Country, which I should have been at a Loss to have accounted for, had I not known the inactivity of Your Station in the Army, which to be sure to a Person of your active Disposition could not be the most agreeable, and which I suppose determined Your Resignation.
"You mention the appointmt. of our Friend Mr. Scott to the Office of Secretary of State of New York. In fact I scarcely know whether to rejoice or otherwise in the appointment. True it is, that this is an office of considerable Profit, but in my opinion far inferior in point of honor, to his Merit and Pretensions; and besides if I am not mistaken in our Constitution, he will in consequence loose his Seat in the Legislature, in which Case his acceptance of the office will occasion a public Loss & Injury; upon the whole therefore, I could wish he would spurn at the Offer, & remain simple Senator until the arrival of that Period when he will be seated in the chief Majestracy of the State."
The tone of Fish's letter changes abruptly as he interrupts his account of the celebratory tattoo with the news that his estranged mother has died. "But here I must stop, here my Prospects are sullied. Permit me dear Varick to ask Your Sympathy and Condolence on the melancholy Event of my Mothers Death, the News of which has just reached me since I have been writing, and tinctured my most happy Moments with Misery & Gloom. ... My Pangs would be keen beyond Decription (as I am told that during her illness my absence gave her infinite Distress) were I not fully convicted of the Propriety of my Conduct, which ever was founded upon the pure Principles of Duty and Love to my Country."
Manuscripts of Nicholas Fish are surprisingly scarce in the market: only one other autograph letter signed by him is cited in American Book Prices Current since 1975.
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