Sir Henry Strachey
- ink on paper
Sir Henry Strachey, later first Baronet (1736–1810), was born to a modestly prominent family in Edinburgh. He found employment as a clerk in the War Office and took his first steps up the political ladder when he travelled to India in 1764 as private secretary to Lord Clive. Clive's subsequent patronage served Strachey well; upon their return to Great Britain in 1767 he found a foothold of financial security and was shortly elected a Member of Parliament for Bishop's Castle. In 1770 Strachey was married to Jane Latham and appeared to be settling into the comfortable, if routine, life of a country politician.
But in 1776, Strachey accepted the commission to be Secretary to the Commission for Restoring Peace to America. The Commission was headed by Admiral Richard Howe, fourth Viscount Howe (1726–1799), British Naval Commander-in-Chief in North America, but Strachey inevitably had a great deal of contact as well with Lord Howe's brother, General Sir William Howe, later fifth Viscount (1729–1814), who was Commander-in-Chief of the British land forces in America. Strachey was not eager for another long absence from home—he and his wife had three children by this time—and he negotiated a daily salary of £5 and an annual pension of £400 once the mission was accomplished.
The very idea of a Peace Commission was highly controversial. Opinion was sharply divided within Parliament, but it was well known that both George III and George Germain, the Secretary of State for the American Colonies, favored a course of uncompromising military action against the revolutionaries. Others believed that a diplomatic compromise could still be forged between the mother country and her colonies, and that military action should be applied sparingly. Lord Howe was a notable member of the compromise faction, and he was personally well-disposed towards the Americans, not least because the Massachusetts Assembly had paid to have a monument placed in Westminster Abbey for his older brother, General George Howe, who had been killed at Fort Ticonderoga during the French and Indian War.
What Howe failed to understand was that while he might have been willing to compromise, the Americans were not. By the time the Peace Commission was convened, the passion for independence had spread from Massachusetts to the other colonies. General Howe arrived in New York and landed his troops on Staten Island on 2 July 1776, and neither his arrival nor that of Lord Howe ten days later did anything to halt the debate, adoption, and proclamation of the Declaration of Independence by Congress. George Washington's army had arrived at New York following their victory over the British at Dorchester Heights, and the Commissioners made no progress whatsoever with conciliation. What would likely have been a futile effort in any case was made impossible because King George—wary of allowing Howe too much discretion—gave the Peace Commission little authority beyond the promise of a pardon for repentant rebels.
Lord Howe may have been sincere in his desire for a negotiated and just peace, but the limitations placed on his authority by George III and Lord Germain destroyed any credibility he might have had as a peacemaker. As George Washington wrote to John Hancock, President of Congress, on 22 July 1776, "I should suppose the warmest Advocates for dependence on the British Crown must be silent, and be Convinced beyond all possibility of doubt, that All that has been said about the Commissioners was Illusory and calculated expressly to deceive and unguard, not only the Good people of our own Country, but those of the English nation that were averse to the proceedings of the King & Ministry. Hence we see the cause why a specification of their powers were not given ... because It would then been manifest, that the line of conduct they were to pursue would be totally variant from that they had Industriously propagated and amused the public with. The Uniting the Civil and Military Offices in the same persons, too, must be conclusive to every thinking One, that there is to be but little Negociation of the Civil kind" (The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, ed. Chase, 5:424).
The peace commissioners found that the American patriots were as resolute in their position as were King George and Lord Germain. The brothers Howe, therefore, turned their efforts from making peace to waging war. Through two campaigns, the Howe brothers achieved a number of victories; they chased Washington out of New York and the Continental Congress out of Philadelphia. But their armies lost important battles at Saratoga, Trenton, and Princeton; and they were never able to force the elusive Washington into a decisive encounter. In the late spring of 1778, Lord Howe and General Howe returned to England to a chorus of criticism and recrimination. Henry Strachey could have remained on in America to serve with Howe's replacement as commander in chief, Sir Henry Clinton, but his loyalty to Howe—and, perhaps, a touch of homesickness—would not allow him to do so.
With the surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown, on 19 October 1781, and the collapse of Lord North's ministry the following March, true peace negotiations were opened in April 1782. Henry Strachey served here as well, as Assistant and Secretary to the King's Commissioners sent to Paris, where the final treaty, concluding the war and recognizing the independence of the United States, was signed on 3 September 1783.
Strachey's papers relating to these momentous events throw extensive light on both the diplomatic negotiations in the opening and closing stages of the war and also on some of the major military aspects. The Strachey Papers are one of the last great archives relating to the American Revolution still available for purchase. And while the Strachey Papers have been known (if not always accessible) to historians since the end of the nineteenth century, this portion of them has never been extensively studied or published. Indeed, apart from Strachey's notes on Lord Howe's Staten Island "peace conference" meeting with a Congressional Committee consisting of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Edward Rutledge, 11 September 1776 (now at the New York Public Library), his insightful writings are largely unknown. (Strachey's peace conference memorandum, by contrast, has appeared in a score of studies of the Revolution, both scholarly and popular, from Smith's edition of Letters of Delegates to Congress 1774-1789 to the Library of America's compilation The American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence.) Much of significance remains to be discovered and interpreted from this vital archive, including a great deal that might help provide a definitive answer to that fundamental question regarding the Revolutionary War: How did the British manage to lose the American Colonies?
Henry Strachey's Papers remain important for the same reasons that Edward Tatum, writing in the Huntington Library Quarterly, found the journal of Ambrose Serle, private secretary to Lord Howe, to be of "unusual interest not only for the specialist in the history of the American Revolution but also for those who wish to understand the attitude of a well-educated civilian toward the Americans and the imperial problems of the day. ... his conceptions of imperial policy, his work as Lord Howe's secretary, his lengthy talks with leading loyalists, and his progressive disillusionment with the conduct of the war, are notable contributions to the history of these years." Add to this Strachey's official position and power of expression, and his Papers can be accurately appreciated as a key source for understanding the British side of the American Revolution.
The papers fall into three major sections, as detailed below.
Section I: Papers relating to the Commission for Restoring Peace to America and the ensuing military and naval operations.
i) Henry Strachey's appointment as Secretary to the Commissioners for Restoring Peace to America, signed by George III ("George R."), the document granting the Commission authority "for restoring Peace to Our Colonies and Plantations in North America, and for granting Pardon to such of our subjects as shall deserve Our Royal Mercy," 6 May 1776, countersigned by Lord Germain ("Geo: Germain"), on vellum, embossed paper seal, docketed on verso, with a paper wrapper endorsed by Strachey "My Commission 6th May 1776."
ii) 3 official and contemporary copies of the royal instructions to the Commissioners for Restoring Peace to America, the third in Strachey's hand, each of them docketed and signed by Lord Howe as being "a true Copy," totaling 28 pages, folio, 6-8 May 1776.
"The King's General Instructions for the Conduct of the Commissioners appointed for restoring Peace to the Colonies, &c. in North America," defines George III's purpose in sending the Commission in terms that ought to have made clear to Lord Howe that he could not possibly succeed: "to induce [in the colonists] such a Submission on their Part to lawful Authority, as shall consist with the just Relation and Dependence in which they stand." The thirteen articles of the instructions provide numerous exceptions to Howe's authority to offer "a free Pardon of all Treasons ... to any Person or Persons, who ... shall return to their Allegiance. ..." Among the impediments to pardon are the provisions that before trade restrictions can be lifted "the Rebellion be effectually suppressed, and that a reasonable Assurance may be entertained that it will not relapse into that State of Disorder"; that all "Congresses ... by whatever Name or Names known ... be dissolved"; that militias be likewise dissolved and all forts be surrendered; that fair compensation be made to loyal subjects who have suffered; and that administrative reforms be introduced ("... Amongst these, the Governments of Connecticut and Rhode Island ... require a particular Consideration..."). The "Additional & Separate Instructions" sent to Lord Howe expand on this eleventh article of the General Instructions concerning Connecticut and Rhode Island.
The "Separate Instruction to the American Commissioners" is copied in Strachey's hand and docketed by Admiral Howe, "A true Copy of the Separate Instruction received by me on the 8. of May with Lord North's letter of the 7 Inst 1776 Howe." This instruction sought to defuse the Parliamentary practice that the Americans found most noxious—taxation without representation—by allowing the Commissioners to propose to the thirteen colonies that they "should agree to contribute a just Proportion of the Expences incurred in the Defence of the King's Dominions."
iii) Letter signed by Lord Howe ("Howe," with autograph subscription), on board H.M.S. Eagle, "Off of Halifax," 22 June 1776, to his brother General Howe, with original address wrapper, introducing Henry Strachey, covering attested copies of the King's instructions to the Peace Commission, and providing formal notification of his own appointment: "I have the Satisfaction of being named with you, jointly or separately to act in the several Instances, pursuant to His Majesty's Intentions. ... It is necessary for me to acquaint Your Excellency at the same time, that I have likewise the Honor to be vested with the Command in Chief of the Ships and Vessels of His Majesty's Fleet, employed and to be employed in North America: And that in the Disposition of them as may be thought expedient for preventing all Trade and Intercourse with the several Colonies specified, according to the Intent and Meaning of an Act passed in the last Sessions of Parliament; And for quelling the Rebellion that unhappily subsists in those Colonies, and impressing His Majesty's disaffected Subjects with a proper Sense of their Duty; I am directed to co-operate with You, in the vigorous Execution of such measures as shall be judged most advisable for the Attainment of those great and desirable Objects."
iv) A series of about nineteen autograph letters signed by Henry Strachey ("Heny. Strachey"; "HStrachey"; "HS"), the majority as sent, a few in his retained copies or abstracts, chiefly addressed to his wife, giving lively and detailed accounts of events as well as of his own social life in America, about 75 pages, folio and 4to, one or two incomplete, docketed with dates or receipt, chiefly on board the Eagle, New York, and Philadelphia, 14 August 1776 to 18 March 1778.
A few excerpts from Strachey's letters will convey the depth of detail and sense of immediacy that they convey. For instance, on 3 September 1776 Strachey gives a friend, C. D'Oyly, an account of the Battle of Long Island (27 August), written by him as "a distant Spectator of the Operations."
"Our Forces were not landed on Long Island till the 22d. nor did the first stroke struck till the 27th. and yet You will find by the enclosed Copy of Washington's Proclamation [nor present], that on the 17th. he began to apprehend a Bombardment of the City of New York. The Works on Long Island were so numerous and strong, that had they been properly defended, the taking of them must have cost us very dear, both as to Men and Time: but on the 29th. at Night, the Rebels seem to have thought seriously of their Sufferings the two preceding days, and accordingly made a precipitate retreat to New York, leaving behind them their Tents, Ammunition, and Provisions, and some few pieces of Cannon. ... Our Loss has been only 50 killed, and very few Marines Prisoners. There is above 3,000, near two thirds of whom were killed, and drowned in retreating. The Remainder of their Army, by all Accounts, is very unhealthy. The Hospitals in the City are crowded, and the whole Place is as bad as a Pest House. All the Tents and Huts which their Troops occupied on Long Island, have been burnt by our Army, for fear of Infection. It is said the Sick in New York amount to 4000."
Strachey's letter expresses some of the same misconceptions about the Revolutionary War that affected the British high command: the belief that the colonies were not truly united and the confidence that the rebellion would be short-lived. "As their Regiments are from almost every Province on the Continent, it is probable that many of them may begin to look towards their respective homes, and contend for the Recovery of those Liberties which have been most grievously invaded by the Tyranny of their own Countrymen, under the Pretext of preserving them from the imaginary Apprehensions of ours. Of New Jersey (which Your Map will tell you is close upon our left) we know little ... but as we are so near them, and the superiority of the King's Forces is now beyond a doubt with them, it is hardly to be supposed that these People will leave their own Province, and go to the Protection of the Neighbours. ... I should conjecture that a very few Weeks will afford us great light into future Events. The present Moment of Discomfiture seems to be that in which the Congress ought to think it prudent (Humanity out of the Question) to propose treating of Peace: But it is impossible to ascertain how much longer the political Perseverance, and Military Phrenzy of this unhappy Country, may last."
On 3 September Strachey also wrote to his wife about this pivotal early battle, suggesting that only insanity could explain the behavior of the Americans: "The only new [experience] I have attained is that of a Battle, which I saw upon Long Island very distinctly from the Ship—I neither expect, not desire to see another. Killing seems to me a very unnatural Trade, but these People are beyond Nature as well as Reason. They might at this Moment have Peace and Happiness, but they insist upon having their Brains knocked out first. I believe the Truth is they have been too happy hitherto, and Prosperity has made them mad. I shall ever hereafter think it possible that a Phrenzy may seize a whole Nation as well as an Individual." He also remarks on the fine weather, the delight of once again enjoying fresh produce, and the beauty of Long Island and New Jersey. He reports that New York, so recently crowded with people, is nearly deserted because of the fear of a British bombardment, observing that "It would be indeed a lamentable thing to see so fine a City destroyed." In a postscript Strachey urges his wife to get a set of maps of the colonies, warning that otherwise "you will not be able to travel with me."
Later that month, 25 September, after the British has occupied New York City, Strachey wrote his wife concerning "the most melancholy Catastrophe that ever came within my View," the burning of New York: "About One o'Clock in the Morning of the 21st. (a Regiment, or Two, and a very considerable Number of the Inhabitants being in peaceable possession) some Villains set fire to the City in many different parts, almost at the same instant. Bundles of Straw, Matches of Pitch and Brimstone, and Trains of Gun powder, were concealed in the Buildings, many of which being chiefly of Wood, presently caught the Flames, and in the Course of a very few hours about 800 Horses were consumed, and One Church. They have here no tyling—the Roofs are all Shingles of thin Wood, so that had it not been for the Activity of the Army and Navy, the whole Town consisting of at least 4000 Houses must have been reduced to Ashes: but the Fire was perfectly extinguished before Noon. Happily very few Lives were lost, except those of five or six of the Incendiaries who were detected in the Art of setting fire to the Combustibles, some of whom were cast into the Flames, and the others put to the Sword by the exasperated Soldiers and Sailors. Many were seized and with some difficulty spared by the Interposition of Officers, and are now in a course of Trial, by which it is hoped the Contrivers will be discovered—though They may at present be our of Reach."
Strachey's exasperation with the colonials continues, but he allows himself to joke about the situation, in part because he remains supremely confident of an early resolution to the War. "The People of this Country are I doubt [not], of a very diabolical Cast. You will certainly say so, because they won't accept of Peace and let me return to my Wife and Family—However, don't let us despair—It is impossible this Work should continue beyond another Campaign, probably not so long—If London Politicians should blame us for not making Peace; be assured the fault is not in Us, but in the Americans. But they will hear Reason as last thro' Necessity—It is astonishing to see the Number of fine Houses, with very large Properties annexed to them, that have been left by the Owners, who choose to follow the Standard of Rebellion at the hazard of all they are worth, rather than acknowledge George for their King. The Infatuation is inscrutable." In summing up the state of affairs he repeats the mot of his earlier letter, "I begin to think it possible, that a whole Country as well as an Individual may be struck with Lunacy." In a homey touch, Strachey gives his wife very specific instructions on having made for him some "long Drawers, alias Trowsers" to help combat the omnipresent mosquitoes.
In a letter of 28 December, among complaints about the winter climate, Strachey tells his wife about the reaction to Lord Howe's proclamation of pardon, gives some detail on his own clerical functions, and reveals his sense of humor: "The Proclamation of the 30th. of last Month has reformed a Croud of Culprits, and I cannot deliver out of the King's Pardons so fast as they are claimed. But till the Time is expired (60 Days) we cannot know fully the Effect of that Measure. Some of Your News Papers have said that I was to get a fortune by Fees upon Pardons. Don't let such a false Notion prevail. One of the Delinquents who came to me the other day for the Pardon, asked me what was the Expence? I answered, 'You have nothing to pay; this is the King's free Pardon for all Offences committed against His Majesty, down to the present time: it is given, not sold: go, and sin no more'"
Strachey writes at some length about an indigo plantation that he has invested in in East Florida, where his friend Patrick Tonyn was the royal governor. He also sees the chances of an early peace becoming more remote: "I had lately some hopes that our business would have ended without another Campaign, but they are fled. If the Operations of Peace should be even on train by this time twelvemonth, it is as much as I expect. That however may not be the Opinion of others, and I heartily wish myself to be mistaken." He also apologizes for having sent his wife a lock of hair as a remembrance gift; "It's a shabby Present from a distant Country, but here are no Curiosities, natural or artificial, except the Inhabitant. ..."
By February, the Peace Commission was long off the Eagle and ensconced in winter quarters at Hanover Square. There, Strachey wrote on 17 February 1777, "we are settled in a comfortable commodious House—the family consisting of Lord Howe, Mr. Davies, his naval Secretary, Mr. O'Beirne, his Chaplain, Mr. Serle; and your humble Servant, who is distinguished by having a sitting or drawing Room to himself ... Adjoining, Lord Howe has one, a little more spacious. We are very good Neighbours and visit one another frequently. On the same Floor, at the end of a long Passage or Gallery, are our Bedchambers, the one opposite the other. ... Thus we occupy the whole of the first Floor. Above, sleep the other Gentlemen and an Army of Servants, all of the male Sex. We have not a Female in the house, and as I do not chuse to be out in the Winter Nights, I of course never see the face, or any other part, of Woman, except at a distance through my drawing Room Window which looks into the Square. Lord Howe has a Coach, which he uses sometimes, and I now and then. The roads will not admit of riding, so my Horse eats the Bread of Idleness. In that respect he is a little like his Master, for my time is chiefly spent with my Books. I seek not Sociability with the variegated Inhabitants of this City, and the Weather prohibits comfortable Exercise. I keep excellent Fires, read solid Books, converse with some intelligent Men of this Country, from whom I collect Information. ..."
As winter slowly changed to spring—and the Americans "continue obstinate"—Strachey's correspondence takes on a somewhat despondent tone. On 25 March 1777, he despairs that "The Completion of the Work of Peace appears still at an unmeasurable distance. Nothing but the very friendly and respected footing on which I think I am with Lord Howe, could make me bear this tedious business with Patience." The American revolutionaries, Strachey assures his wife, are much more formidable than they must seem from the distance of the mother country. "I dare say that all You short-sighted folks in England have imagined that our Proclamation of the 30th. November which You saw in the New York Paper if not in your own Gazette, brought General Washington with all his Army, and the Members of the Congress at our Feet—Alas! how you are mistaken—they still continue obstinate—The General must make a few more Efforts in his way, to bring them to Reason, and it is impossible to say that the ensuing Campaign will effect that Purpose."
This letter also contains extensive discussions of public affairs and of domestic ones—including the coincidence that the Strachey family shares a pediatrician with Lord Howe's. In an intriguing postscript, Strachey directs his wife to forward some contraband goods for a friend who is a wig-maker, but he cautions her that "They must by no means be directed to me, for they cannot be supposed to be really for me; and it is besides a little breach of the Act of Parliament which prohibits any Trade to the Colonies in Rebellion."
Just over a year after his arrival in New York, Strachey sounds even more disheartened. On 14 July 1777 he tells his friend D'Oyly categorically that "No honorable Peace in my Opinion can be now attained, till the Rebel Armies are subdued, or till our Forces have possession of every Province. Washington, by never putting himself in a situation to be beat, may prevent the former; and the latter can only be affected by your sending out a considerable Reinforcement of Troops."
On 1 September Strachey writes his wife from on board the Eagle in Chesapeake Bay, providing a journal-like summary of the six-week voyage needed to get there. He is much taken with Maryland, which he describes as "a Beautiful well cultivated Country ... few Villages, but many detached Houses and neat Plantations." He ridicules General John Burgoyne for having claimed in a proclamation to the American people that he as a Member of Parliament, and he encloses a newspaper from Philadelphia that "will inform you of the prowess of the Rebel General St. Clair against Burgoyne's Army." And he again grudgingly acknowledges the success of Washington's Fabian strategy: "If Washington can be brought to fight Sir Wm. Howe, the whole may be finished this Year, but his Policy is to avoid a decisive Battle."
By 27 October, the Eagle was anchored off Chester in the Delaware Bay, and Strachey was eager to get out of his "wooden Cage." But although British troops were in possession of Philadelphia, he reports that the communication with that city "is at present cut off by Chevaux de Frizes in the River and by Batteries of one sort or another, which however will very soon be removed and then I hope to see that famous City." However, more than a month later, 19 November, Strachey was still on the Eagle in the Delaware River, reporting "We have indeed taken Mud Island, a place you never heard of, but of some importance to the Military Operations in these Parts, as it gives the Fleet a Communication with the Army at Philadelphia." Just five days later, Strachey takes the opportunity of meeting a man bound for New York and thence to London to send with him a brief "supernumerary Letter" home. He seems more confident than in several months: "As to the Rebel Fleet, it is now secure enough. What they may not themselves chuse to destroy will fall into our hands. This Campaign will I am confident prove a brilliant One. ..."
Continental General Horatio Gates's victory over the army of General Burgoyne at Saratoga in mid-October was as devastating for British morale as it was inspirational for the Americans. In a 2 December letter to his wife, written from Philadelphia, Strachey contrasts Burgoyne's performance with that of the Howes. "The Military News from Us is always good, but what will be said to the Catastrophe of Burgoyne? I owed that Gentleman no good Will, but I am heartily grieved, on Account of the great public Cause, that he should have come to such disgrace. What a figure does he make after his pompous Proclamation!... Had he been succeeded, that is, had he reached Albany, the War would at this Moment have been ended."
Strachey defends the Howe brothers against criticisms appearing in London newspapers. "The general idea, by the by, that Lord Howe will make an immense Fortune by Prizes, is very false. His invariable Object is, not to take the trading Ships, but to prevent their sailing out of the Rebel Harbours. The News Papers therefore as unjustly accuse him of Avarice, as I trust they do his Brother of criminal Gallantries." In this letter, Strachey also expresses an aspiration for his wife familar to spouses of all times and places, "I wish you to be as easy, cheerful and happy as possible, consistent with our Finances. ..."
Still, Strachey also reports on British victories. In a 5 December letter to Governor Tonyn of East Florida, he acknowledges that the "Surrender of Burgoyne with his whole Army, is certainly a severe Misfortune," but he also writes of British "Success in these Parts; that in spite of the Cheveaux de frizes in the River, and Batteries on each side, we are in complete possession of Philadelphia, and have a sufficient Communication by water. Washington was in force a few days ago, near German Town—about 16 Miles off; but I conclude that the March of General Howe Yesterday, will have sent him packing. The Rebel Army however have such light Heels that I do not imagine they will be overtaken." Much of the letter is devoted to Strachey's worries about his investment in an indigo plantation. He asks Tonyn to investigate rumors he has heard about his overseer, "that he is fascinated by a Woman who would inviegle him to marry her; that he has taken to drinking, and of course neglects all business."
During the bitter winter of 1777–1778, while Washington's army suffered the harsh privations of Valley Forge, the English enjoyed the comforts and social life of Philadelphia, which Strachey also comments on in some detail. His letter of 2 December had described Philadelphia as "a large City—6000 Houses, and at present about 23,000 Inhabitants, most of whom are Quakers, Children, and Women—the latter of whom I doubt not met the Army with open Arms; but the Embraces of Your Sex will not finish the War, though they may afford a little Comfort during Winter Quarters to those who can have any Satisfaction in transient Amours. But this is beyond my Sphere."
In a postscript to a letter of 28 January 1778. he reports to his wife that he has been "with the General to our Play house—As good a one as yours in the Haymarket. The Minor, & the Deuce is in him—both exceedingly well acted." (Strachey was not alone in his approval of the plays; in an article for American Literature, January 1935, Fred Lewis Patee wrote "The best theater in America before the establishment of the new republic was the theater organized by the officers of the British Army during the winter of 1777–1778 in Philadelphia.")
Strachey has little regard, however, for the Philadelphia women who socialized with the British officers. He dismisses them as "insufferable ... not even handsome, tho' kept Mistresses." He gives further particulars about evening entertainments: "The Rooms are opened by Subscription at the City Tavern. I looked in last Night, & saw Two or Three hundred Officers without One Female. I would not play at Cards, but carried myself away in half an hour. Tomorrow is the Ball Night, when I suppose the Ladies will be prevailed upon to come. I shall probably go for the sake of seeing a Collection of American Girls—the very Young Ones are all handsome, but they are old before Thirty." Strachey assures his wife, "I am not yet acquainted with any ... I wish I was to leave them all tomorrow." And he sends some souveniers for their children, "I enclose 3 little Spanish Pieces for the Babes, wrapped in a Bill for 30 Dollars—a specimen of the Congress Money."
"Transient amours" seem to be within the sphere of both Admiral Howe and General Howe, as described by Strachey in a letter from Philadelphia of 18 March. "[W]e had last Week the Satisfaction to hear of [Lord Howe] by way of New York. He has been very gay at Rhode Island, entertaining all the Ladies with Balls &c, and winning all their Hearts. Sir William keeps pace with him here, but I never have seen even the smallest Symptom of that sort of Gallantry which Your scandalous News Papers attribute to him."
v) Henry Strachey's autograph diary of his life and events in America, written in two parts, the first covering the periods 21 June to 30 August 1776 (23 pages on 7 bifolia), the second covering 14 November to 3 December 1777 (13 pages on 4 bifolia, docketed by Strachey "An insignificant Journal of insignificant Events" and sent to his wife with one of his letters). The following few selections give the flavor of the diary.
27 June 1776: "Went in the Barge with Lord Howe to head Qrs. received Orders to prepare the Dispatches for the Secretary of State. Ld. H. fixt upon this Night for making a false Alaram that the Ships & Boats might be better prepared for their Duty upon a real Attack."
12 July 1776: "With regard to Lord Howe's proposition of an Interview with Mr. Washington, the General was of Opinion that he would not consent to any except the highest Stile, such as meeting with an equal Number of Military, and that a proper place even for such a Meeting would not easily be settled, but that Mr. Washington would certainly either in the first, or the last Instance, refer Lord Howe to the Continental Congress, as the Powers under whom he acted."
16 July 1776: "Lord Howe & I at Ten o'Clock went in the Barge to visit General Howe—General Howe settled his Answer to Washington's Letter, which Lord Howe sent by Mr. Christian Midshipman with a flag of Truce." This entry has an asterisk after it and in the margin Strachey notes that "The Officer refused to receive it, because of the Address To G.W. Esqr. &c &c"—that is, Howe refused to address Washington with his military title.
4 August 1776: "Lord Cornwallis, Genl. Clinton, Ld. Chewton Lord Genl. Vaughan dined on board, a Rifleman deserted to us."
29 August 1776: "Commodore Hotham with the Consent of Lord Howe sent Genl. Sullivan & Lord Sterling on board this morning. General Sullivan asserting ... that he was confident if the Congress understood that Terms of Reconciliation could be granted, they would readily come into a Negociation, and he thought he could ... explain Matters so as to bring about a Treaty for Peace, Lord Howe consented to his being landed at New York and proceeding from thence to Philadelphia. He doubted whether Genl. Washington would approve of his going, though he thought the General so well disposed that he would coincide in the Idea of negociating a Peace—that however if he objected to his Journey to Philadelphia, he would immediately return according to his Parole."
30 August 1776: "About this time [before dinner] we observed a Flag going from our Army to Governor's Island, whereon were many of the Enemy. The General had sent to offer them protection if they would immediately come over—they said they had not Authority from General Washington—Our Troops kept a fire upon them all the Afternoon. ... Our whole loss has not exceeded 50—Between 3 & 4000 of the Rebels are killed and taken."
16 November 1777: "Our Batteries on Province Island, and our Ships, fired incessantly the whole day upon a rascally Place called Mud, or Fort Island, where the Rebels were strongly posted to prevent the Water-Communication with Philadelphia. They did not surrender, but we have just heard, that they have evacuated in the Night."
18 November 1777: "Lord Cornwallis came on board, having arrived at Chester from Philadelphia with a large Force to be landed on the Jersey Shore, in order to besiege Red Bank."
21 November 1777: "The Rebels have not waited to be attacked by Ld. Cornwallis, but have blown up and evacuated Red Bank."
1 December 1777: "This Morning a Servant introduced into my Parlour, a Gentleman with a broad brim'd Hat, which he did not move from his head. His first Salutation was 'art thou friend Starky' ... my Name is James Logan. ... I offered him my hand, which is a universal Custom in America. He put out his hand from his side, without extending his Arm an Inch."
vi) Eight letters signed by Lord Germain, Secretary of State for the Colonies, variously to Lord Howe and/or General Howe, together with copies of two letters and a four-page summary of their correspondence made by Henry Strachey, the majority docketed, in the hand of Lord Howe and with dates of receipt, about 30 pages, folio, Whitehall, 7 October 1776 to 12 June 1777. Germain's attitude toward the American rebellion—as well as the ultimate ineffectiveness of the Peace Commission—is revealed by a few representative selections from his correspondence.
7 October 1776: "It was the King's first Wish, that His Rebellious Subjects in America should be brought to a proper sense of their Duty, without involving them in the Calamities of War. Your mode of proceeding was admirably calculated to counteract the pernicious Designs of those, who, giving a loose to their own immoderate notions of Liberty, have by misrepresentation and perversion of Facts, so long and so fatally blinded the Eyes of a deluded multitude, and by the means of violence and threats compelled them to break out into Rebellion, in search of a Redress of Grievances which never existed."
14 January 1777: "It is impossible that a liberal Mind should not feel inexpressible Delight in being able to devise means of justifiably extricating the Guilty from the Punishment to which they stand obnoxious. I make no doubt that you experienced that Satisfaction at the time you issued your late Proclamation [of Pardon], and I sincerely hope that it may be produced of all those good Consequences which you expect to result from it. ... At the same time however that His Majesty is unwilling, or unable, to divest Nature of Compassion, it is not to be presumed that he will deprive Justice of her Strength: And those who shall neglect the present means of obtaining His Forgiveness, and refuse to make that wise and dutiful Submission to which they have been graciously invited & exhorted, must expect to become the Objects of His severest Displeasure. It will, therefore ... be incumbent upon you to use the Powers with which you are intrusted in such a manner that those Persons, who shall have shewn themselves undeserving of the Royal Mercy, may not escape that Punishment which is due to their Crimes, and which it will be expedient to inflict for the sake of Example to Futurity."
3 March 1777: "It gave me great Satisfaction to learn ... that the Proclamation ... had been successfully circulated in the Neighboring Provinces; and that the Terms of it had been embraced with an Avidity, which had afforded you reasonable grounds for expecting every good Consequence that the Measure was calculated to produce. The Affair at Trenton happened, it is true, subsequent to the date of your Letter. I trust, however, that the unexpected Success of the Rebels there will not so far elate them as to prevent them from seeing the real Horrors of their Situation, and tempt them to distain to sue for Pardon."
18 May 1777: "It would have given His Majesty's Mind the completest satisfaction to have heard that the Rebels in general had paid that Attention to your Proclamation which it deserved; and that their eagerness for the Royal Mercy, had at least kept pace with his gracious Inclination to grant it. The Situation of those who have neglected to return to their Allegiance is truly deplorable; ... And though the Guilt of those Persons who have declared the Colonies independent, and who have in consequence of such Declaration treated with foreign Powers, in the hopes of engaging this Kingdom in a War, is so aggravated and atrocious as to render them objects of the King's severest Displeasure, His Majesty, however, will graciously condescend to receive even those Criminals in his Mercy, provided that the general good can thereby, and by that Measure only be effectually promoted."
20 May 1777: "I have the Pleasure to inform you that it gave His Majesty great Satisfaction to find so considerable a number of His deluded Subjects, altho' not the Leaders nor principal Instigators and Abettors of the Rebellion, had availed themselves of the Opportunity given them by your Proclamation to return to their Duty."
vii) Dispatch signed by General John Burgoyne, to General Howe, about his victory at Ticonderoga, 2 pages, marked "Duplicate," 6 July 1777.
Burgoyne's military experience in the American Revolution is a microcosm of the British experience: Great confidence and early success gave way to ultimate failure. This letter—datelined "In pursuit of the Enemy between Ticonderoga & Skeensborough July 6th 1777"—records one of his principal victories, but was written scarcely three months before his disastrous surrender at Saratoga. "I have had the fortune to dislodge the Enemy from Ticonderoga without firing a cannon shot. Having got possession of a part of Sugar Hill which would have enfiladed their Lines, they withdrew last night with the utmost precipitation leaving behind their Artillery ammunition, a great quantity of provisions and stores of all sorts; & all the buildings are preserved from fire. ... If it suits your arrangements to let this Army act to the Northward I am persuaded I could make great impression upon the New England Provinces."
viii) Papers relating to East Florida, including two autograph letters signed by Patrick Tonyn, Governor of East Florida, November 1776 to Mrs Strachey and 21 June 1782 to Henry Strachey, describing "these unnatural times" and the invasion of his state ("...but we found means to drive the Rebels out of it. ... My Plantation was forced to break up, and bring all my Negroes to this side of that River. ..."); with official contemporary copies of petitions and resolutions of the Provincial Assembly, to Governor Tonyn and King George, concerning the defenselessness of the state following the withdrawal of British troops ("... we have such dismal and gloomy prospects before us when we may soon expect to be deprived of all protection, government and Laws—when those who may be enabled to embark must be under the cruel necessity of quiting their property and consequently must depart in indigence ... And when those who remain must be left altogether unprotected surrounded by Banditts, Murderers, Savages, and enemys of every denomination without even arms or ammunition to defend themselves. ..."), 19 June 1782, 20 June 1782, and 21 June 1782. Together about 20 pages.
ix) Other significant related papers including:
"Abstract of Letters from Governor Tryon to the Earl of Dartmouth," written by Strachey, covering 3 January 1774 to 3 January 1776, 27 pages on 7 bifolia. This abstract gives a unique look at the American Revolution as seen by the Royal Governor of New York. "The exporting of Tea to America, has given general Alarm. ... Until the Arrival of the Account of the Tea being destroyed at Boston, I had very sanguine hopes that temperate Measures might have been manifested in the Conduct of the Body of the People of this Province on the arrival of the Tea. ... From the general Appearance of the united Opposition to the Principle of the Monopoly and the Importation Duty in America, I can form no other Opinion than that the Landing, storing, and safe keeping of the Tea when stored, could be accomplished but under the protection of the Point of the Bayonet, & Muzzle of the Cannon, and even then I do not see how the Sales or Consumption could be effected" (3 January 1774 entry).
Strachey's autograph notes regarding "the Terms on which [America] might be reconciled to G. Britain," which record his conversations with Mr. Pleasance of St. John's River, Virginia, 6-9 January 1778, 4 pages. Colonel Nisbet Balfour gave Pleasance a pass that allowed him to cross the lines to meet with Strachey. While these conversations were perhaps intended to be unofficial, Pleasance could not have helped but been aware that Strachey would share his proposals with the Peace Commissioners. It is also uncertain from Strachey's notes if he regarded Pleasance as a bona fide ambassador of peace or as a spy trying to ascertain the extent of the Howes' authority. Pleasance "thought that the Commrs. might publish the Terms, if it was really in their Power & Disposition to make Peace. I represented to him how improper it would be to particularise Terms, since America had declared that she would be indept. & would not enter into any Treaty but upon the footing of indept. States. That till that Bar was removed it was ridiculous to expect any explanation on the part of the Commrs.—that they were certainly disposed to reconcile the Differences and had the Power—that they had repeatedly so expressed themselves in Proclamations, but that America had as often treated them with Contempt, and persuaded the People that all the Professions were meant to deceive—that the Commrs. having in vain made Advances to Reconciliation, it was now incumbent on America to make Advances if she wished for Peace—That the Object of England was not to conquer & enslave America but to make her happy & to give her such Freedom as was consistent with her Relation to the British Empire—that all her real Grievances would be redressed. ..."
Three days later, Pleasance sought another meeting with Strachey and said, "I think Sir You told me that if America should repeal the Act of Indepe. and be reconciled to G. Britain all her Grievances should be redressed and that the Commrs. were willing to negotiate a Peace upon honorable & satisfactory Terms, I told him his Memory was accurate—that I had said so—but that by Grievances was not to be understood all the Cavils that had been started, but what upon a fair & liberal Discussion could come properly under that name." Pleasance indicated to Strachey that he would be able to carry this proposition to George Washington and "then asked whether G. Britain on a Peace would relinquish the exercise of Taxation." Strachey writes that he told Pleasance that while he could answer that question, he was uncertain if he should answer it, since he was the Secretary to the Peace Commissioners and not a Commissioner himself. He asked Pleasance to wait until the morning so that he could clarify this question of propriety, but Pleasance declined. Thus the discussion seems to have terminated.
Twelve letters by various Frenchmen in America (most likely intercepted by the British), including several by one "Bentalon," an immigrant to Philadelphia, giving his impressions of the country and declaring his intention to join the American forces, spring and summer 1777 ("... It is no good not being English, they don't like any nation, especially us French. On the other hand we are adored by the women, and this makes us the more detested by the men ..."); two by Baron de Arendt, Colonel in a German regiment, 6 and 12 April 1777 ("There is no fighting at the moment, save a few skirmishes, in which the Americans usually have the best of it ..."); and others by captains Rouget and Besse, masters of vessels detained at Philadelphia, 8 and 12 June 1777. These letters are all written in French and are accompanied by later transcriptions and English translations.
An official contemporary transcript of General Howe's lengthy letter to George Washington, Philadelphia, 21 February 1778, part of their significant correspondence "upon the Subject of the Treatment of Prisoners." Howe's reply to what he terms Washington's "Declamatory Complaints" fully reveals his frustration: "I do not think it necessary to trouble you with farther Assurances on those Subjects: Nor will you expect I should seriously contravert the Absurdities that have been officially reported as Facts, relative to the insulting, starving, stripping, and forcing Prisoners to inlist. The Complaints of the ill Treatment of the Officers, Prisoners in Philadelphia, are equally without Foundation. ... But the Severity exercised against the British Prisoners in general has been often a Subject of fruitless Remonstrances: And although I do you the Justice to believe that your Exertions on their Behalf, have not been wanting, the Imputation of Cruelty towards them, by other Persons in Power, is nevertheless justly founded. This Observation is supported by notorious Facts, and therefore in making it, I neither search for an Occasion of expressing personal Politeness to you, nor of throwing unmerited Reflections on those whose Authority you uphold." Howe's original letter is evidently lost; The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, ed. Lengel, 13:620–28, cites other contemporary copies in the National Archives, the South Carolina Historical Society, and the Public Records Office, London. Washington did not respond to Howe's charges, although he acknowledged receipt of this letter.
A letter to Strachey, now returned to London, from Colonel Nisbet Balfour in Philadelphia, 17 June 1778, giving a cynical assessment of the British accomplishments in the war. "I am sure you will pity us here, insulted, & ridiculed by the Americans, disgusted & unhappy amongst ourselves. The Commiss[ioner]s have been treated as you foretold, and got severall violent kicks in the B. Tomorrow we leave town & bid Adieu to America as masters—since you left us, no American has been fool enough to delay one moment of submitting to the States—Washington has desired them to remain quietly at home—And when he can come in to town & settle matters, the government shall be established as quickly as possible. ... there can be no doubt their government will be ... much firmer than ever ours was."
Section II: General Howe's "Narrative"
The complete early draft, partly autograph, of General Sir William Howe's justification of his conduct of the war as Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, presented before a select committee of the House of Commons (1779), drafted out down one column on each page with additions and revisions made in the adjacent column, written largely in the hand of Henry Strachey, partly in another hand, two pages (relating to Washington's crossing of the Delaware and the capture of Trenton) in Howe's own hand, ca. 85 pages, folio .
General Howe and Admiral Lord Howe arrived back in London in July and October 1778, respectively, to find themselves blamed, particularly by General Burgoyne and Lord Germain, for the recent military defeats. The Howe brothers accordingly obtained a hearing to defend themselves before a full parliamentary committee, an inquiry which lasted from 29 April to 29 June 1779. The inquiry proved to be inconclusive and was followed by a prolonged pamphlet war. General Howe published his defense—what was in essence his opening statement to the Parliamentary Committee—in The Narrative of Lieut. Gen. Sir William Howe ... Relative to his Conduct during his late Command of the King's Troops in North America, in 1780. The present manuscript is General Howe's original working draft of his defense, including various passages subsequently discarded, and differs very substantially from the later printed version. (In the published version, he appended a second essay attacking a pamphlet anonymously published by Joseph Galloway: "Some Observations Upon a Pamphlet, entitled Letters to a Nobleman.")
Howe writes that "From the great weight of business under my Attention when in America, Faults must undoubtedly be perceived, but none I hope which can be suspected to have arisen from want of Zeal, or from Inactivity. In all Military Transactions, but more particularly in those of America, where the Nature of the War, in all its' Points, is without Example, the happiest Commander will be he who escapes with the fewest Blots." He enumerates four charges by his opponents that he particularly wants to refute: "1st. That I have not neglected to furnish the Minister with every Information, as well as with my Ideas ["and Opinions" is ruled through and does not appear in the published text] relative to the Conduct of the War, from time to time. 2d. That I have not failed to give my Opinions respecting what appeared to me practicable to be done—what fair Prospects of Success with the several Succours expected from Europe, and with the Force upon the Spot. 3d. That I succeeded in my Plans, as fas as the Nature of Military Transactions might warrant. 4th. That I never flattered the Minister with improper Hopes of the War being terminated in any One Campaign with the force then in America." Reinforcing his fourth point, Howe throughout his defense continually claims that his requests for reinforcements were denied by Lord Germain.
Another recurrent theme in the Narrative is the delays caused by the unfamiliar and often treacherous American landscape: "With regard to the knowledge of the Country, so necessary to be obtained previous to the next Movement, I beg leave to mention the difficulties we laboured under in that respect throughout the War. The Country is so covered with Wood, Swamps, and Creeks, that it is not open in the least degree to be known but from Port to Port, or from Accounts to be collected from the Inhabitants entirely ignorant of Military Description. ... I must here add that I found the Americans not so well disposed to join us, and to serve, as I had been induced to expect. ..."
Howe faces head-on the loss at Trenton, which gave General Washington and the struggling Continental Army a new lease on life. This is the only section of the essay that appears in his autograph, which reflects the great significance he accorded it. "It has been objected to me, that I ought not have entrusted the important Post of Trentown to the Hessian Troops. My Answer to this, if clearly understood, will I think be satisfactory. Military Men will certainly understand it. The Left Sir, was the Post of the Hessians in the Line: and had I changed it upon this occasion, it must have been considered as a Disgrace, since the same Situation held in the Cantonments as in Camp. And it probably would have created Jealousies between the Hessian and British Troops, which it was my Duty carefully to prevent. ... I would ask those who object to this part of the Distribution, where could the Hessian Troops have been employed so well as in the defense of a Post? ... Could we have preserved [Trenton], we should have covered the greatest part of the Country between Princetown and the Sea. We should also have been so near Philadelphia, that we might possibly have taken possession of it."
Howe also stresses than simple military conquest was not his primary goal: "My principal Object in so great an Extension of the Cantonments, was, to afford Protection to the Inhabitants, that they might experience the Difference between His Majesty's mild Government, and that to which they were subject from the Rebel Leaders. For Sir, altho' I have been condemned by some for endeavoring to conciliate His Majesty's Rebellious Subjects by taking every means to prevent the Destruction of the Country, instead of irritating them by a contrary Mode of proceeding, yet am I from many Reasons satisfied in my own Mind that I acted in that particular for the benefit of His Majesty's Service. Ministers themselves, I am persuaded, did at one Time entertain a similar Doctrine; and from a Circumstance not now necessary to dwell upon, it is certain that I should have had little Reason to hope for Support from them if I had been disposed to Acts of great Severity."
If Howe was slow to engage General Washington, it was because of the latter's tactics: "he would have avoided a general Action, I am authorized to say not only from his constant uniform Conduct in that Respect, (and in which, no doubt, he acted judiciously) but also from this very obvious reason.—In New England there was no Object for which he could be tempted to risk a general Action.—Not so in Pennsylvania, for there the Defense of Philadelphia was an Object. ... My Idea has invariably been, that the Defeat of the Rebel regular Army was the only Road to Peace, and in that persuasion I sought every means of bringing them to Action consistently with the Hazard to be guarded against on the other side—I mean the Defeat of the Royal Army."
At the end of the present draft, Howe justifies his failure to attack Washington's beleaguered army at their winter encampment at Valley Forge. "The intrenched Situation of the Enemy at Valley-Forge, 22 Miles from Philadelphia did not occasion any Difficulties so pressing as to justify an Attack during the severe Season; and altho' every thing was prepared with that Intention, I conceived an Attack upon so strong a Post imprudent, untill the Season afforded a good Prospect of reaping the Advantages that ought to result from success in that Measure; But having good Information in the Spring that the Enemy had strengthened the Camp by Additional Works, and being certain of Moving him from thence when the Campaign opened, I dropt all thoughts of an Attack."
The Parliamentary inquiry Howe requested allowed him to make his defense publicly, but it did not result in any formal action by the House of Commons. The ultimate validation of General Howe's conduct may simply be that none of his successors were able to accomplish any more than he did in putting down the American Revolution.
Section III: Papers relating to the Treaty of Paris
These papers include a number of highly significant communications, including an official contemporary copy of George III's commission to his Attorney General to prepare a bill authorizing Richard Oswald to negotiate a peace treaty, with the text of the proposed bill (25 July 1782); "Minutes" for the proposed treaty drafted out in Henry Strachey's handwriting; the proposed articles including boundary settlements with Canada and the Floridas, a freedom of fishery off Newfoundland, and five of six million pounds' indemnity to the thirteen states for disruption of property; Strachey's French passport signed on behalf of Louis XVI; a series of draft notes and memoranda by Strachey relating the Treaty and to the Peace Commission's instructions; official copies or drafts of various letters relating to the negotiations, including letters by the Home Secretary, Thomas Townshend (afterwards Viscount Sydney), and Lord Shelburne (afterwards Marquess of Lansdowne), and by the British commissioner Richard Oswald.
Other notable documents are an official copy of a letter by Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and John Adams, refusing to restore, or compensate for, the confiscated estates of Loyalists ("In the moment of conciliatory overtures it would not be proper to call certain Scenes into view, over which a variety of Considerations should induce both Parties at present to draw a veil. ..."); and autograph retained copies of letters by Strachey to Townshend, Nepean, and others concerning articles of the Treaty, particularly the insurmountable problem of the refugees, defending his own conduct against criticism, and conveying the best terms finally obtainable from the Americans ("Now are we to be hanged or applauded, for this rescuing You from the American War? ... I f this is not as good Peace, I am confident it is the best that could have been made. ...").
This final section of the Strachey papers contains approximately 25 documents, totaling about 205 pages, 25 July 1782 to 10 February 1783.
When Richard Oswald seemed too willing to accede to the demands of the American commissioners, the Prime Minister, Lord Shelburne, deputed Strachey to assist as an under-secretary of state. He was charged particularly with securing the British right to eastern Maine, gaining a portion of western lands as a refuge for dispossessed Loyalists, restraining American fishing rights, and obtaining payment to British merchants of American debts. Strachey was already known to both John Adams and Benjamin Franklin from the abortive Staten Island peace conference of 1776. Shelburne considered Strachey "a most amiable, well-instructed man," and in his diary entry of 4 November 1782, John Adams wrote "Strechy is as artfull and insinuating a Man as they could send. He pushes and presses every Point as far as it can possibly go. He is the most eager, earnest, pointed Spirit."
Strachey's "Minutes for Treaty" records that one of his principal duties will be "A Settlement of Boundaries between the Thirteen United States, and the King's Colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, St. John's Island, Cape Breton, Newfoundland, East Florida & West Florida." In a "Separate Paper referred to ... Boundaries &c," Strachey expands on each of these British colonies, noting that Great Britain "hopes West Florida tho' now in the hands of Spain, will be recovered ... If West Florida is not recovered, East Florida will not be worth keeping, on acct. of the Expence of securing it against the Spaniards."
In an autograph letter to Thomas Townsend, 8 November 1782, Strachey provides the terms as most recently negotiated and states "Upon the Return of a Messenger to Paris with your definitive Answer, if not very repugnant to the Terms now sent, the American Commissioners will, I doubt not, immediately sign the Treaty, so that you may have it in London before the meeting of Parliament." He also reports that the American commissioners have tacitly agreed to safe passage from New York for the Loyalists resident there: "they express themselves to be confident, that Washington, upon sight of this provisional Treaty, signed by them will not obstruct the Evacuation."
In fact, it took almost another year, until 3 September 1783, for the Treaty of Paris to be signed; it was ratified by the Congress of the Confederation on 14 January 1784 and by George III on 9 April of that year. The American Revolution was at last concluded—due in no small part to the role played by Henry Strachey.