In 1779, Washington engaged Dobbs to act as a pilot for French Admiral Hector D’Estaing. This agreement was renewed, though the French Navy did not actually collaborate with the Continental Army until the celebrated Yorktown campaign of 1781. On 2 May 1780 Admiral de Ternay (d’Estaing having returned to France) sailed from Brest with seven ships, carrying a total of 6,000 men under the command of Lieutenant General de Rochambeau. Ternay’s orders specified Newport, Rhode Island, as his destination unless he found the island to be occupied by the British. He arrived on 12 July. For much of 1780 and early 1781, the French Navy and Rochambeau’s Expeditionary Army were bottled up in Newport, Rhode Island, by British blockade.
Washington, as is argued by historian Joseph Ellis in His Excellency, George Washington (2004), envisioned collaboration between his army, Rochambeau, and the French Navy, but his real object was New York City, the site of Washington’s most humiliating defeat to date. He could expunge his demons by delivering the decisive blow for American independence. As Washington wrote to Nathanael Greene three days after this letter, he had "determined upon a plan of operations for the reduction of the City and Garrison of New York" with French assistance (Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, 19:169). He knew the French Navy would need skilled pilots, knowledgeable of the idiosyncrasies of the Hudson River and New York harbor. Dobbs was ideal, and as this letter shows, Washington wanted him to bring additional pilots. On 15 July, Washington dispatched the Marquis de Lafayette with a "Memorandum for Concerting a Plan of Operations" to Rochambeau, which detailed his plan to invest New York. Washington stated that it was "essential for us to be Masters of the Navigation of the No[rth, or Hudson], River and of the [Long Island] Sound" (Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, 19:174–176).
Most of the battles at this time were being fought in the south as neither the British or the American armies in the New York area were strong enough for any major action. However, Sir Henry Clinton had returned north from Charleston on 17 June when he received an erroneous message from the traitorous Benedict Arnold, then still commander of West Point, that Rochambeau’s troops were on their way to join the Patriot cause. Clinton therefore ordered a renewal of the advance on Springfield, New Jersey, to delay Washington from meeting Rochambeau at Newport.
This British advance forced Washington to remain in New Jersey for most of July, making his headquarters at the home of Colonel Theunis Dey's (located in present-day Wayne, New Jersey). Dey commanded the New Jersey militia in Bergen County during the War for Independence and was charged with supervising the west side of the Hudson River.
General Clinton also wanted to gain time for his troops to return from Charleston, after which he planned to launch an offensive in the Hudson Highlands and Westchester. Rochambeau was kept inactive at Newport until July 1781, when he marched across Connecticut to join Washington at the Hudson River and thence south to Yorktown for the final and victorious campaign against the British forces under the command of Lord Cornwallis.
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