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After Yorktown Victory, Samuel Huntington Congratulates French Foreign Minister
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Available as part of The Alexander Hamilton Collection

The conduct of Count de Grasse so far as it hath come to my knowledge charms me; his drupping the British fleet sufficient to Convince teach them they might not & could to keep at due distance & not enter the Cheasapeake or again attempt to Interrupt the siege, & at the same time not suffering himself to be too far diverted from his first & main object…

SAMUEL HUNTINGTON. Draft Autograph Letter, to Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes, Minister of France, November 7, 1781, Norwich, Connecticut. On laid paper watermarked “I Taylor.” 2 pp., 8 x 13¼ in.

Inventory #24776      

General George Washington and his French allies were planning an attack on British forces occupying New York City in the summer of 1781, when news came from Major General Baron von Steuben of the possibility of attacking and trapping General Lord Cornwallis in Virginia. The British commander had moved his army to the Chesapeake in order to link up with supplies and reinforcements on the way from the Royal Navy. However, Washington had his own powerful naval weapon, to which Huntington refers in this letter: French Admiral Francois-Joseph Paul, Comte De Grasse (1723-1788). The arrival of 29 French warships and 3,000 troops off the coast of Virginia on August 26, 1781, was crucial to victory. On September 5, de Grasse defeated a British squadron under British Admiral Sir Thomas Graves in the Battle of the Chesapeake, and Graves sailed back to New York for repairs, leaving Cornwallis without reinforcements or supplies.

Meanwhile, in late August and early September, Washington and French Lieutenant General Comte de Rochambeau marched their armies from New York to Virginia to besiege Cornwallis at Yorktown. The combined British and Hessian forces were trapped, their escape routes blocked on the sea by Admiral de Grasse and on land by the combined forces of Generals Washington, Lafayette, and Rochambeau. On October 19, 1781, Cornwallis surrendered to Washington. French Foreign Minister Comte de Vergennes then served as the chief French representative at the peace negotiations between Great Britain and the United States, France, and Spain, which resulted in the Treaty of Paris in 1783, formally ending the Revolutionary War.

Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes (1717-1787) served as Foreign Minister of France under King Louis XVI from 1774 until his death. On February 6, 1778, de Vergennes and U.S. commissioners Benjamin Franklin, Arthur Lee, and Silas Deane signed a Treaty of Alliance and a Treaty of Amity and Commerce with France. The Treaty of Alliance contained the provisions the U.S. commissioners had originally requested, and also included a clause forbidding either country to make a separate peace with Great Britain, as well as a secret clause allowing for Spain, or other European powers, to enter into the alliance.


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