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Faulting the French
“Don’t be surprised, my dear General; the generosity of your honest mind would be offended at the shocking sight I have under my eyes,” the Marquis de ...

Faulting the French

“Don’t be surprised, my dear General; the generosity of your honest mind would be offended at the shocking sight I have under my eyes,” the Marquis de Lafayette wrote to General Washington from camp near Providence on August 25, 1778.

This forlorn French star described his heart as “injured” after the Americans retreated from Rhode Island. Although Lafayette was devastated at the outcome, he was more upset at the blame game. The whispers among the soldiers shouted like cannons into Lafayette’s ears. His beloved Americans faulted the French for the Rhode Island rout.

Unlike Greene, Lafayette decided the fault was less with the French and more with the Americans, whose land forces arrived a day earlier than France’s Count d’Estaing and America’s General Sullivan had agreed to in their written plan.

“The same day we landed, without his [d’Estaing’s] knowledge, an English fleet appears in sight,” Lafayette added, noting the situation was uneasy.

“But, finding the next morning that the wind was northerly, being also convinced that it was his duty to prevent any reënforcement at Newport, he [d’Estaing] goes out, under the hottest fire of the British land-batteries; he puts the British navy to flight, and pursues them, and they were all in his hands when that horrid storm arrived to rain on all our hopes. Both fleets are divided, scattered,” he continued.

Lafayette related that after the storm the French fleet met again. They soon discovered that their shattered boats and lack of food and water made them vulnerable. Intelligence from Sullivan also indicated the British were sending out another fleet. Lafayette and Greene sailed out to consult with d’Estaing. They learned the count was under orders from King Louis XVI to return to Boston in case of an accident.

“He [d’Estaing] called a new Council of War, and, finding every body of the same opinion, he did not think himself justifiable in staying here [in Newport] any longer, and took leave of me with true affliction, not being able to assist America for some days; which has been rewarded with the most horrid ungratefulness,” he wrote of the multitude of pointing fingers he had seen among American soldiers. Lafayette refused to sign the American petition against the French.

“The Count said to me these last words: ‘After many months of sufferings, my men will rest some days; I will man my ships, and, if I am assisted in getting masts, etc., three weeks after my arrival I shall go out again, and then we shall fight for the glory of the French name, and the interests of America,’” wrote Lafayette, quoting Count d’Estaing.

This French star, the Marquis de Lafayette, hoped to rise above the blame game by revealing the truth as he saw it.


Father, I cannot stand blameless before you. Forgive me for my sins and hold back my hand the next time I am tempted to point fingers.

“Your servants are given no straw, yet we are told, ‘Make bricks!’ Your servants are being beaten, but the fault is with your own people”

(Exodus 5:16).

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