Gen. George Washington’s Arrival in Cambridge: The Public and Private Exchanges

Last week, J.L. Bell wrote on  his Boston 1775 blog about Gen. George Washington’s arrival in Cambridge to take command of the Continental Army. Washington was accompanied by Gen. Charles Lee, an experienced British officer who was bitter about not being appointed Commander in Chief and, according to Wikipedia, had nothing but the utmost disdain for Washington. The Boston 1775 blog post references a letter in which Lee wrote: “We arrived here on Sunday before dinner. We found every thing exactly the reverse of what had been represented.”

Lee’s privately-shared frustration with the actual state of the army may have also been publicly evident from his short one-paragraph response to his welcome address.  By comparison, Washington wrote a three-paragraph response. Certainly, this may be an analytical stretch, but it’s interesting to read Lee’s private critical assessment and compare it to his public response, as published in the June 29 to July 6, 1775 New England Chronicle. This newspaper was printed from Stoughton Hall at Harvard College in Cambridge, making it the likely first report of Washington’s July 3rd arrival.

Washington’s response, printed in the same issue, is straight forward and sympathetic to the circumstances under which the army was formed.  As J.L. Bell comments, the army was still reeling from the Battle of Bunker Hill.  In the second paragraph of his response, Washington states:

“The short space of time which has elapsed since my arrival does not permit me to decide upon the state of the army. The course of human affairs forbids an expectation that troops formed under such circumstances, should at once possess the order, regularity and discipline of veterans — Whatever deficiencies there may be, will I doubt not, soon be made up by the activity and zeal of the officers, and the docility and obedience of the men. These qualities united with their native bravery and spirit will afford a happy presage of success, and put a final period to those distresses which now overwhelm this once happy country.”

Click the detail image above or this link to read the entire page from the July 6, 1775 New England Chronicle that features the welcome addresses and responses from Washington and Lee upon their arrival at Cambridge.


  1. J. L. Bell
    March 31, 2010

    Washington and Lee received the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s addresses when they reached Watertown on 2 July 1775. They got to Cambridge that evening, and started inspecting the Continental Army lines the day after that. And that’s when they started to worry. I see different dates for when the generals wrote their replies, with 4 July 1775 being the earliest, which fits this publication date.

    Washington was cautious as usual in his public reply. I think Lee’s reply was short because he was second-in-command, and realized he shouldn’t overshadow his boss. In some ways, the congress had expressed more gratitude for Lee than for Washington, which was slightly awkward.

    Washington and Lee differed in how much they respected the New England militia. Washington thought the men were too uppity. Lee thought they were just fine, but saw weaknesses in the officers.

  2. raglinen
    March 31, 2010

    Excellent perspective as always, J.L. I look forward to seeing you on the next American Revolution documentary by PBS or History Channel! Thanks again for adding value here on Rag Linen.

  3. Gary Gregory
    April 28, 2010

    On another note, I was reading through a copy of our General Washington’s accounts and found an entry dated Sept 1,1775
    “cash for recovering my pistols which had been stolen and for repairing them afterwards 1-10–”

    Remarkable that he was ripped off in the American camp not too long after he arrives! Must have had him thinking ….

  4. raglinen
    May 1, 2010

    Thanks for chiming in, Gary. I had never heard that about Washington’s arrival before. That’s a great find.

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