George Sackville Germain papers  1683-1785
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Lord George Sackville Germain papers (6 linear feet) contain the political and military correspondence of Germain, British military officer and secretary of state for North America from 1775 to 1782. Though the papers document Germain's entire public career, the bulk of the material relates to his role overseeing the military during the American Revolution. In addition to official letters and reports, the collection is also comprised of copies of secret military dispatches, reports and extracts detailing the activities of the commanders and colonial governors of North America, and a copy book of letters between American diplomat Benjamin Franklin, Massachusetts Governor Thomas Pownall, and Boston reverend Samuel Cooper.

The Correspondence and Documents series (4.5 linear feet) contains drafts and retained copies of letters from Germain and official incoming letters and documents sent to Germain during his years of military and public service. The collection includes little related to Germain's personal life.

The series holds some correspondence relating to Germain's early military career, including ten letters he wrote to his father while serving in the War of Austrian Succession. Though only a few items relate to Germain's service at Minden, present are several letters written and received by Germain in Germany in 1759, and French and Indian War-era letters from politicians and military leaders such as Pitt, Temple, Holland, Mansfield, Bute, Newcastle, Charles Townshend, Grenville, and Ligonier. Of special interest are the letters of Lord Jeffery Amherst and General Wolfe's account of the fall of Louisbourg and the military in Canada. Germain held no high office between the French and Indian war and the American Revolution but he kept in close contact with Sir John Irwin, with whom he discussed politics and current events.

The bulk of the collection covers Germain's tenure as secretary of state to the colonies (1775-1782), and provides a thorough account of his public policy decision-making process. As American secretary, Germain maintained voluminous correspondence with ministers and officials in England, particularly secretaries of state Lord Suffolk and Lord Stormont, Undersecretary William Eden, and Solicitor General Alexander Wedderburn. Germain also received regular updates from Richard Cumberland, whom Germain sent to Madrid to negotiate peace with Spain.

As a key overseer of the British war effort, Germain had direct communication with the commanders-in-chief in America and their immediate subordinates, as well as with the naval commanders. Included are letters from Thomas Gage, William Howe, Richard Howe, John Burgoyne, Henry Clinton, Charles Cornwallis, John Vaughan, Guy Carleton, and Frederick Haldimand. He communicated frequently with the British governors in Nova Scotia, Canada, and Florida, and with Governor Henry Hamilton at Detroit. As France, Spain, and the Netherlands entered the war, much of his attention turned to naval action and trade (sugar and slaves) in the West Indies. He also dealt with the Carlisle peace commissioners, various merchants, and loyalists, such as Jonathan Boucher, physicist-adventurer Count Rumford, and confidant Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Thompson. The series concludes with 58 undated letters, largely written during the Revolution.

Below is a list of notable items from this series:

  • 1757: "Considerations on the present State of the Military Operations in North America"
  • January 20, 1775: Thoughts on the Dispute between Great Britain and Her Colonies, by Brook Watson
  • July 29, 1775: Report on the occupation of Charlestown Heights, written by William Howe
  • August 20, 1775: Military report by General John Burgoyne
  • October 18, 1775: An early "Constitution" created by the Provincial Congress of North Carolina, declaring independence and laying out the groundwork for a cooperative government among the colonies, containing 13 articles
  • December 29, 1775: "Reflections on the Dispute with the Colonies by Apollos Morris," containing a history or empires and discussion of the problem
  • [1775]: Report by John Shuttleworth on the British and American forces throughout North America: artillery, arms, and navy
  • [1775]: "Advantages of lord Cornwallis's Expedition going rather to Chesapeake Bay than to the Carolinas," by Sir John Dalrymple
  • January 12, 1776: Letter from Lord Ellibank who proposed returning Canada to the French as the most effective means of reducing the rest of our colonies
  • January 17, 1776: Proposal for growing vegetables for the British troops in North America - radishes, red spinach, lettuce, cabbage, and potatoes etc.
  • July 4, 1776: Contemporary manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence created for Germain
  • August 10, 13, 1776: Reports on the campaign in New York from William Howe, stationed at Staten Island
  • 1776: Peace commission instructions from Germain
  • February 28, 1777: "Thoughts for conducting the War from the Side of Canada"
  • March 18, 1777: "Political Remarks on the present state of affairs in respect to the Rebellion in America, and the danger of its involving us in a War in Europe"
  • April 2, 1777: William Howe's 3rd plan of military operations in North America
  • 1777: "A State of the Circumstances in Philadelphia"
  • March 8, 1778: A description of Germain's southern strategy sent to Henry Clinton
  • March 24, 1778: "Plan for taking of French and Spanish Islands," by John Drummond
  • May [26], 1778: Extract from Burgoyne's speech to the House of Commons concerning the Battle of Saratoga
  • August 24, 1778: British spy Dr. John Berkenhout's "Journal of an Excursion from New York to Philadelphia in the Year 1778," reporting on Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, and others
  • February-July 1779: "A Short Journal and Remarks of Transactions, that happened at Grenada & other parts of the West Indies"
  • March 31, 1779: Two copies of letters from George Washington to Henry Clinton, enclosed in Clinton to Germain, no. 46, April 2, 1779
  • 1779: "Hints for the Management of an intended Enquiry: an assessment of the War with America," including reports on the state of the military and intelligence looking into Howe's decisions: such as "Why did he not attack Washington at Valley Forge" and "Why did he not pursue Washington's Army after the Defeat at Brandywine,” and General Grey's "evidence and opinions and extracts from Howe's letters used at the inquiry"
  • March 8, 1780: "Sketch of a System by which the rebellious Colonies in America might be reduced to Obedience in two Campaigns, which offers a strategic plan for engaging the rebels"
  • July 25, 1780: Extracts from General Horatio Gates' orderly book, headquarters at Buffalo Ford July 25-August 15, with details on divisions from Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia
  • August 10, 1780: Petition from Ethan Allen and others from Vermont, concerning their unhappiness with the Continental Congress and their desire to form an independent British province, by John Griffiths
  • August 21, 1780: Reports from General Charles Cornwallis on the victory at Charleston and the Battle of Hanging Rock
  • October 1780: Copy of a letter by Alexander Hamilton discussing and describing the capture and trial of John André, and Arnold and Washington's involvement in the incident
  • October 1781: Reports on the battle and surrender of Yorktown and the siege of Chesapeake Bay
  • January 13 and 15, 24, 1782: Letters from Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Thompson, A New Hampshire Loyalist in the British cavalry, stationed in South Carolina, describing fighting at the end of the war

The Secret Military Dispatches volume (429 pages) is comprised of 246 secret dispatches and orders sent by Germain to political and military leaders between 1775 and 1782. In these, Germain discussed military strategy for the British army and navy in America and the West Indies with Henry Clinton, John Dalling, John Grant, Frederick Haldimand, John Vaughan, and the Lords of the Admiralty, among other officers and governors.

The Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Pownall, and Samuel Cooper letter book (296 pages) contains copies of 68 letters from Benjamin Franklin, Governor of Massachusetts Thomas Pownall, and Reverend Samuel Cooper of Boston. These communicate both British and American points of view of the developing unrest in the colonies between 1769 and 1774. Throughout the volume, Franklin and Pownall wrote from London while Cooper wrote from Boston; each voiced their unique perspective on political and civil conflicts between England and America.

The Undated Reports series (39 items) consists of undated documents found in Germain's papers relating to trade, customs, government finances, Irish policies, military strategy proposals, assessments on the outcome of military engagements, conditions on the ground in various colonies, the state of West Indian islands, and the role of the French and Spanish in the American Revolution.

The Supplements series (40 items) is comprised of documents submitted to Germain to keep him informed about the conditions and developments of the American conflict. Many contain added commentary aimed to inform and influence his decision-making. The documents include reports and compiled summaries of correspondence and military dispatches related to operations throughout North America.

In addition to this finding aid, the Clements Library has created three other research aids: The Subject Index and Contributor List provides access to events, people, places, and topics discussed in the Correspondence and Documents series (Volumes 1-16). This index also contains a list of contributors. The Volume Guide includes notes on the contents of each of the 22 volumes in the collection. The Guide to Volumes 17-21 provides lists of the documents in each of these volumes.

Show all series level scope and content notes