This Day in the American Revolution
Admiral Richard Howe sends a letter to Washington under a flag of truce in an attempt to open negotiations with the Patriots in New York. However, the message is addressed to “George Washington, Esq.”, which did not recognize his rank as General. One of Washington’s officers, Joseph Reed, tells Howe’s agent that there is no one in the army with that address, and the letter is rejected.
The omission of GW’s military title from the address prevented delivery of the unfound signed letter on 14 July. In his journal entry for that date, Samuel Blachley Webb wrote: “A Flag of Truce from the fleet appeared, on which Colo. [Joseph] Reed and myself, went down to meet it, about half way between Governors and Staten Islands. Lieutenant [Philip] Brown, of the Eagle, offered a Letter from Lord Howe, directed George Washington Esqr., which on acct. of its direction, we refused to Receive, and parted with the usual Compliments” (Ford, Webb Correspondence and Journals, 1:155; see also ibid., 3:293–94).
Ambrose Serle, who was aboard the Eagle on 14 July, wrote in his journal that Lieutenant Brown “was dispatched with a Flag of Truce to Washington at New York. He was stopped by three Boats at a little Distance from the Town, demanding his Business. Upon being told that he had a Letter from Lord Howe to their Commander, they ordered him to lay to, while one of the Boats went to the Shore for Directions. In a short time, three officers came off, and desired to know to whom the Letter was addressed. They would not touch it, but begged the Lieutenant to read it. As the Address was, To George Washington Esq. &c. &c. &c. they said, there was no such Person among them, and therefore would not receive it. Upon being asked what Address they required, it was answered, that ‘all the World knew who Genl. Washington was since the Transactions of last Summer”’ (Tatum, Serle’s Journal, 31–33).
Source: Founders Online