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Posted on Oct 23, 2004 in Armchair Reading

The Foiled Plot to Remove General Washington

By Sue Chehrenegar

As the British Redcoats marched into Philadelphia in September of 1777, the delegates in the Continental Congress secretly boarded a number of different stagecoaches and headed west.  After a journey of more than 100 miles, those delegates emerged from their stagecoaches in the City of York, the westernmost site of civilization within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The citizens of York watched with interest as the dirty and exhausted delegates stepped out of their stagecoaches in the town square and sought refreshment at the Plough Tavern, one of the few buildings then standing along York’s main thoroughfare.  In the weeks following the delegates’ arrival, the citizens of York, many of whom gathered outside of the York Courthouse, heard the loud and forceful voice of Thomas Paine.  That pamphleteer shared with the people of York the problems then facing the Commander of the Continental Army, General George Washington.


As Washington and his soldiers shivered in the snows of Valley Forge, a second officer, General Gates, took up residence in York.  He came to York after leading a battle against the British forces at the town of Saratoga in the colony of New York.  Preceding Gates’ appearance in York, the Continental Congress had ordered a special celebration, recognition of the rebel victory.  At that celebration the people of York toasted the defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga, and the members of the Continental Congress made note of the fact that the victorious rebel forces had been under the leadership of General Gates. 

General Gates quickly saw how his proximity to the Continental Congress could work to his advantage.  He soon initiated an effort to persuade the delegates in the Congress that they needed to form a Board of War.  Gates presented a very convincing argument, and the Congress had soon voted in favor of the establishment of a Board of War, just as Gates had anticipated.  The creation of this Board led to the need for a Chair of that Board.  The delegates in the Congress, with the Saratoga victory fresh in their minds, selected General Gates as the Chair of the new Board of War.       

When the Continental Congress appointed Gates as the Chair of the Board of War, it provided him with the opportunity to lay-out his own proposals for the sites he considered most appropriate for future confrontations between the Redcoats and forces in the Continental militia.  Gates sent to Congress a suggestion that there be an invasion of Canada, an invasion led by the Continental Army.  Gates included in that suggestion his opinion of the best man to direct such an invasion. 

Gates submitted to the Congress the name of a Brigadier General, Marquis de Lafayette.  Lafayette was, at that time, in Valley Forge with Washington.  Gates knew the sending of Lafayette to New York, asking him to lead an invasion, would deprive General Washington of a trusted aid.  Gates invited Lafayette to stay at the Gates’ home in York prior to the invasion.

Marquis de Lafayette

Marquis de Lafayette
Charles Willson Peale

Why was General Gates seemingly intent on adding to the discomfort already endured by the Commander of the Continental Army?  Because General Gates had learned that some delegates in the Congress had become displeased with the poor performance by General Washington. A handful of unhappy statesmen and their Army cohorts had sent Gates a detailed accounting of their dissatisfaction with the repeated defeats suffered by General Washington.  They wanted to get rid of him.

General Gates was more than happy to cooperate with any effort aimed at the removal of General George Washington as the Commander of the Continental Army.

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