HOWE, Richard (1726-1799), Viscount, Admiral, Royal Navy. Letter signed ("Howe") TO GENERAL SIR WILLIAM HOWE (his brother), on board the flagship "Eagle," "Off the Coast of the Province of Massachusetts Bay," 20 June 1776. 1½ pages, folio (12 x 8 in.), neatly inlaid to a larger sheet, very slight separation along one fold, the text in the fine cursive hand of an aide. Fine condition.
ADMIRAL HOWE ANNOUNCES THE ARRIVAL OF THE BRITISH FLEET IN AMERICA, WITH A PEACE COMMISSION FROM THE KING "FOR RESTORING PEACE TO HIS COLONIES"
At the instigation of Lord North over the objections of Lord George Germain (who staunchly opposed any conciliatory gesture towards the rebellious colonies), Admiral Howe and his brother Sir William (commanding British land forces in North America) were jointly named Peace Commissioners by George III. Their Royal Commission empowered them to listen to and report on the grievances of the colonists, and to grant pardons to American rebels whom they deemed deserving of such mercy, and to declare any town, county or whole colony which submitted to Royal authority to be "at peace": exempt from the naval blockade and military sanctions. Admiral Howe sailed for America on May 11, intending to rendezvous with his brother and the British Army at Halifax, Nova Scotia, the main British staging point. But the Admiral's fleet was severely delayed by storms, and when he made land at Halifax he learned that General William had already departed with his massive army for Staten Island, where he arrived on June 25. Here, Admiral Howe, from his 64-gun flagship, H.M.S. Eagle, formally notifies his brother of the his arrival and of their Peace Commission, and asks that the details be disseminated immediately in the rebellious colonies.
"Being appointed Commander in Chief of the Ships and Vessels of His Majesty's Fleet, employ'd in North America, and having the Honor to be by His Majesty constituted one of His Commissioners for restoring Peace to the Colonies, and for Granting Pardons to such of His Subjects as shall be duely [sic] solicitous to benefit by that Effect of His gracious Indulgence; I embrace this Opportunity to inform you of my Arrival on the American Coast, where my first Object will be an early meeting with General Howe, whom His Majesty hath been pleased to join with me in the said Commission."
"In the mean time, I have judg'd it expedient to issue the enclosed Declaration [probably a transcript, not present], in order that all Persons may have immediate Information of His Majesty's most gracious Intentions: and I desire you will be pleased forthwith to cause the said Declaration to be promulgated, in such manner, and at such Places, within the Province...as will render the same of the most public Notoriety."
"Assured of being favored with your Assistance in every Measure for the speedy and effectual Restoration of the public Tranquillity, I am to request that you will communicate from time to time, such Information as you may think will facilitate the Attainment of that important object."
Unfortunately, events had rendered such condescending gestures of Royal mercy largely impotent. Support for the independence movement had crystallized among the colonists, and, by the time the Admiral and the Fleet finally dropped anchor off New York on July 12, he was informed to his consternation that the Continental Congress had already adopted a Declaration of Independence, the text of which had received far wider circulation than had news of the peace-making powers delegated by the King to the brothers.
Provenance: The Century Club, New York (sale, Christie's, 11 June 1983. lot 24).