FRANK E. DUNKLE
In 1775, when the Continental Congress needed a Commander in Chief for its army, the delegates appointed George Washington, apparently with confidence in his military experience from the previous war. Indisputably, the single greatest reason the Congress choose Washington the Virginian in 1775 was to wed the interests of the southern colonies to the fight in the North. New England congressmen worried that southern colonies might leave Massachusetts to work out its own problems with the British government. They astutely perceived that giving command of the makeshift army encamped around Boston to any man from Virginia, the most populous southern colony, would win support for the conflict among southerners. Yet, as Don Higginbotham has noted, no southerner would have been acceptable unless he were perceived as having adequate qualifications. 1 Evidence indicates that New Englanders had a favorable attitude toward Washington’s abilities, based at least partially on the image of him that Boston’s newspapers had created 20 years previously.
In nominating him for the post, John Adams said Washington was ‘‘well known to all of us, a gentleman whose skill and experience as an officer… would command the approbation of all America.’’ 2 Historians might justly suspect that as a politician Adams was merely lauding Washington to win support for his nominee. However, a private letter to his wife reveals that Adams the private citizen held a genuinely high regard for the Virginian’s military experience and ability. 3 Eliphalet Dyer and Robert Treat Paine were delegates to Congress who also wrote favorable estimations of the general’s reputation for military accomplishment. 4 In a letter to his wife, Silas Deane not only commented on Washington’s impressive soldierly appearance but also reminded her of how the Virginian had made his reputation. ‘‘He…