Hi again! I am now ready for my question. Who do you think is Washington's most important aide? Basic internet searches yield Hamilton as the answer but you might have a different opinion on this matter. Also, is there any mention in his (Washington's) writings whom among his aides he consider the most indispensable to him and the war?
Hi! I’m gonna answer your questions backwards.
I am not aware that there is anything in which Washington states which of his aides was the most indispensable to him during the war because he made an effort to be a very impartial person (for the most part. there are a few exceptions) and his relationship with each of them was mostly quite different. He appreciated and valued each of them for the services that they brought to the position and the things that they were able to accomplish, which varied from person to person. Washington was astute in picking out what roles and tasks best matched each of the aides’ personalities and skills. Which leads me to your first question.
Of Washington’s aides, saying which one specifically was more important than the others is kinda hard because of the length of the war and how aides came and went, so there were several that were extremely important to him during each phase of the war. And when you consider the wide variety of roles that each of them played, it makes it difficult to say which one was more important than the other of these key aides. I think when it comes down to it, Robert Hanson Harrison, Tench Tilghman, and Alexander Hamilton were his most important Aides. Harrison, Tilghman, and Hamilton stuck with Washington the longest of all the aides (RH for 6 years, TT for 7, and AH for 4) which was invaluable in and of itself, but were not the only things that made them important.
Harrison was vital in communicating with Congress, writing letters, making sure the staff ran like a well-oiled machine, running Headquarters when Washington was absent, negotiating prisoner exchanges, and being present at councils and advising Washington on many important matters. There is a quote from Lafayette in which he said “In all the actions in which General Washington commanded, Colonel Harrison was present, near the person of the General, and exposed with him to equal danger. He assisted…in the councils of war, where his opinions were highly respected. He was the faithful depository of the secret councils of the General, of the confidential communications to him from Congress, of the military movements that were intended to be made, and of all those secret councils, on the preservation of which the success of the army, and of the revolution itself, depended…” It’s clear that Harrison was vitally important to Washington. Washington himself said that he would be “distressed beyond Measure” if Harrison left his service.
Tilghman was a versatile aide, well-rounded in his skill sets, and the longest serving aide on Washington’s staff. There were many cases in which Tilghman was the only aide residing at headquarters and toiling away at his desk, writing mountains of letters while all the other aides were gone. He was vital and he was dedicated, able to tackle anything Washington chose to throw at him. He was also fluent in French, making Tilghman a very valuable member of his staff when Pierre Penet arrived to discuss a business deal and when communicating with the French in general. That lasted until John Laurens joined the staff and the massive bulk of the letters from the French were translated by him instead while another sizable chunk of them was translated by Hamilton. Tilghman, like Harrison, was also a very good friend of Washington’s and Washington really enjoyed working with him.
Hamilton being the main pop up when doing a quick search about the topic does not surprise me, but it’s true that he was definitely one of the most important. In the four years that Hamilton served, he was one of Washington’s go-to men when it came to important political or military missions, played a deep role in Washington’s Intelligence network, worked with Harrison on prisoner exchanges, was fluent and french and served as a translator, and also did his healthy share of letter writing/copying. His ambition and willingness to take the initiative and lead were a stark contrast to Harrison and Tilghman’s temperaments and Washington utilized that by sending him out on those missions with confidence, knowing that Hamilton would be able to get them done. His skills and ambition when it came to diplomacy and navigating the political world to climb his way up the ladder were useful to Washington. And he was certainly a very important asset to the staff.
I looked to see what Lefkowitz had to say on the matter and found a couple pages in his conclusion about it and he agrees with my assessment, but he also proposes a 4th: David Humphreys, with whom Washington shared a close relationship with. If I recall correctly, Washington even opened up Mount Vernon for him to live at for a while. I haven’t delved much into David Humphreys yet because he didn’t come on staff until June 23, 1780, and I’m working my way down the list, but when I get to him I’ll see if I come to agree with Lefkowitz’s assessment that Humphreys was one of his most valuable/indispensable staff members for a reason aside from his friendship to Washington because I don’t think that that’s a good enough reason. It’s important, but I’d like something more.
george: [going about the business of taking on something he’s not super qualified to do and trying to not fuck it up]
a young man: [loudly] alas! i am a young man with several useful talents but my father is dead/absent/penniless/idk just generally kind of downer.
george: [looks at him]
george: [looks behind him. hamilton is furiously writing another treatise about why he should be given command. laurens is shouting “say that again to my face” at someone across the street.
lafayette is waving hopefully at george. david humphreys
is holding up a sheet of paper with macaroni glued on it titled “another ode to my cool dad washington.” tench tilghman and benjamin tallmadge are just glad to be there.]
a young man: [louder] i just- i could really use the guidance of an older man. gosh that’d be really amazing.
Stephen Dillane supplies the role of George with rumpled charm and keen intelligence, while Cheryl Campbell, Joanne Pearce and Anna Wilson-Jones bring the three wives “to vivid and often affecting life”. The Week Saturday March 2, 2002 Life After George by Sheridan Humphreys