After recuperating from a wound suffered during the Saratoga Campaign at his home in Hingham, Massachusetts, Major General Benjamin Lincoln of the Continental Army was well enough to rejoin George Washington in New York in early August 1778. Although he did not yet know it, he would be given the command of the Southern Division of the Continental Army in September 1778. He would not be home again for any period of time for five years.
When General Lincoln left Hingham, his wife Mary was recovering from smallpox. His eldest son, Benjamin, Jr., was 22 and away from home, studying the law. Six children were at home: Molly, 20; Elizabeth, 19; Sarah, 17; Theodore, 15; Martin, 9; and Hannah, 5. Molly, the oldest daughter, who is referenced in this letter, was intellectually disabled and lived with her parents throughout her adult life.
On July 28, 1778, en route to New York, the General penned this letter to his children:
The ill health of some of you, joined to my great hurry, prevented my making some general observations to you relative to your future conduct before I left home—some of which are of the greatest importance.
In the first place you will never forget your God—the duty you owe to him as your creator, preserver and best benefactor. The duty you owe to your neighbor and to your selves you will learn from divine revelation, which you will attentively study, and the example of our dear redeemer.
I must mention to you the peculiar state of your mother whose cares and burdens are greatly increased by my absence. I need not urge; I am sure your own feelings will always suggest to you the propriety of your lessening her cares, lightening her burden, and treating her with every mark of tenderness, duty. and respect. Never wound her by doing a wrong action. You may safely confide in her advice.
I must in the next place recommend to your constant notice your sister Molly. Consider who made you to differ. You owe her every attention. Make her life as happy as in your power. Some are made strong to bear the infirmities of the weak.
You will love each other. Those of you who are grown up will counsel those who are not. Never set an ill example before the little ones. Encourage them to every act of goodness, charity, and benevolence by precept and example.
As our happiness is connected with the happiness of those about you, always watch over yourselves; let your deportment at all times be such, if possible, that even the malicious shall be constrained to acknowledge its fitness.
I am in haste, must close ,but cannot do it without saying again remember your God, love your fellow creatures, injure no person.
I am, with every wish for your present and future happiness, your affectionate father,