Best working friendship?

Constantino Brumidi's Washington with Jefferson and Hamilton. (Architect of the Capitol)

Which two people leveraged their friendship into a positive working relationship that delivered strong results?


The personal relationship Paris Commissioners Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane had with Edward Bancroft give him total access to all of America’s activities and plans with France before and during their formal alliance. It was this trusting relationship that enabled Bancroft, as the Private Secretary to the American Paris Commission, the new country’s first diplomatic mission abroad, to keep the British Government better informed of the Commission’s activities than was the Continental Congress. Both had known Bancroft earlier in their lives: Franklin when he had served as a colonial agent in London in the 1770s and Deane when he had briefly acted as a tutor to the younger man. Thanks to their complete confidence, the spy Bancroft was able to report “… every transaction of the American Commissioners… “(From Bancroft’s pension claim in 1784 to the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs as quoted in “Edward Bancroft (@Edwd. Edwards), Estimable Spy”, “Studies in Intelligence” 5, no. 1 (Winter 1961): A58. Note: author not identified)

Ken Daigler


Throughout the entire eight years of the war, George Washington and Nathanael Greene had a working relationship of mutual trust that was extraordinary. As an early battlefield commander, Greene helped to deliver successes at Trenton, Princeton, and Monmouth Courthouse. His initial failure not to abandon Fort Washington was forgiven by his commander because Washington correctly saw the overriding merits in Nathanael Greene. Washington’s trust was rewarded when Greene, as Quartermaster General, brought logistics excellence to a failed supply line of critical materials for the Continental Army. Greene stood by Washington without question during the Conway Cabal. In 1780, Washington didn’t hesitate in recommending Greene as commander of the Southern Army. In that trusted position, Greene led Cornwallis on exhausting chases throughout the south and then helped to engineer American victories at Cowpens and Yorktown. It was rumored that in the event of Washington’s death, Greene would be Washington’s logical replacement.

John L. Smith, Jr.


The friendship between Daniel Morgan and Nathanael Greene rescued the war in the South.

Thomas Fleming


The relationship between Thomas Paine, a new arrival from England, and Dr. Benjamin Rush, an esteemed Philadelphian, was not enduring – Rush refused to meet with Paine in 1803 when the author returned to the U.S. after a fifteen year absence – but the two were close in 1776. It was Rush (or so he claimed) that put the notion of writing Common Sense in Paine’s head, convinced him to make it a pamphlet rather than a short piece for a newspaper, conceived its title, and served as something of an editor for the essay.  Paine deserves most of the credit, but even the most successful writers usually benefit from the help of others.

-John Ferling


Washington & Hamilton:  As Steve Knott and Tony Williams’s book on their relationship demonstrates, each’s strengths and weaknesses perfectly complemented one another despite their superficial differences.  Washington brought status, wisdom and experience.  Hamilton the genius and the energy.  Their partnership extended past winning the war to creating a new Constitution and getting a new nation up and running.

Alec D. Rogers


Famously Washington developed a strong, almost fatherly relationship with Marquis de Lafayette.  However in terms of a working friendship delivering strong results over a sustained period, Washington’s bond with Henry Knox stands out as the best working relationship.  Starting with the siege of Boston in 1775, the relationship intensified during the dark days of the early Revolution, continued through the dangerous Newburgh Conspiracy and culminated with key political appointments for Knox during Washington’s presidency.  Continuous friends for nearly twenty-five years, Washington declared of Knox in 1798:

“There is no man in the United States with whom I have been in habits of greater intimacy, no one whom I have loved more sincerely, nor any for whom I have had a greater friendship.”

George Washington to John Adams, 25 September 1798

In a testament to the strength of the friendship, their working and personal relationship overcame difficult issues such as appointing Alexander Hamilton and not the more senior Knox as second in command during the army mobilization as a result of the quasi-war with France.

Gene Procknow


The friendship and intellectual camaraderie of Thomas Paine and Benjamin Rush was profoundly important in the eventual publication of Common Sense in January 1776; not least because Rush dissuaded Paine from calling the pamphlet Plain Truth. I am no book publisher, but I know a snappy title when I see one.

Nicolas Bell-Romero


We often consider George and Martha Washington through the prism of marriage, but as a team they contributed much more to the national character than a high-profile marriage.  Just as he was knitting a country together throughout the war and early years of independence, she was helping define a public role for women in creating a national character during a time that limited women’s opportunities to contribute so visibly to the life of a nation.  Wives often joined husbands in the field when the army wasn’t on campaign, but Martha laid out a much more visible role by organizing other women in camp and tending to the army’s needs, whether starting sewing circles or representing her husband in meeting public officials.  Their marriage, which may have its origins in practicality, evolved into a partnership in service of the young nation.

Eric Sterner


Although I wouldn’t characterize them as friends, Nathanael Greene and Daniel Morgan managed an incredibly difficult situation when Greene divided his army in December 1780 and set in motion the events leading to the Battle of Cowpens. Greene’s trust in Morgan, and careful handling of Morgan’s initial despondency after the army separated, not only produced the victory at Cowpens but set in motion the events that led to British defeat at Yorktown. Furthermore, Greene did not regard Morgan with jealousy after Cowpens, instead he willingly adopted Morgan’s tactics and this enabled him to render two British armies ineffective by inflicting heavy casualties at Guilford Courthouse and Eutaw Springs.

Jim Piecuch


One of my favorite working relationships would have to be that of General Anthony Wayne and Col. Richard Butler. Wayne and Butler were Pennsylvanians of Irish ancestry who served together in a number of actions: the Philadelphia Campaign, Monmouth, Stony Point, the Pennsylvania Mutiny, Green Spring, and Yorktown. Butler not only led the left column at Stony Point, he led the Corps of Light Infantry until Wayne arrived from Philadelphia. Butler’s death at St. Clair’s Defeat in 1791 was a blow to Wayne, who a year later went on to command the Legion of the United States.

Michael J. F. Sheehan


I believe the best working friendship of the Revolution was that between George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette. When Lafayette arrived in America in 1777, the American commander in chief was unsure what to make of the French nobleman, but by 1778 Lafayette, despite his youth, had come one of Washington most trusted major generals. Their relationship delivered many important fruits, including Lafayette’s valuable work in urging the French king to send an expeditionary army to America in 1780 and his command of the light infantry division in Virginia and at Yorktown in 1781.

Benjamin L. Huggins


George Washington and the Count de Rochambeau.  These men had so many differences and even had the British actively trying to split a wedge between them.  Despite this, they worked together to deceive the British at New York and then defeat them at Yorktown.

Matthew Reardon


Washington and Greene. Obviously Greene functioned well as a trusted lieutenant in the upper echelon of the Main Army, but came into his own when Washington chose to offer him the top spot in the south. Their friendship was certainly a factor in the decision. It’s highly unlikely that Greene would have been given the opportunity if he had been an antagonistic thorn in Washington’s side. The hindsight of two centuries tells us that Greene was the right man for the job. Washington thought as much ahead of time. Utter frustration of Britain’s Southern Strategy…this friendship had pretty strong results.

Joshua Shepherd


Billy Lee, purchased in 1768 by George Washington from Mary Lee, a wealthy Virginia widow, for £61.15s.1, was George Washington’s constant companion.  Often portrayed in period art work, Billy Lee (also known as ‘Will,” was at Washington’s side, participating in the surveying expedition to the Ohio Valley in 1770, going with him to the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, and to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774.   He served with Washington throughout the eight years of the Revolutionary War, including the winter at Valley Forge and at the siege of Yorktown.  By the terms of Washington’s will, Billy Lee was freed and was provided with an annual allowance for the rest of his life. Washington noted, “this I give him as a testimony of my sense of his attachment to me, and for his faithful services during the Revolutionary War.”

Kim Burdick


John Stark and Seth Warner. In August 1777, the team of militia brigadier general John Stark of New Hampshire and Continental colonel Seth Warner of Vermont won the Battle of Bennington, crippling John Burgoyne’s invasion. In October, the two took Fort Edward and then fortified a narrow pass, trapping Burgoyne’s army in the village of Saratoga (Schuylerville).

Stark held an independent command from New Hampshire. Early in August he clashed with Continental major general Benjamin Lincoln, who reported that Stark was “exceedingly soured.” In Lincoln’s absence, Warner was the highest-ranking Continental officer in Bennington with command of Vermont and Massachusetts militia companies as well as his own undersized regiment. Such a command structure might have brought out the worst pettiness in some officers. Instead Stark and Warner were friends, and an exaggerated sense of honor did not get in the way of cooperation.

Ennis Duling


Gen. George Washington met Mr. Henry Knox outside Boston on 5 July 1775. One was a forty-three-year-old Virginia planter who had returned to military life. The other was a twenty-four-year-old bookseller with no military experience who had taken his bride away from a comfortable life in a genteel Loyalist family. Their personalities clicked. Both were big men, and Knox was charming. It probably helped that Washington had no sons while Knox had lost his father at a young age. By fall, Washington was pushing to put Knox in charge of the Continental Army artillery. They worked together closely for the rest of the war. Knox’s letters as secretary of war during the on federation government led Washington to advocate for a new constitution. Knox served in Washington’s cabinet. Their partnership stumbled only in the 1798 “Quasi-War,” when Washington recommended Alexander Hamilton to head the army instead of Knox.

J. L. Bell

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  • I was unable to answer this question because I looked for people who were friends first, then became coworkers – that is, they were friends before the conflict began, and as a result of this pre-existing friendship were extraordinarily good at working together. Only a few of the above pairs fit this interpretation. Are there are others that do?

    • Don, you raise a tough, but interesting question. One lessor known example is South Carolina’s William Moultrie and Frances Marion. Marion served under Moultrie during the pre-Revolution Cherokee wars during which they formed a mentor/protege relationship. At the outset of Revolution, Marion and Moultrie again effectively worked together in the successful 1776 defense of Charleston. Even though there were testy periods during the nadir of the Patriot prospects, the two continued to cooperate, culminating in Marion protecting Moultrie after his exchange in the final months of the viscous Carolina partisan war. Further confirming their relationship, Moultrie speaks highly of Marion in his memoirs.

    • George Washington and Robert H. Harrison, Washington’s second longest-serving aide, were friends and colleagues in the Fairfax County government before the war. James Monroe later testified that Harrison “assisted, as I have always understood, in the councils of war, where his opinions were highly respected. . . . He was a most virtuous, able, and active agent in promoting every measure that was decided on.”

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