CONWAY, THOMAS. (1733–1795). Continental general. Son and grandson of Irish officers in the French service, he was born in County Kerry, Ireland, taken to France at the age of six, and educated there. He became lieutenant en second in the Irish regiment of Clare on 16 December 1747 and was promoted to captain on 25 March 1765. On 9 July 1769 he was promoted to major in the regiment of Aquitaine. On 9 November 1772 he was promoted to colonel.
He left France on 14 December 1776 with a letter of introduction dated 30 November from Silas Deane and reached Morristown on 8 May 1777. Washington was favorably impressed and sent Conway to Congress with an unusually commendatory letter. On 13 May he was elected brigadier general and was assigned to Sullivan's division. In the operations from the Brandywine to Germantown, he greatly impressed Sullivan. The group associated with the "Conway Cabal" was most usually accused of trying to undercut Washington's reputation, especially among members of Congress, in favor of General Gates. On 14 December 1777, despite Washington's assertion that Conway's "merit … exists more in his own imagination than in reality," he was promoted over the heads of twenty-three other brigadiers to major general and inspector general. After the "cabal" collapsed, Lafayette refused to accept Conway as second in command for his projected expedition into Canada. Conway nevertheless joined Lafayette in a subordinate position to de Kalb, who had been appointed Lafayette's second in command, and continued his intrigues to get a separate command. On 23 March 1778 Congress directed Conway to put himself under McDougall's orders at Peekskill. On 22 April he wrote Congress a critical letter about its failure to give him a command, and he again raised the threat of resignation. Congress had by this time turned against him, and his resignation was accepted on 28 April. Conway, having heard that offensive words were said about him by Pennsylvania militia General John Cadwalader, challenged him to a duel on 4 July that resulted in an injury to Conway's cheekbone.
Conway returned to the French army and on 1 March 1780 he was named brigadier general of infantry; on 3 March 1781 he became colonel of the Pondichéry Regiment, and on 1 January 1784 was named maréchal de camp. Governor general of French forces in India as of 9 March 1787, he was elevated to governor general of all French forces beyond Cape of Good Hope on 14 April 1789. On 29 July 1790 he left the French service. In March 1792 the émigré princes gave him command of a projected army for southern France, which never developed. He became commander of the Sixth Regiment of the Irish brigade in the service of England in October 1794 but died shortly thereafter.
Bodinier, André. Dictionnaire des officiers de l'armée royale qui ont combattu aux Etats-Unis pendant la guerre d'Indépendance, 1776–1783. Vincennes, France: Service historique de l'armée, 1982.
Brenneman, Gloria E. "The Conway Cabal: Myth or Reality." Pennsylvania History 40 (1973): 169-178.
Rossman, Kenneth R. "Conway and the Conway Cabal." South Atlantic Quarterly 41 (1942): 32-38.
Washington, George. The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series. Edited by Philander D. Chase et al. 14 vols. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1985–2004.
revised by Robert Rhodes Crout