Petition of Certain Deserters, with Jefferson’s Observations
[Before 7 October 1780]
To his Excellency Thomas Jefferson Esqr. Governor of Virginia, and the Honble. Members of the Council.
The petition of sundry persons whose Names are hereto Subscribed, most humbly sheweth,
That your said Petitioners being of the Goochland Militia lately March’d to Hillsborough in divisions, and with shame and Sorrow acknowledge the disgracefull rout your said Petitioners, with most of the Militia soon after sustain’d, but the[y] humbly hope that when plain facts are made known to your Honble Board, it will in some measure take off the Odium your said Petitioners at the time labours under; Being raw and ignorant of discipline and under officers (generally) as undisciplin’d as your Petitioners, who being Order’d not to fire, untill they had the word, and then to advance with charg’d Bayonetts occasion’d the Confusion which soon follow’d. When your said Petitioners arriv’d at Hillsborough, destitute of money, a Shirt to shift th[em,] and even Clothes to wear, apply’d to their Officers for leave to come in and procure such Supplies as their poor families could furnish, altho’ such permission was not obtain’d, yet with the Connivance of several of their Officers they came in, and with the utmost diligence were returning back, met sundry of their old Companions who said they would not be receiv’d at Head Quarters, but were deem’d Continental Soldiers for Eight Months.
Your said Petitioners having no intention of desertion, then deliver’d themselves up to the County Lieutenant, and are now under Marching Orders. They wish not to Repine at their Lott, in performing a Tour of duty in so good a Cause, but most of them being very poor Men, with family’s of small Children unable to Labour, must enevitably loose great part of their Stocks, by the shortness of their present Crops. What then must be the distresses of their helpless families the ensuing Year, should they be deem’d Soldiers Eight Months longer.
Your Petitioners therefore pray, that your Honourable Board will be Graciously pleas’d to take the premisses under your Consideration and remit the additional service, and your Petitioners shall ever pray &c.
|David England||John Askew||[Arthur Slaughter?]|
|Benjamin [Adams?]||Robert George||William Cosby|
|David Mitchel||Nathan Wingfield||Buucer Carrol|
|Aaron [Nash?]||Ruben [Slaughter?]||Humphrey Parrish|
|Thomas [Minton?]||James Busby||John Gilliam|
|Robert Groom||Eleaser Williams||William Utley|
John Woodson C. Lt. Goochd.
I think the within Pettition reasonable and True.
I have no power to remit the sentence of the law, nor do [I] know any power which can, except the General assembly unless the Commander in chief to the Southward shou[ld] think proper to discharge the petitioners at any certain point of time short of the eight months, which it does not appear probable to me he will do.
Octob. 7. 1780
MS (Vi). Body of petition in an unidentified hand; a few of the signers’ names are evidently signatures, but most of them were written down by some one person who had good intentions but atrocious penmanship, and hence some are illegible. The officers’ certifications are in other hands and are signed in autograph. TJ’s note at the end was written, signed, and dated by him.
This interesting document suggests the difficulties faced by both the common citizen when an enemy army was nearby and by a humane executive attempting to enforce laws designed to keep a citizen army in the field. See TJ to Edward Stevens, 19 July 1780. The militia had been embodied to march southward by an act passed early in the May session (Hening, description begins William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia description ends x, 221–6), but a little later, when the enemy actually approached Virginia, the legislature passed an “act for giving further powers to the governour and council,” which provided that deserters from the militia should be court-martialed, compelled to serve eight months longer in the state forces, and be subject during that time to the Continental articles of war (Hening, description begins William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia description ends x, 314). To support their petition, some of the deserters from the Goochland militia submitted depositions testifying that their officers had encouraged them to “come in” (i.e., return home), since they were helpless as a fighting force without clothing or arms. In Vi is a group of three such depositions, certified by Thomas F. Bates, a justice of Goochland co. They are all written on one page; the first of them reads as follows:
“Virginia, Goochland County Sct:
“Booker Carrell and William Cosby two of the Militia lately return’d from Hillsborough, being first duly Sworn, deposeth and saith, that at the time some of the Men from said County were about to leave Camp on their way home, Capt. Edmund Curd ask’d the deponent Carrell, if he was coming in with the others. Said Carrell reply’d that he should come if able. Capt. Curd then said, he would be Damned if he did not, was he in the deponents place, and gave said Carrell a Book to bring in, and further these deponents saith not.
Some of the local courts-martial refused to impose the eight-months’ penalty; see Gen. Stevens to TJ, 30 Oct. 1780.