Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Charles Wall, 21 December 1780

To Charles Wall

December 21. 1780.


I laid before the Council the Revd. Mr. Fanning’s Letter to Mr. Tazewell together with the Letters and other Papers found on Mr. Wickham. The general Expectations of remaining in this Country with which the Enemy (and probably) this young Gentleman came into it, the political Character of the Gentleman under whose Auspices he came, his not leaving the Enemy till they were obliged to retire, and the Complexion of his own Journals and Letters, are Circumstances which place him, in their Beleif, among the Enemies of this Country. Nothing appears which even leads to a Suspicion that a Difference in political Sentiment was among the Motives which led him from his Connections with the Enemy to seek a Union with this Country. The Manner of his effecting his Transition from the one Party to the other was not likely to produce any other than a hostile Reception. He comes, an Enemy, from an Enemy, in the midst of our Country, with Arms in their Hands, attempts to pass without Application to, or leave from, any Officer civil or Military, and to bear Letters negotiating an Interview between an Officer high in the adverse Command, and Citizens of this State. Under these unfavourable Circumstances, the Board cannot but deem him an Enemy and (being within our Power) a Prisoner of War. They are at the same Time so thoroughly satisfied of the decided Principles of Whigism which have distinguished the Character of the reverend Mr. Fanning that they shall think this young Gentleman perfectly safe under his Care, so long as he stays in this State: to him therefore they remit him until a flag, daily expected from New York into Potowmack River shall be returning to that Place when they shall expect him to take his Passage back, first calling on the Commissioner of the War Office to give a proper Parole. I am Sir with great Respect Your most obedient and humble Servant,

Th: Jefferson

Tr (Vi); in an unidentified hand; at foot of text: “Major Wall”; endorsed: “1780 December 21. Thos. Jefferson Letter to Mr Wall.” This letter (presumably the present transcript) was enclosed in a letter from Henry Tazewell to Gov. Thomas Nelson, 7 July 1781 (Vi; photostat in TJ Editorial Files); see below.

Charles Wall was presumably a militia officer, but his record is obscure. The case of John Wickham, on the other hand, is well documented, not only from TJ’s account of it as given here but from Tazewell’s letter of 7 July 1781, mentioned above and printed in full in CVSP description begins Calendar of Virginia State Papers … Preserved in the Capitol at Richmond description ends , ii, 204–7. From this it appears that young Wickham, a native of Long Island, came to Virginia from New York with his uncle, Edmund Fanning, “with a view of making this Country his place of Residence after he had qualified himself for the practice of the Law, and of living here during his minority under the direction of his uncle the Revd. William Fanning. But on his arrival at Portsmouth, he failed to observe those Precautions in coming out, which since he has found was necessary.” He was apprehended near Gen. Muhlenberg’s camp in Nansemond co. and examined by a court-martial; the letters and papers relative to his case were then transmitted to TJ, “who in Council came to the determination contained in the inclosed Paper” (i.e., TJ’s letter to Wall, here printed). The flag vessel not arriving from New York, Wickham remained in custody of William Fanning as a prisoner on parole, and Tazewell requested that Wickham, who could scarcely study law under these circumstances, be permitted to return to New York by some other means; “Possibly on his way he may effect his exchange in Portsmouth for some of our prisoners in the Enemy’s hands at that place.” The Virginia Council Journals (ii, 369), record that on 2 Aug. 1781 Wickham was granted a passport to return to Portsmouth, since he “appears to be released by the last cartel settled in the Southern Department” between Cornwallis and Greene. The Wickham, Tazewell, and Fanning families were all closely related by marriage (VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography description ends , xxx [1922], 65, 294–5). John Wickham later returned to Virginia and became a prominent lawyer in Richmond (DAB description begins Dictionary of American Biography description ends ).

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