Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to George Gibson, 5 February 1781

To George Gibson

Richmond 5th. Febry. 1781.


The Executive are Shortly to proceed to the reformation of the State Forces according to a resolution of Assembly. As your commission is the oldest it is probable the Council will be of opinion that you are entitled to a continuance in command, and I think they will consider it as fortunate that they will be at liberty to continue you; from what passed in conversation when I had the pleasure of seeing you I apprehended you did not mean to remain in Service. I shall be very glad to know your wishes before We proceed to this business as I shoud be anxious to retain your Services if not entirely disagreeable to you, and if you were determined to retire that this might be effected on the footing you wou’d prefer. Your answer will oblige Sir Your very humble Servt.,

Th: Jefferson

Tr (Vi); at head of text: “Copy.” The Tr is evidently in Gibson’s hand; it was enclosed in a letter from Gibson to Gov. Thomas Nelson, dated at “Cumberld. County Pennsa.,” 1 Aug. 1781 (Vi), which states that soon after receiving the letter above, and shortly before leaving Virginia, Gibson waited on TJ “and gave him the following reasons for the declining the Honor the Council intended to confer on me” in the following terms: “After a service of upwards of five years, during which I have received the approbation of His Excellency the Commander in chief and the General officers under which I have had the honor to serve, It is with heartfelt pain I conceive myself obliged to decline the acceptance of the Honor intended by Council, communicated in Your Excellencys letter of the 5th. Febry. I had determin’d from my first entering the Army not to quit the Service so long as I cou’d be of use, and that I cou’d continue without doing violence to my feelings. Notwithstanding I have remained in service since the Year 1777. under every disadvantage; against these injuries, I have remonstrated in the most respectful manner to the Legislature of this State, without effect. Promotions have been made which have affected the very partial and contracted Rank we have hitherto held. To continue therefore to serve wou’d be a tacit acknowledgment to the World that our complaints were frivolous, that We were destitute of Merit, and unfit for promotion. I wish therefore to retire for the Present from a service which hath been rendered truly disgusting not only to myself but also to the Corps I have had the Honor to serve with. If it is consistant with equity I wish to be considered A supernumeray Officer on the State establishment. Nor wou’d I leave the State at this Juncture but from a conviction that my family from my long long absence need my utmost assistance. If hereafter I can be of Service I shall conceive myself bound to pay implicit obedience to the Orders of this State of which I consider myself A subject and to which I have a strong local attachment.” Continuing his letter to Nelson, Gibson added: “From the confusion which hath since ensued, from the rapid marches of the Enemy (which hath made my heart to ache more than once) It is probable the remembrance of So insignificant an Animal as I am may be buried in oblivion. I have therefore taken the liberty to Address Your Excellency, to tender my Poor services and to request I may not be exempted from the advantages accruing to Officers retiring Cum priviligio from service.” Gibson was clearly copying from his letter to TJ when he quoted it to Nelson, but no such response to TJ’s letter to him of 5 Feb. has been found, other than the present version.

The Resolution of assembly in question, passed by the House of Delegates on 1 Jan. 1781, empowered the executive “to discontinue for the present, from actual service, such of the … officers who are supernumerary to the men composing at present the several regiments or corps on State establishment” (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Oct. 1780, 1827 edn., p. 78); see also Gibson’s letter to TJ, following, and Advice of Council, 6 Feb. 1781.

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