Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Richard Claiborne, 30 March 1781

To Richard Claiborne

Richmond March 30th 1781


The operations against Portsmouth being now discontinued, œconomy and respect to the rights of our Citizens require that the Horses impressed for that Purpose be returned to their owners. This I know will be a troublesome and expensive undertaking, but it may be effectually done I hope if every Person who impressed is instructed to look out and return all the Horses impressed by himself. Should any of them not have been revalued by Colo. Griffin, Colo. Southall and Mr. Anderson, be pleased to collect them in Places convenient to these Gentlemen and get the favour of them to revalue them. In like Manner I must desire that those formerly revalued by these Gentlemen may be again valued, because if they have fallen off or been injured, the Damage to be paid the Owner will thus appear.

[Be pleased also to take the orders of the commanding Officers, what number and Kind of Boats shall be retained for passing Troops over James River occasionally, and return all the rest punctually to their Owners. Particular Attention should be paid to the letting every Ferry have a good Horse boat.]1 I am &c.

Tr (Vi); at head of text: “A Copy of a Letter from his Excellency the Governour to Major Claiborne.” FC (Vi). TJ wrote a letter identical in substance to Granville Smith on the same day. The principal variation in the text of the two letters is indicated in note 1, below.

On 29 Mch. the Council approved TJ’s letter to Mitchell of that date “to have the armed vessels lately impressed discharged” and on 30 Mch. took the following action: “The Operations against Portsmouth being now discontinued, the board are of Opinion that the horses impressed for that purpose should be returned to their owners, and advise the Governor to give instructions to the Quarter Masters to have them returned accordingly” (Va. Council Jour. description begins Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia, ed. H. R. McIlwaine description ends , ii, 322, 323). On the same day Steuben wrote from Chesterfield to Claiborne in part as follows: “In consequence of the requisitions of the Marquis De La Fayette and Colo. Pickering Qr Mr Genl. a great number of horses have been impressed for the express purpose of carrying on the expedition against Portsmouth. As this Expedition has failed it is absolutely necessary that these Horses and every other article which has been impressed for the above purpose should be immediately collected and returned to the Owners and this I beg you will see done without loss of time” (Dft in hand of William North, NHi). It is possible that Steuben took this action independently, despite the fact that his statement of the cause for it is so similar in phraseology to that employed by the Council, for he returned to Chesterfield on 29 Mch., the day before the Council’s action was taken.

1The text in brackets (supplied) does not appear in the letter to Granville Smith.

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