Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Davies, with Reply, 31 March–2 April 1781

From William Davies, with Reply

War office March 31. 1781.


Captain Young, the Quartermaster general of the state, who has just arrived, informs me that he saw at Edentown about 30 exceeding fine cannon of 18s and 24s. He asked the Naval officer, whose they were, who informed him they were the property of the State of Virginia, thrown out of a French vessel, who carried the remainder of them to South quay. As I have no return of any thing of the kind, I would be glad to be informed whether your Excellency had any account of such cannon. Captain Young thinks they can be removed without danger up Roanoak to Halifax; if they can, it will undoubtedly be a great advantage to the service; indeed, the removal of those at South quay might perhaps be secured in the same manner by transportation by water.

I have the honor to be Sir, your Excellency’s most obedt servt,

William Davies

In Council Apr. 2. 1781.

The cannon at Edenton are not the property of this state but of No. Carolina which purchased a part of the same cargo, of which the residue was purchased by us: their part was landed at Edenton, and ours brought to So. Quay. Under present circumstances it seems eligible to remove the Cannon at So. Quay by water to some safe part of the Roanoke from which they may either be transported across by land to James river or again carried to So. Quay. Blackwater is said to be navigable for flats or batteaux 30 miles above So. Quay. This watercourse points directly towards Petersburg. Perhaps when it is considered that there must be one if not two changes of vessels to carry them up Roanoke, that this is carrying them further from us, and that they may perhaps be transported shortly from the upper landing of Blackwater to a safe part of James river, and in the mean time be in an interior situation, it may produce a doubt whether the moving them up Blackwater would not be preferable.

Th: Jefferson

RC (Vi); addressed; endorsed, in part: “Sent 31st March, 1781—returned 6th April.” TJ’s reply, in his own hand, is written at foot of Davies’ letter.

With the arrival of Capt. Henry Young, Davies gained an able colleague and the documentation of political and military affairs in Virginia in 1781 took on color, pungency, and insight in the remarkable letters that Young wrote. But within a week after his arrival he was so “disheartened at the distraited situation of the affairs of his department” that he “declined his appointment as Quartermaster general to the state”; this alarmed Davies, who immediately appealed to Steuben to persuade Young to remain. “He is so essentially necessary,” wrote Davies, “that I must solicit you to represent to him the consequence his acceptance of the office is to the interests of the Southern army. I shall scarcely be able to do anything without him, as I believe everything will run more and more into confusion, unless he steps in to put them into some kind of order”; Steuben wrote a gracious and persuasive letter to Young in consequence, and Young remained in spite of the “amazingly deranged” state of the department (Davies to Steuben, 4 and 7 Apr. 1781; Steuben to Young, 4 Apr. 1781, all in NHi). Davies reported to Greene that the Cannon at Edenton belonged to North Carolina, whereupon he advised Gen. Caswell to remove them as far up Roanoke as possible (Greene to Caswell, 11 Apr. 1781, CSmH).

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