Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Davies, with Reply, 12 April 1781

From William Davies, with Reply

War office April 12. 1781.


I was desired by the Baron before his leaving town to lay before your Excellency, an extract of a letter from General Greene, which unintentionally he omitted to present to you yesterday, altho’ I think he said he had conversed with you on this subject. His great anxiety for an immediate supply of ammunition to be forwarded on to General Greene has induced him to press this matter with so much importunity upon you. I cannot well tell what to expect from Major Claiborne with respect to the transportation of the ammunition at Fredricksburg, as he sometimes tells me, his deputy there can collect what number of waggons he chuses, from the great estimation he is held in by the people, and at other times that nothing can be done for want of money, altho’ he confesses that waggons have been received from three or four adjoining counties to that place. As to the article of lead, will it not be proper to direct the immediate purchase of all that can be got in this part of the country? There is some at Manchester and probably th[ere may] be some in this town, and no doubt in many other places in the State. It is of essential moment, and even if Mr. Ross should succeed in procuring a quantity in the neighborhood of the mines, still the lead can always be sold and the State no loser. As to the means of transporting it, we had better take the direction of it in a great measure ourselves, as the continental quartermaster’s department in this State is too much governed by punctilio and nicety ever to effect much. If we could at once establish a sadler’s shop, enlarge the number of hands of the carpenter’s business, and build log houses near Westham for their temporary accommodation till those nicer buildings projected by Col. Senf, can be executed, we should soon feel the advantage. I have prevailed upon Baron Steuben to consent to my getting a number of hands for this purpose from Chesterfield; and if the Government have no objection I will take measures for beginning the business next Monday.

I have the honor to be, Sir, Your Excellency’s most hbl Servt,

William Davies

In Council Apr. 12. 1781.

We will immediately (in addition to our former requisitions) desire Mr. Ross to extend his endeavors to procure lead over the whole state. The board approves of establishing and enlarging the works as proposed by Colo. Davies, and building log houses at Westham for their temporary accomodation. I shall speak with Majr. Claiborne and have something final concluded about the bringing [the lead and powder?] from Fredsbg. Mr. Ross if he cannot bring in his purchases of lead [will of] course apply to the State Q.M.

Th: Jefferson

RC (Vi); addressed. TJ’s reply, in his own hand, is on a blank page of Davies’ letter and is endorsed. Presumably Davies enclosed with the present letter “an extract of a letter from General Greene”; this extract was forwarded by TJ to the Virginia delegates in Congress in his letter to them of 13 Apr., in which it is identified as an extract of a letter from Greene to Steuben. This undoubtedly was taken from Greene’s letter to Steuben of 2 Apr. in which the following passage occurs: “Captain Singleton has just returned from Prince Edward, who I sent after more Cannon, and reports that we are in the most disagreeable situation respecting Lead. I beg my dear Baron that you will take every measure to get a supply in your power. Write to the Board of War and Congress, and purchase or impress all you can. Also urge the Governor of Virginia to employ as many people as he can to get a Supply from the lead Mines, if the vein is not run out. To be out of ammunition will be ruinous; especially as there will be a great demand for it in all probability” (RC in NHi; Tr in CSmH).

It is understandable that Steuben should have laid before TJ only an extract of Greene’s letter rather than the full letter itself. For that letter contained also such expressions as the following: “If you leave Virginia all things will run into confusion. … My greatest expectations of support are from Virginia, drawn forth under your regulations and arrangements. If you leave them State policy and partial views will counteract all the support we may expect from that quarter and we shall all fall together to the Southward.” This no doubt was said partly in order to soothe Steuben, whose bitterness over the loss of the opportunity to gain fame by capturing Arnold and whose anger at TJ and the Council for rejecting his plan to lead 2,000 militia southward (see TJ to the county lieutenants, 29 Mch. 1781 and references there) had caused him to ask permission to abandon Virginia and join Greene’s staff. But it also unquestionably reflects Greene’s unshaken confidence in Steuben and his lack of confidence in TJ and in the Virginia government; for, despite Steuben’s rapidly waning influence among Virginians and despite TJ’s repeated demonstrations of the fact that he was the key figure in Virginia’s efforts to support the southern army, Greene persisted in pinning all of his hopes on Steuben. It is to his credit, however, that Greene also had a high estimate of the abilities of Davies as an efficient officer in gathering and forwarding supplies; in a letter to Davies of 11 Apr. 1781 Greene, while approving Davies’ going to the War Office, nevertheless could not refrain from a characteristic expression of criticism of Virginia and her government: “I believe no state abounded with such a plenty as Virginia ever experienced such a scarcity for want of order and a proper application of her supplies. From your abilities and application I am in hopes there will be a great reformation. … History affords no instance of a nation being so engaged in Conquest abroad as Virginia is at a time when all her powers were necessary to secure herself from ruin at home. If they would seriously contemplate their situation, they must be convinced that by neglecting the army here they hazard its ruin and perhaps the state also” (Tr in CSmH). Even in his estimate of Davies, however, Greene may have been depending in part on Steuben’s opinion, for on 2 Apr. 1781 Steuben wrote to Greene: “As the principal resources for your Army must come from this State I am persuaded much good will result from this Gentleman [Davies] being at the head of that Department which has hitherto been absolutely neglected” (NHi).

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