Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Steuben, 26 April 1781

To Steuben

Richmond Apr. 26. 1781.


Mr. Maury, owner of the Brigantine Alert, engaged and fitted as a flag for carrying tobacco to Charles town waits on you to see whether a permit can be obtained for her. You will be pleased to follow your own judgment whether the time be proper to negotiate on this subject. Whenever you think it so, I am of opinion it would be expedient to send the single vessel as first agreed to by Genl. Phillips and by her return we can have the passport from Charles town which I much apprehend will be refused from New York. Mr. Maury will render any services he can on this occasion and merits confidence.

I cannot but congratulate you on the initiation of our militia into the business of war. General actions I dare say you will think should not be risked but with great advantages, but the more the militia are employed in the small way, the more contentedly they will remain, and they will improve the more. I am with very great respect Sir Your most obedt. humble servt,

Th: Jefferson

RC (NHi); endorsed.

The initiation of our militia: This refers to the action at Petersburg on 25 Apr.; see a British account in John Graves Simcoe’s Military Journal, p. 195–8, with map; and the following American accounts: Edmund Pendleton to James Madison, 30 Apr., Mass. Hist. Soc., Procs., 2d ser., xix (1905), 130; TJ to Washington, 9 May; and especially John Banister to Theodorick Bland, 16 May 1781 (Bland Papers description begins The Bland Papers: Being a Selection from the Manuscripts of Colonel Theodorick Bland, Jr. description ends , ii, 68–70). Pendleton’s subsequent letters (in the source cited) deal informatively with military events in Virginia during late April and May. In Va. Gaz. description begins Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, 1751–1780, and Richmond, 1780–1781). Abbreviations for publishers of the several newspapers of this name, frequently published concurrently, include the following: C & D (Clarkson & Davis), D & H (Dixon & Hunter), D & N (Dixon & Nicolson), P & D (Purdie & Dixon). In all other cases the publisher’s name is not abbreviated description ends (d & n) for 19 May 1781, summarizing events in Virginia since 21 Apr. when the last preceding issue was published, Steuben’s general orders were published thanking the officers and men who “very much distinguished themselves in defending the post of Petersburg.” He particularly thanked Muhlenberg “for his gallantry and good disposition [of the troops].” Simcoe, however, thought that the “disposition of the enemy was not such as marked any ability in those who made it” (Military Journal, p. 198). A flag for carrying tobacco: The context of the present letter shows that Steuben had informed TJ of his letter to Phillips of 15 Apr. and of Phillips’ reply of 18 Apr. 1781. On the present date David Ross wrote to Steuben: “Some time ago I was directed by the Governor and Council to provide 600 hhds Tobo. to be sent to our prisoners in Charles Town, Genl Scott having obtained permission for that purpose from the Commandant there. The desire I had to contribute anything in my power to administer to the wants of our suffering prisoners induced me to engage Vessels ready loaded with Tobacco in hopes that they would have liberty to proceed immediately, amongst others a vessell belonging to this bearer, Mr. Maury. I am informed the British Commanders here have raised some difficulties about permitting the Vessells to pass and that you and Genl Phillips have had some correspondence upon the subject. I take the liberty to recommend Mr. Maury to you as a proper person to go in the Flag and to ask the favor of you to renew your treaty with G. Phillips, so soon as it can be done with propriety. The Governor has also wrote to you upon the Subject” (Ross to Steuben, 26 Apr. 1781, NHi). The Alert was taken by Phillips’ forces at the engagement at Osborne’s; see depositions concerning the alleged violation of her flag, printed below under date of 2 May 1781.

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