Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Thomas Truxtun, 10 December 1807

Philadelphia 10th December 1807.


I feel it an irresistible duty to our Common Country to trouble you again with a letter, and the enclosed Copy, for Your own perusal, on the Subject of the Gun-boats. The enclosed however is little more than a post Script to the Copy I Sent you, also on a printed Sheet, dated the 27th. Ult. The Gunboat System is adopted in good Sence, and very long Since, and uniformly considered by me, as an excellent and indispensible defence within the harbours &c of the United States, Situated, on an extensive Coast, Liable to be assailed by little pirates at all times as well as Commissioned Cruizing vessels in war.

In my letter of the 27th alluded to above—I mentioned that a detachment of these boats might lay under Cape Charles, in Aid of defending the Mouth of Chesapeake Bay—to Obviate any Objections of the “Summer Soldier and Sun Shine patriot” or the inexperienced or Sluggardly Mariner—Permit me Sir to remark that although this may be called a wild roadsted, particularly in the winter or foul weather Seasons—Yet vessels are often much more exposed in roads on the Coasts of Holland and to the Northward of that Coast &c hid although they might have some hard riding in this Situation—Yet with Judgment and timely precaution, they may Make a pretty Smooth Anchorage of it and its Neighbourhood in all weather—for with the wind Easterly these boats can lay to the westward of Smiths Island; and with the wind Westerly they can lay close under the Eastern part of that Island; and with the Wind Northerly they may ride in very Smooth water Near to the Southern part of it. And with a hard Southerly wind, it would be fair for the boats to run up, and go into Cherrystone or Hungus, which they might also do on the Appearance of a Gale of wind Easterly, and in either of those places they would find a Secure harbour.

I have been myself twice at Hungus, when travelling the Eastern Shore route, between Norfolk & Philadelphia, having embarked and disembarked, from a passage boat, at that landing and know from my own knowledge, that it is a Safe harbour for Small vessels of easy draught of water. And I have rode out a hard Northerly Gale in Smooth water under the Southern part of Smiths Island in a packet going a passenger from New York to Norfolk. And the coasters, Generally and particularly the Sloops and Schooners of one hundred tons, more or less, of which Sort of vessels there are very many trading & employed carrying Shingles from Norfolk—Elizabeth river and its branches to Staten Island New York and other places to the Northward of Virginia, always consider themselves fortunate when they can get under Smiths Island on the Appearance of a Gale of wind particularly from the Northward or Westward. But the places I have mentioned are the only Shelters in bad weather Near the Capes or on the East Side of the Bay—Lynnhaven is very Open and dangerous, with the wind from the Sea or blowing hard down the Bay—Yet Men of war and large Ships ride out hard Gales there from those quarters. If what I have Said is informative and of any Service—I give it with Great pleasure.

I have the honor to be Sir with Great respect Your Most Obt & very humble Servt.

Thomas Truxtun

PS. I do not Suppose that writing on such Subjects for the News papers do any good—and I do think it beneath me to answer all the Objections made from ignorance or might be made from ignorance and Opposition to the defence preparing for our waters—I think a few letters written to particular Men may have a greater tendency to enlighten this Subject, or at least to induce Silence, but whether any thing will induce intire Silence or not, in such as feel inclined to Oppose a measure right or wrong, I know not.

DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

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