James Madison Papers

John Mathews, for Committee of Congress, to Nathanael Greene, 27 November 1780

John Mathews, for Committee of Congress,
to Nathanael Greene

RC (William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan).

Editorial Note

On 23 October 1780 Congress added JM and William Sharpe to the standing committee, created 8 July 1779 “to correspond with the commanding officer of the southern department,” and prescribed that the committee should thereafter “keep a journal of their proceedings and correspondence” (Journals of the Continental Congress, IV, 807; XVIII, 963). If the committee obeyed this injunction, its journal has apparently been lost. Since most matters relating to General Gates’s (after early December 1780, General Greene’s) army were referred to other committees, Congress intended that this particular committee should be a secretarial rather than a policy-recommending group, largely limited in its function to relaying relevant actions by Congress to the commander of the troops in the South. When JM and Sharpe joined the committee, the only other member was the chairman, John Mathews (1744–1802) of South Carolina.

The letters of Mathews to General Greene, preserved among the Greene papers in the William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, and published in Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1921–36). description ends , Vols. V and VI, rarely make clear whether Mathews was writing as the committee’s chairman or on his own initiative. How long JM served actively on the committee is unknown. He made no mention of it in his papers. The present letter is apparently the earliest extant dispatch of the committee following JM’s appointment as a member. Although the address sheet is missing, the letter is among General Greene’s papers and was almost certainly directed to him.

Philadelphia Novr. 27th: 1780


Inclosed is an extract of a letter of the 23d of August last lately received from Mr. John Adams. As the intelligence relates particularly to your department, we thought it necessary to be forwarded to you.1 This is all the foreign intelligence, worth transmitting you. As to domestic, we recollect none.

No effectual means have as yet been taken for supply[i]ng the southern army with cloathing. The Committee to whom your letter (before you left Philadelphia) was refered have made no report yet.2 Your letter of the 19th inst. is refered to another committee,3 the result, we will give you the earliest information of.

We are sir with sincere Esteem & regard yr. most Obedt Servts. By Orders of the Committee

Jno. Mathews Chairman

1In John Adams’ letter of 23 August 1780 (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1889). description ends , IV, 41–42) the two sentences of special interest to General Greene were: “The truth is, according to my information, that orders are already sent out by the British cabinet to prosecute the war with vigor in North Carolina and Virginia the ensuing fall, winter, and spring. General Prevost is about to sail with some frigates to aid their operations on Cape Fear River.” This word about Prevost was in error (JM to Jones, 21 November, n. 15). The committee (John Mathews, chairman), to which Congress on 20 November referred Adams’ letter, included among its recommended actions that Washington should take “the Command of the Southern army in person.” Congress tabled the committee’s report (Journals of the Continental Congress, XVIII, 1072, 1078), and Mathews apparently did not inclose a copy of it in the above letter to Greene.

2Greene left Philadelphia on 3 November. Mathews most likely refers to Greene’s letter of 1 November, calling the attention of Congress to the “impossibility of employing an army to advantage in winter operations without their being clothed” (NA: PCC, No. 155, I, 455). On the same day, JM and most of the other delegates, except those of Massachusetts, agreed to “cause bills of exchange to be drawn upon the Minister of these United States at the Court of Versailles, at 90 days sight, to a sufficient amount to pay for 5000 suits of cloaths for the use of the southern army; provided the same can be obtained upon reasonable terms.” Congress thereupon appointed a committee “to enquire upon what terms a contract can be made for the purpose above mentioned” (Journals of the Continental Congress, XVIII, 999–1000). This committee had not reported when Mathews wrote his letter, and apparently it never reported. On the other hand, the dire need for clothing from France was stressed in the instructions of 28 November to Franklin, mentioned earlier (above, Bland to Jefferson, 22 November 1780, n. 4), and in those of 23 December to Colonel John Laurens, whom Congress dispatched to France on a special mission to expedite supplies. He left too late, of course, to remedy the winter’s need. The Board of War, by letter of 23 December to Congress, echoed Greene’s words of eight weeks before by calling attention to the “shocking situation of the Southern troops, and indeed of the whole army on the score of cloathing.” Four days later, Congress authorized the board to purchase woolen cloth and blankets (Journals of the Continental Congress, XVIII, 1101–4, 1178, 1184–88, 1199).

3Two letters from Greene, both of 19 November, were read in Congress on the date of Mathews’ letter and referred to a committee comprising Ezekiel Cornell (R.I.), Bland, and Mathews (ibid., XVIII, 1095). Once again, Greene pointed out his desperate shortage of clothing and wagons.

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