James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates to Thomas Nelson, 25 September 1781

Virginia Delegates to Thomas Nelson

RC (Virginia State Library). Written by Theodorick Bland, who also signed for JM. Received in Nelson’s absence but, although obviously opened, apparently not acknowledged by the addressee or the lieutenant governor.

Philadelphia Septr. 25th 1781


Yesterdays post arrived without any letter from your Excelly. to us.1 We cannot help observing to your Excelly. that the Operations of the fleet and army are of so important a nature at this Crisis of affairs in Europe that an hourly communication, if it was practicable, would certainly be Eligible; and we therefore lament that no Authentic Intelligence has come from them to Congress for ten days past2—altho we are informd from every Quarter that there has been an Action of Some Consequence at Sea.3 A Considerable body (said to be 5000) of land forces has been embarked at New York and were certainly held in readiness for an [immediate movement?] which kept this City and Jersey in a state [of ala]rm in Consequence of whic[h] a very large body of Militia have been orderd into the field from both those states and Delaware, who are now actually under arms,4 with a Considerable body of Regulars under Majr. Genl. Sinclair.5 the return of the British fleet to New York (much disabled as we are told) has developed the Mistery of the destination of the Embarkation at New York (which was intended for Chesapeake had their fleet been Successfull, and they are now debarked as is said at Staten Island.6 affairs in Europe seem to wear a misterious aspect.7 Some powers being restraind from entering into the War by the Principles of Neutrality which they have embraced and avowed—others in Consequence of having assumed a Mediatorial Character—and others with a Cautious Policy watching the motions of the two latter and waiting for decisive events among the Belligerent Powers. But every thing seems to point out that all except France, stand aloof from an alliance with us, untill some favorable event on our Side shall turn the Ballance in our favor. this points out to us the necessity of every Exertion on our part in order to gain a decisive advantage and if possible, weaken the pretensions of G Britain by driving her troops out of the Continent. This can only be done by repairing the deranged State of our finances and recruiting our Armies to their full Complement. The Great and Generous Exertions of our ally in our favor certainly call on us for Similar ones on our Side and intitle them to Expect from us that we will put every engine in Motion to obtain those two great ends, therefore it behoves us to act with Energy and call forth all our resources to ensure a good and Speedy Peace8

Jos: Jones.

Read & approved by James Madison & Signd at his request

Theok: Bland

1The delegates probably knew that Nelson was with Washington’s army on the York peninsula (Jameson to JM, 15 September 1781, n. 2), and hence they were the more annoyed because he had not informed them about the military situation there.

2Judging from the journal, Congress received only one letter from Washington between 7 and 26 September (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 939, 970, 1016). See Jameson to JM, 15 September, n. 8; Virginia Delegates to Nelson, 18 September, and n. 1; and JM to Pendleton, 18 September 1781, n. 1.

5Arthur St. Clair (1736–1818), besides serving as a British officer of junior rank in the French and Indian War, and successively as a continental colonel, brigadier general, and major general during the Revolution, was a member of Congress in 1785–1787, its president in 1787, and the first governor of the Northwest Territory from 1787 to 1802. On 19 September 1781 Congress ordered “That Major General St. Clair cause the levies of the Pensylvania line, now in Pensylvania, to rendezvous at or near Philadelphia, with all possible expedition” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 974). See also William Henry Smith, ed., The St. Clair Papers: The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair (2 vols.; Cincinnati, 1882), I, 558–60. A large tear in the manuscript accounts for the bracketed portions of this sentence.

7From this point in the letter to the close, Bland derived his information from, and paraphrased, the reports of Vergennes to La Luzerne, summarized in Notes from Secret Journal, 21 September 1781, n. 2.

8Thomas McKean, president of Congress, wrote to Washington on 26 September, “We are plainly told, that we cannot have any more forces from France, by Sea or Land, after this campaign, nor are we to rely on any farther pecuniary assistance” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 227).

Index Entries