James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison, 29 October 1782

Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison

Printed copy (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 527–28). Addressed to “His Excell’y Govr. Harrison.” Around 1930 Stan. V. Henkels of Philadelphia owned the manuscript. Judging from the style of the letter, it was written by JM, except for Bland’s signature.

Philada. Oct 29th, 1782.


We yesterday recd. your Excellency’s favor of the 19th instant.1 The contents of the inclosed paper2 are the whole of the foreign intelligence which has arrived since our last.

Some intelligence has been transmitted to Congress from the frontiers of N. York relative to preparations and designs in Canada which are far from corresponding with the pacific assurances held out in S’r G. Carlton’s late letter to Genl. Washington.3 How far the intelligence is well founded must be left to the event.

The British fleet at N. York had been busily making ready for sea and it is expected will soon sail from that Station. We have no intelligence of its destination. The W. Indies are the natural object of conjecture.4

It is reported that on the arrival of the Packet at N. York Counter orders were immediately despatched to stop the evacuation of Charlestown.5

We have the honor to be with the greatest respect Yr. Excellency’s Obt. Sevts.

J. Madison Jr.

Theo’k. Bland Jr.

P. S. A Letter from Ge’l Washington just recd. corroborates the report of a vessel being sent to stop the evacuation of Charlestown.6

1For a possible explanation of why a retained copy of this letter has not been found, see Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 15 October 1782, n. 1.

2Probably the postscript of the Pennsylvania Gazette of 28 October or the Pennsylvania Packet of the following day. For JM’s comment on the news, see his letter to Pendleton of 29 October 1782.

3See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 15 October, and n. 5; JM to Pendleton, 15 October, and n. 6. On 23 October Congress received copies of dispatches, dated late in September and early in October, telling of “Motions & Designs of enemy in Canada.” Congress directed that copies of these papers should be sent to Washington (NA: PCC, No. 185, III, 46). Although these documents have not been found, they almost certainly reported what Washington already knew, namely, that the British had recently concentrated troops at Fort Oswego, N.Y., and at Île-aux-Noix in the Richelieu River, about sixty-five miles southeast of Montreal.

Believing that the enemy sought only to heighten “their own security,” Washington held to his plan of removing “the continental troops from the Northward.” Governor George Clinton agreed with Washington’s estimate of the enemy’s purpose but urged him in a letter of 20 October 1782 to delay withdrawing the northern garrisons because “the frontier Inhabitants are much alarmed” and perhaps would “abandon their Settlements” if the troops left. Although Washington believed that the New York State line and militia would adequately protect the frontiersmen, he ordered a Rhode Island continental regiment to establish its winter headquarters at Albany (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXV, 276–78, 305–6, 307–8; Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds., Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York … [10 vols.; Albany and New York, 1899–1914], VIII, 47–48).

5The packet “Swallow” had arrived in New York Harbor on 22 October after a voyage of seven weeks from Falmouth, England. Although she brought much of the news which the newspapers cited in n. 2, above, had copied from Rivington’s Royal Gazette of 23 October, the papers did not mention the dispatch of General Sir Guy Carleton’s orders “to stop the evacuation of Charleston.” See JM to Pendleton, 15 October 1782, and n. 11.

6On 29 October Congress received Washington’s dispatch written four days earlier (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 695 n.). Besides confirming the report that orders to evacuate Charleston had been countermanded by Carleton, Washington’s “Intelligence from N York” informed him that the enemy’s fleet stationed there had sailed or was about to sail “in two Divisions,” one possibly for the West Indies and the other for the eastern end of Long Island, “to wait the motions of the french fleet” at Boston (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXV, 296).

On the date of the present letter Rochambeau and his troops reached Hartford, Conn. There he received word to retard his march toward Boston, because the French men-of-war and transports in that harbor were not ready for sea. The approach of winter, together with the departure of the French from their encampment along the lower Hudson River near Washington’s army, reassured the British that no offensive against New York City would be undertaken but also indicated to them that Rochambeau’s force and the French fleet would soon leave Boston for the West Indies (JM to Pendleton, 3 September, n. 13; Pendleton to JM, 9 September 1782, n. 3; Acomb, Journal of Closen description begins Evelyn M. Acomb, trans. and ed., The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Closen, 1780–1783 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1958). description ends , pp. 263–64).

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