James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Nicholas Ridgely, 22 March 1813

From Nicholas Ridgely

Dover, 22d. March 1813.


I do myself the Honour to enclose to your Excellency, a Copy of a Letter written by the commanding Officer of the British Squadron in the Delaware, and sent to the Chief Magistrate of Lewes.1 The Paper from whence I made this Copy, was furnished to Me by John Fisher Esqr. the District Judge: He made a Copy from a Dispatch sent by the Governour to the Brigadier General of Militia in this County. There can be no Doubt of its Authenticity. On Friday, the 18th. Inst. a Lieutenant came on Shore, with a Flag, to know the Determination of the Place. He was answered that, they neither could, or would, comply with the Requisition. The Women and Children have all left the Town. There are assembled at Lewes, about a thousand Militia, under the Command of Brigadier General Fisher; but unfortunately there are only six hundred and fifty Muskets, and about thirty Rounds of Cartridges to each Musket. They have no more Powder or Lead; and Kent and S⟨usse⟩x Counties cannot furnish Amunition for a third of the Men there, ⟨at⟩ this Time. Some old Cannon, which have been laying at Lewes, ⟨e⟩xposed to the Weather, since 1756, will be fitted up, if they can be made serviceable. A Troop of Horse commanded by Capt. Warner, passed through Dover to-day for Lewes; and a Company of Infantry commanded by Capt. Dill, marched from hence, this Afternoon. Unhappily tho’ Sir, the Men already there, under the Command of General Fisher, have neither Powder, Lead, Blankets or Provisions; and it is greatly feared that their unprovided Condition will compel their Dispersion.

Serious Apprehensions are entertained that an Attack will be made on New Castle. The defenceless Situation of New Castle, Lewes, and every Point on our Coast, almost invite the Invasion of the Enemy: And altho’ the People, one and all, are perfectly disposed to defend themselves, yet their good Dispositions will avail little unless the United States furnish the Munitions of War.

There are now in the Delaware, one 74 Gun Ship, four Frigates, two Sloops of War, and several Tenders.

It is probable Lewes was not attacked so late as last Night. The Alertness of General Fisher and his Men will prevent any Surprize; and there is great Confidence that the Enemy will make no Impression on them, as long as their Amunition and Provision will allow them to defend the Town.2 But how, Sir, can naked Men resist an Enemy provided at all Points? I have the Honour to be Sir, Your most obdt. hble Servt.

Nicholas Ridgely.3

P.S. It is reported there are two 74s in the Bay.

RC and enclosure (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, R-41:7). RC docketed as received in the War Department in March 1813. Damaged by removal of seal. For enclosure, see n. 1.

1Ridgely enclosed a one-page copy of Sir John Poo Beresford’s demands on the chief magistrate of Lewes, dated 16 Mar. 1813: “As soon as you receive this, I must request you will send twenty live Bullocks with a proportionate Quantity of Vegetables and Hay, to the Poitiers, for the use of his Britannick Majestys Squadron, at this Anchorage, which shall be immediately paid for at the Philadelphia Prices. If you refuse to comply with this Request, I shall be under the Necessity of destroying your Town.”

2On 23 Mar. 1813, Gov. Joseph Haslet reiterated Lewes’s refusal to comply, writing to Beresford that cooperation with the British demands “would be an immediate violation of the laws of my country, and an eternal stigma on the nation of which I am a citizen: a compliance, therefore, cannot be acceded to.” Beresford responded the same day: “It is in my power to destroy your town, and the request I have made upon it, as the price of its security, is neither distressing nor unusual. I must, therefore, persist: and whatever sufferings may fall upon the inhabitants of Lewis, must be attributed to yourselves, by not complying with a request so easily acquiesced in.” He did not attack Lewes, however, until 6 Apr. His twenty-two-hour bombardment of the town, during which the defenders collected British cannonballs and fired them back, resulted in some property damage but no U.S. casualties. The Americans thwarted a British landing attempt on 7 Apr., and Beresford’s ships withdrew to the Capes the following day (Niles’ Weekly Register 4 [1813]: 81, 118).

3Nicholas Ridgely (1762–1830) served as attorney general of Delaware from 1791 to 1801, during which time he also represented Kent County in the Delaware General Assembly. In 1801 he was appointed chancellor of the state, and held that office until his death (Scharf, History of Delaware, 1:548–49).

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