Henry Knox to Bartholomew Dandridge, Jr.
War Department, Feby: 11th 1794.
Please to submit to the President of the United States, the Letter from the Governor of Virginia and the proposed Answer thereto1—The idea of the firing of the Dedalus has been communicated by the Secretary of State.2 Yours sincerely
LS, DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW.
1. The enclosed letter from Henry Lee to Knox probably was that of 5 Feb., in which Lee expressed concern about the presence of “two french and one british frigate” in the port of Norfolk. “A constant bickering,” he wrote, “prevails between them and unfortunately for the harmony and peace of the town the discord between the hostile frigates I fear will be communicated to the inhabitants.” Lee then assured Knox that “it will not require much money to erect a fort and two or three batteries,” that a garrison “can be readily furnished” from the state militia, and that “sufficient Ordnance belonging to the Commonwealth and the United States lay dismounted in Norfolk and its vicinity.” Lee also suggested: “It seems necessary that some reasonable limits should be established respecting the time allowed to ships of War coming into our ports to refit. . . . The Dedalus a british frigate arrived in Norfolk about the 20th of November to repair some injuries received at sea and I am told did not commence her repair until the first of this month when a fortnight was all sufficient for the purpose. She is still there and probably may continue there for months” (Vi: Executive Letter Book).
Knox’s reply of this date reads: “I have had the honor of receiving and submitting your letter of the 1. instant to the President of the United States. The subject of fortifying the principal Seaports of the United States, in which is included Norfolk, is now under the consideration of a Committee of the House of Representatives who it is expected will very shortly report their opinion thereon. From the prevailing sentiment little doubt seems to be entertained that a measure with which the peace safety and dignity of the United States is so intimately blended will be adopted. The subject of a long continuance in our ports of vessels of War belonging to the belligerent parties had been previously considered; the refute of which you will find in Mr. Jeffersons letter to Mr. Hammond the British Minister dated the 9 September last. It will appear that the Ships of War belonging to the belligerent powers, provided those at War with France do not bring prizes enjoy an equality in our ports: 1. In cases of urgent necessity. 2d. in cases of comfort and convenience and 3d. in the time they may chuse to continue. The case of the Ships of War on opposite sides being at Norfolk creates a delicate and dangerous situation for that Town which nothing can remedy so effectually as its being put in a state of respectable defence. Indeed some information has been received by which it would appear that the Dædalus had fired a shot in a very unjustiable manner. The President of the United States requests your Excellencys information upon this subject properly attested so that such measures may be taken thereon as shall appear proper” (Vi: Executive Papers; Calendar of Virgina State Papers, 7:30). For Jefferson’s letter to George Hammond and F. P. Van Berckel of 9 Sept. 1793, see Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 27:70–72.
2. According to a letter from Thomas Newton, Jr., to Henry Lee of 24 Feb., the “shot or shots fired” from the British frigate Daedalus while in the port of Norfolk, Va., occurred accidentally “or by means of some persons putting them into the Gun with a malicious intention, unknown to any officer on board the frigate.” Newton reported that it appeared “that there was no intention of insult or injury” and that he found the British captain, Charles H. Knowles, “disposed to observe the strictest neutrality” (Calendar of Virginia State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds. Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts. 11 vols. Richmond, 1875–93. description ends , 7:39–40).