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Patrick Henry in Council to Henry Laurens, 18 June 1778

Patrick Henry in Council to Henry Laurens

RC (NA: PCC, No. 71, I, 153–54). Entirely in Henry’s hand. Read in Congress on 26 June, according to the docket.

Wms.burgh June 18th. 1778

Sir.1

General Washington sent me an Account of the Drafted Soldiers that have joined the Army from this State; & it appears that not one half of the Number voted by the Assembly have got to Camp. Truth obliges me to add that very few more of the Drafts will ever be got into the Service. I lament this capital Deficiency in our Quota of Troops; but no Efforts of the Executive have been sufficient to prevent it.2 The Assembly at their late sitting, have directed three hundred & fifty Cavalry & two thousand Infantry to be forthwith raised & to join the grand Army.3 Some of the former will be raised, but from every Appearance I am sorry to say there is but too little Reason to expect any Success in getting the Infantry. I can only assure you Sir that I shall pay due Regard to the Requisition you are pleased to make for compleating our Quota of men by exerting myself to the utmost altho’ I fear it will be in vain.4

The honble Dudley Digges Esqr. lately wrote you a Letter on the Subject of furnishing Congress with a large Quantity of Goods lately purchased by this State. I wish to be favord with an Answer to that proposition quickly as possible because the Goods cannot be disposed of ’til it arrives, & their laying long on Hand will produce some capital Inconveniences.5 Tobaco in payment will be greatly prefer’d to Cash of which we have a superabundance producing Evils of the most alarming Nature.6

With the highest Regard I have the Honor to be Sir

Your most obedient & very humble Servant,

P. Henry

The honble
Mr. Laurens

1Henry Laurens (1724–1792), a South Carolina delegate in Congress in 1777–1779 and 1784–1785, was at this time president of Congress. In 1780 he was captured by the British while en route to the Netherlands to negotiate a loan.

2George Washington wrote Henry on 23 May 1778 to complain that Virginia’s reinforcements for the army were far short of expectations. Only 716 draftees and substitutes had joined the army, not counting 41 left on the road and 42 deserters (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1931–44). description ends , XI, 438–39). These men were raised under “An Act for speedily recruiting the Virginia Regiments on the continental establishment, and for raising additional troops of Volunteers” (Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , IX, 337–49).

3“An act for raising Volunteers to join the Grand Army” and “An act for raising a regiment of Horse” were both signed into law on 1 June 1778 (ibid., IX, 445–51; Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held At the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The Journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used, unless otherwise noted, is the one in which the journals for 1777–1781 are brought together in one volume, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , May 1778, p. 35).

4On 10 June 1778 Congress approved a letter to the Virginia executive stating that:

“In duty, therefore, to their constituents, Congress earnestly call upon you, sir, and your State, to adopt the most effectual and vigorous measures for speedily reinforcing the continental army with your quota of troops… .

“The urgent necessity for the provisions with which your State is to furnish the army, induces Congress to press upon you, sir, immediate and constant attention to this important business, and the present absence of the enemy’s ships from the bay of Chesapeake may be improved by seizing the opportunity of water conveyance to the Head of Elk” (Journals of the Continental Congress, XI, 583–84; see also Henry to Virginia Delegates, 20 January 1778, n. 4).

5Digges’s letter has not been found, but it was probably written on 8 June 1778. On that day, in the absence of Governor Henry and Lieutenant Governor Page, Digges presided over the council meeting which decided that:

“The Commissary of Stores for this State is impowered & directed to purchase of Peter Francis Chevallie such of the Goods & Merchandizes as remain unsold or are not particularly excepted of the Cargo on board the Fier Rodorique belonging to the said Mr Chevallie allowing for the same Six Shillings Virginia Money for every Levie [the Spanish real] of the first Cost in France & engaging in part of payment therefor to deliver alongside of the said Ship at York fifteen hundred Hogsheads of Tobacco & five hundred Hogsheads alongside any other Ship Mr Chevallie may send to Alexandria the remainder of the Debt to be deposited by Mr Chevallie in the Hands of the Treasurer bearing Interest at the Rate of Six per Centum per Annum as long as it shall there remain or be laid out for him in Tobacco for which he is to pay the Cost & all expences incurred by ye Agent in Providing it” (Journals of the Council of State, II, 146).

The French merchant ship “Fier Roderique” arrived in Hampton Roads, Va., around 28 May, having been sent to America by Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. On 10 June Congress requested Governor Henry to purchase, “as cheap as he can,” a long list of goods consisting mainly of clothing, powder, bullets, and wine. On 9 July Congress decided to buy “such part of the Roderique’s cargo, purchased by the State of Virginia, as they shall think wanting for continental use” (Journals of the Continental Congress, XI, 576, 584, 678; Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held At the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The Journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used, unless otherwise noted, is the one in which the journals for 1777–1781 are brought together in one volume, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , October 1779, pp. 80–81).

6Why the governor requested tobacco rather than the depreciated paper currency is suggested by the quotation in n. 5. Unlike tobacco, the paper had almost no value abroad in purchasing military supplies.

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