Adams Papers
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To John Adams from James Lovell, 31 March 1781

From James Lovell

March 31st. 1781

Dear Sir

I send you a few Prints and the last monthly Journals yet from the Press.1 The Enemy will give you one of the most candid accounts of the naval Engagement on the 16th. that I have at any time seen in Rivington’s royal Gazette. Our Allies have conducted most gallantly: a Fog which seperated their Ships a few days before the Engagement deprived them of the Opportunity of giving an immense Turn to our southern Affairs. However, their proved Zeal and Activity have so impressed the Enemy, that the british Fleet has not ventured to remain in Cheseapeak to push the Advantages which had fallen to them by the Chance of War.2 We have some pretty possitive Information of a severe Cannonade of three hours at Sea on the morning of the 24th. after the british had gone down the Bay of Cheseapeak, at present I suspect that both the Severity and Continuance are heightened by Imagination from some single Engagement between two Frigates. It cannot be the Rhode Island Squadron.

I have not heard from your Lady of late. I shall have Opportunity in a few days, I think, to send what Jones brought for her.

We impatiently wait for your Comments upon the british Conduct at St. Eustatia and the Manner in which Their H. Ms. of the U Provinces receive it.

I am affectionately yours

James Lovell

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “Honble. John Adams Minister Plenipoy. of the U Ss. of America now in Holland”; endorsed by John Thaxter: “Mr. Lovell. 31st. March 1781.”

1Besides the enclosed prints and journals that have not been identified, this letter may have contained copies of two letters from Nathanael Greene to the president of Congress, dated 10 and 16 March respectively. The first described Greene’s preparations for and anticipation of an engagement with Cornwallis’ army; the second described the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on 15 March. There are copies of these letters, in a clerk’s hand, in the Adams Papers under the date of 31 March, the day on which they were read in Congress (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774– 1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 19:335).

2James Rivington’s New York Royal Ga­zette of 28 March contained a detailed account of the battle on 16 March off the Virginia Capes at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay between fleets commanded by Adm. Marriot Arbuthnot and Como. Destouches.

The battle was not as decisive as Lovell indicates. Destouches obtained a tactical advantage and severely damaged three of the British vessels, thereby obtaining superiority over the British. He did not, however, press his advantage and, instead, returned to the French base at Newport. This permitted the British to retire to Lynnhaven Bay, just inside the Virginia Capes, and maintain control over access to the Chesapeake while they repaired their ships and regrouped (Mahan, Navies in the War of Amer. Independence description begins Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Major Operations of the Navies in the War of American Independence, Boston, 1913. description ends , p. 170–174).

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