James Madison Papers
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John Mathews, for Committee of Congress, to Nathanael Greene, 4 June 1781

John Mathews, for Committee of Congress,
to Nathanael Greene

RC (William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan).

Philadelphia June 4: 1781

Sir,

The inclosed papers will furnish you with the most important foreign intelligence we have lately received. And of what has been done by Congress in consequence thereof.1

We thought it necessary to give you this communication, not knowing how far [it ma]y influence your future operations [so t]hat you might thereby be enabled to take your measures accordingly.2

We have received undoubted intelligence of the arrival of the french fleet in the West Indies, which makes their force at present in that quarter 25 sail of the line—that of the British is said to be twenty one. The two fleets had a skirmish on the 29 of April, but nothing decisive happened. By letters of the 8th: Ulto. from Martinique, we are informed that the french fleet sailed on the 7th. with 7000 troops to attack St. Lucia, which place it was expected would be reduced in a few days.3

We suppose the Commander in Chief has of course communicated to you, his plan of operations for the campaign, particularly the blow meditated against New York. It is therefore unnecessary for us to say anything further on that subject.4

We are, sir with much Esteem & Regard Yr. most Obed. Servts. By order of the Committee

Jno. Mathews Chrmn.

P.S. The inclosed papers are for your [own] private information, & must not on any account be communicated to any other person

Pray inform us particularly whether this reaches you in safety.5

1Mathews probably enclosed copies of memorials from La Luzerne to Congress and of the report of a committee, whose members included Mathews, directed to confer with La Luzerne (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 556–69, 585–87; above, Notes from Secret Journal, 28 May 1781).

2This may have been a veiled hint to Greene, clarified by the “inclosed papers” referred to in the postscript, that he should drive the British army from as much of South Carolina and Georgia as possible, in case the expected mediation between the belligerents by Catherine the Great, perhaps joined by the Holy Roman Emperor, should be based upon the principle of uti possidetis (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 569).

3The Pennsylvania Packet of 5 June contains several long extracts from letters of 3–8 May from Martinique. The Comte de Grasse reached Martinique on 28 April (Mason to Virginia Delegates, 3 April 1781, n. 9; Mathews to Greene, 30 April 1781, n. 4). During the next three days he had minor encounters with the smaller fleet under Sir Samuel Hood. Although Grasse would not allow himself to be drawn into close action, his squadron crippled several of Hood’s ships. The “Russell,” seventy-four guns, was so badly damaged at the water line that she had to be sent to St. Eustatius for repairs. Grasse sailed for St. Lucia on 9 May but failed to recapture that island. By 2 June, after more than a month of skirmishing, and notwithstanding the superiority of his fleet to that of the British, Grasse had succeeded merely in forcing the capitulation of Tobago (David Hannay, Short History of the Royal Navy, II, 262, 264–66).

4General Washington’s letter of 27 May 1781, notifying Congress of his intention to attack the British in New York City, was read to that body on 1 June. He also wrote Greene of his plans on 1 June (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 585; 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 , XXII, 120, 146).

5No letters from Greene to the committee have been found although this postscript suggests that he was accustomed to respond. See p. 40, above.

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