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To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 26 March 1781

From Edmund Pendleton

Tr (LC: Force Transcripts). Docketed, “Edmund Pendleton to James Madison.” Another copy is printed in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2d ser., XIX (1905), 125–26.

Virga. March 26, 1781

Dear Sir:

I have yr favr of the 13th1 which announces Mr Jones’s intention of coming to Virginia;2 so that you will have for a time at least, the whole burthen of my Correspondence on your hands, as I am in this Instance a severe task-Master, & can’t abate of my weekly revenue. I am sorry there is so good ground for discrediting Count D’Estaigne’s Victory, I even doubt his going at all to the West Indies,3 which may admit of the Enemy’s parting with some of their Ships from that quarter to reinforce & give a decided Superiority to their Fleet in America. Indeed our Executive are of opinion that the Squadron now in Our Bay is from thence commanded by Rodney, however from their number & sort It is generally supposed to be the New York Fleet,4 & that their errand is to take away Arnold’s corps. some negroes lately escaped say the Troops at Portsmouth are in high spirits, upon the prospect of getting off. The Marquis it is said, is much chagreen’d at his disappointment.5

A Vessell is just arrived from Martinico, the Capt. of wch Affirms that the british have taken Statia, as well as the American Vessels,6 but I rather think it a mistake as that would be too bold an Attack upon the confederation for supporting the rights of Neutrality,7 for even the Apethitic Dutch to bear. They might colour over the taking the American Vessels, but not the other.

I can almost venture to congratulate you upon the event of Genl. Green’s Battle, which tho’ he first quitted the field, may be considered in its effects as a Victory; since he retreated in good order, unpursued, & offer’d battle again the same day, which was declined on the part of Ld Cornwallis—since their loss at least doubled ours, and our General & men remain’d in high Spirits, eager for another Action, when the Account came away.8 This will however be highly puff’d off at New York, if we may judge of their Candour from the Account they Publish’d of Morgan[‘s] brilliant Victory.9 I am happy in being told that our Militia at this time stood as firm as a Rock, tho’ concern’d to hear their brave leader Genl Stevens received a wound in his thigh, it is said to be in the Flesh only & not dangerous. It is said the N. Carolina Militia were very bashful, but I hope they may recover their fortitude another time.10 If Arnold goes, I expect it will be there, which affording an opportunity to the Marquis & Genl Wayne to Unite their Corps to Green’s, may draw the contest more to a Point, & be productive of some good consequences, tho’ the detail divided rencounters might probably be more promising of success to us.11

I send you for yr Amusement a Battery which Our Assembly was Preparing to send to Congress, agt the Northern States, but were diverted from the Subject by Coll. Harrison’s return & the prospect of Assistance. you will consider it as the Rough draft of a private Member only, not considered even [by] the Committee who were to prepare it. It may be not improper perhaps for Congress to pay some attention to the Sentiments, tho’ you’l not publish the paper.12

The Assembly this Session got over that frugal disposition which at the last prevented their filling up our Representation to Congress, & they have done so. Whether Colo. Lee’s election to the Chair & the Drs presence gave hope of the latter’s being appointed, & produced the change of Sentiment, or to what other cause it is to be attributed, I will leave to Motive-Mongers to decide, & only say that Colo. Harrison is elected, but it was in [his]13 absence. I know not whether he means to accept it.14 I know not what the Assembly have done besides authorizing the emission of 15 Millions more,15 & directing the raising two Legions for State defence to consist of 600 Infantry & 100 Cavalry each, under a Brigr. (Spotswood) Lt Cols Taylor & Meade, & 2 Majors each. The Cavalry to find their own Horses, Officers & men to receive Continental pay rations & forage, whilst on duty, wch is only during an Invasion—the privates half pay at all other times, & the whole exempted from all other Militia duty & drafts;16 which, if compleated, will be a better defence agt. Plunderers than our17 former Systems.

I am Dr Sr Yr Affe. hble Servt

Edmd Pendleton

1Not found.

2Joseph Jones was in Congress until as late as 22 March. On 16 May he informed George Washington that he had been back in Philadelphia for “a few days only” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 293; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 89; Jones to JM, 3 April 1781, n. 1). Judging from the journal of the Continental Congress, Theodorick Bland, Jr., was the most active member of the Virginia delegation during the last three weeks of March. In that period JM may have been in poor health, because he frequently was absent when votes were taken.

4Governor Jefferson knew at least by 24 March that the enemy fleet was from New York and had driven the French squadron back from the Virginia coast (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , V, 235; Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 6 March 1781, n. 4).

6Ibid., n. 11.

7The League of Armed Neutrality (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (2 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 56 n., 167 nn.).

8According to General Cornwallis, his effective force at the Battle of Guilford Court House on 15 March 1781 numbered 1,360 infantry and about 200 cavalry. Following the battle, “with a third of my Army sick & wounded … the remainder without Shoes, and worn down with fatigue,” he felt obliged to seek a rest area. Failing to find one where forage and food were sufficient and the country folk friendly, he withdrew southeastward to Wilmington, N.C., by early April. Once there, he recommended to General Clinton “that the Chesapeak may become the Seat of War, even (if necessary) at the expence of abandoning New-York; Untill Virginia is in a manner subdued, our hold of the Carolinas must be difficult, if not precarious. The Rivers of Virginia are advantageous to an invading Army, But North-Carolina is, of all the Provinces in America, the most difficult to attack” (Cornwallis to Clinton, 10 April 1781, in Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, I, 395–99). At the Battle of Guilford Court House the army of General Greene numbered about 1,500 infantry of the continental line, 160 cavalry, and a highly fluid number of North Carolina and Virginia militia. On 16 March 1781, he wrote to the president of Congress that about 270 of his men had been killed or wounded in the battle and that nearly 850 militiamen were missing, most of whom in all probability had returned to their homes (NA: PCC, No. 172, I, 95–103; George W. Greene, Life of Nathanael Greene, III, 190, 205).

9Rivington’s Royal Gazette published an extra edition on 3 February which detracted from the glory of Daniel Morgan’s victory over Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton at the Cowpens, S.C., on 17 January.

10Generals Edward Stevens and Robert Lawson each commanded a brigade of Virginia militia. These troops reportedly withstood three bayonet charges before giving way. Stevens received a bullet wound in his thigh. At the outset of the battle he posted sentinels under orders to shoot down any man who deserted his post. Although some of the Virginia militia fled from the field, their conduct contrasted so favorably with that of the North Carolina militia as to win General Greene’s commendation (George W. Greene, Life of Nathanael Greene, III, 195; Christopher Ward, War of the Revolution, II, 790–93).

11Pendleton here returned to his comment at the close of the first paragraph of the letter. On 20 February Congress adopted the report of the committee, including JM, named one week before to confer with Colonel Benjamin Harrison, the special delegate from Virginia. This report directed Washington to send most of the Pennsylvania line of continental troops to join the southern army (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 142, 176–78). On 26 February Washington transmitted this order to Major General Arthur St. Clair, commanding the Pennsylvania line, and added that Brigadier General Anthony Wayne “should proceed to Virginia with the first detachment that moves, and there be ready to receive and form the remainder as they come on” (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 , XXI, 272–73, 294, 296–97). Lack of money and equipment, and a mutiny of his troops, prevented Wayne and his detachment from joining Lafayette’s army in Virginia until 10 June 1781 (Louis Gottschalk, Lafayette and the Close of the American Revolution, p. 244).

12Although the enclosure has not been found, it was among JM’s papers as late as 1859 when William Cabell Rives published all except “the formal introductory part” of it on pp. 276–79 of the first volume of his History of the Life and Times of James Madison (3 vols.; Boston, 1859–68). Probably drafted by John Taylor of Caroline, the document was intended to be a “representation to Congress” from the General Assembly of Virginia (Journal of the House of Delegates, March 1781 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 , pp. 53–54). The paper declared that the entire weight of the southern war was being borne by that state. After listing the many northern battles in which Virginia had participated and the many southern battles in which the northern states had lent little support, the manifesto demanded “aids of men, money, and every warlike munition. If they are denied, the consequences be on the heads of those who refuse them. The Assembly of Virginia call the world and future generations to witness that they have done their duty, that they have prosecuted the war with earnestness, and that they are still ready so to act, in conjunction with the other States, as to prosecute it to a happy and glorious period.” On 12 March, or six days after a committee had been appointed to draft the “representation,” Benjamin Harrison returned to the House of Delegates from his mission to Philadelphia (ibid., p. 22). His assurance that further aid from Congress and the North would soon be forthcoming probably explains why the remonstrance never emerged from the committee appointed to prepare it.

13The clerk who copied this letter wrote “has,” but the text in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society reads “his.” This copy also inserts “as” between “but” and “it,” and a comma after “absence.”

14On 20 March, during the leave of absence granted to him by the House of Delegates following his return from the north, Benjamin Harrison was chosen by that body to be a delegate to Congress in the place of James Henry, resigned. When Harrison declined, Edmund Randolph, the attorney general of the Commonwealth, was appointed and accepted. Thereupon Harrison was re-elected speaker of the House of Delegates, replacing Richard Henry Lee, who had held that office during Harrison’s absence in Philadelphia. The “Dr.,” Arthur Lee, did not become a member of Congress until 28 December (Journal of the House of Delegates, March 1781 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 , pp. 24, 41, 42; Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, March 1781 Session in Bulletin of the Virginia State Library, XVII, No. 1 (January 1928). description ends , May 1781, pp. 4, 17, 19; ibid., October 1781, p. 62; Jameson to JM, 3 March 1781, n. 5).

15“An act for emitting a sum of money for publick exigencies” was passed on 21 March 1781 (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 , X, 399–400; Journal of the House of Delegates, March 1781 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 , p. 50).

16“An act to raise two legions for the defence of the state” was approved on 21 March. Alexander Spotswood, who had proposed the creation of a special force to serve only when Virginia was invaded by the British, was appointed a brigadier general to command the two legions (Journal of the House of Delegates, March 1781 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 , pp. 12, 15–16, 23, 36, 40, 41, 42, 44–45, 47, 50; 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 , X, 391–93). During the following months he earnestly tried to equip and provision his troops, but they never saw active service (Clayton Torrence, “A Cloud-Capped Legion,” William and Mary Quarterly, 2d ser., I [1921], 137–41). Lieutenant colonels under Spotswood were John Taylor of Caroline (1753–1824), a member of the committee which reported the plan for the two legions, and Everard Meade, previously an aide-de-camp to General Benjamin Lincoln. The majors were Drury Ragsdale, Jr., Robert Forsyth, Cole Digges, and William Lindsay. Digges (1754–1817) of Warwick County was in the General Assembly, 1778–1783, and attended the Virginia Convention of 1788 to consider the federal Constitution (Swem and Williams, Register description begins Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1776–1918, and of the Constitutional Conventions (Richmond, 1918). description ends , pp. 5–18, passim, 244). Lindsay (1743–1797) of Laurel Hill in Fairfax County had served with Digges in 1777–1778 in the 1st Continental Dragoons (Gwathmey, Historical Register of Virginians description begins John H. Gwathmey, Historical Register of Virginians in the Revolution: Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, 1775–1783 (Richmond, 1938). description ends , pp. 225, 476).

17Apparently unable to decide whether Pendleton had written “our” or “any,” Peter Force’s clerk lightly wrote the one word above the other and enclosed both in parentheses. The Massachusetts Historical Society copy uses “our.”

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