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To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 2 April 1781

From Edmund Pendleton

Tr (LC: Force Transcripts). Endorsed, “Edmund Pendleton to James Madison.”

Virga. April 2d 1781

Dear Sir

Since my last I have Mr Jones’s favr of the 20th. but as I hear he is now at home, I write you, as I shall continue to do weekly in future.1

Mr Jones mentions the Anxiety in Phila for the event of an expectd meeting between the French & british Fleets. In this perhaps you may be relieved by some Intelligence which has not reach[ed] us, but we are quite in the Dark about it, having a british Fleet lying quiet in Lynhaven Bay, join’d lately by some transports, so as to make the whole about 40 sail. At some times we are told they brought Genl Philips & a reinforcement of 1500—other Accounts are that they have no troops at all. Various also are the reports respecting the battle—some say it was a severe conflict, in which the british were worsted, having the London & 2 74s towed in, and that the French did not pursue them into the Bay, because they did not chuse to risque their Troops, which they had since landed at Cape Fear. Others report the engagement was very trivial, & rather a kind of Salute as they past each other, and in this state of suspense are we at present, respecting this important affair.2

I am happy to find that every day proves Genl. Green’s battle to have ended more favourable for Us, than was known at first. It was peculiarly fatal to his officers, who I suppose were the marks of our riflemen, & of whom it [is]3 said he has not enough left to command his shatter’d Army.4 Nothing more strongly evinces his imbecility, than his having left behind him part of his own wounded, with ours, among the number Genl O’Hara, since dead.5 I think we must yet catch this Noble Adventurer, who yet appears to be the Object of a special Providence, since of two horses killed under him, one received 15 Balls, & yet the rider escap’d unhurt.6

A Letter from Phila. of the 20th past mentions the death of the Empress of Russia, and that her successor had Allied himself to Britain, but as Mr Jones to me, & Dr Bland to the Govr in letters of the same date, are silent as to that important subject, I think it rather some Mercantile Manoeuvre.7 However if Britain hath not a good prospect at least of some powerful Ally, her late stroke at the Dutch is astonishing & must proceed from unbounded Pride or desperation.8 Surely this blow must cure the Mynheers of their Apathy and rouse them to some great exertions, as well as inspire the other confederated Neutral powers with resentment. But in this case, I fear my hopes of Peace this year will Vanish, and perhaps all Europe get involved in a tedious War, in wch America will be involved; a circumstance not at all agreeable to the general wishes of the people this way.9

I am Dr Sr Yr mo. Affe

Edmd Pendleton

1Joseph Jones had left Philadelphia for Virginia about 23 March and did not resume his seat in Congress until about 14 May 1781 (Pendleton to JM, 26 March 1781, n. 2; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 503).

2Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 6 March 1781, n. 4. When Jones wrote, he evidently did not know the outcome of the naval engagement of 16 March off the Virginia coast, resulting from the British fleet’s interception of Destouches’ vessels on their voyage to Chesapeake Bay. Although the British ships were not as severely damaged as rumors indicated and were all able to return to their Long Island base, Admiral Arbuthnot admitted in his report that the seventy-four-gun “Robust,” the sixty-four-gun “Prudent,” and the sixty-four-gun “Europe,” which had borne the brunt of the action, “were so entirely disabled as to be incapable of pursuing” the enemy (Pennsylvania Journal [Philadelphia], 4 April 1781; Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, I, 372, 383–84). On 26 March the British ships in Chesapeake Bay were joined by vessels from New York bringing some twenty-six hundred men to add to Arnold’s troops at Portsmouth. Major General William Phillips, only recently exchanged as a prisoner taken in 1777 when Burgoyne surrendered, was in command of these reinforcements and, upon disembarking, of the entire expeditionary force in Virginia (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, 428; Christopher Ward, War of the Revolution, II, 870).

3The brackets are in the transcript, the word “is” having first been omitted and then inserted above the line.

4In this and the next sentence, the pronouns “his,” “he,” and “him,” as well as “Noble Adventurer” in the paragraph’s last sentence, refer to Cornwallis rather than to Greene.

5Brigadier General Charles O’Hara (1740–1802), later governor of Gibraltar, received two serious wounds at Guilford Court House but was not captured and, of course, did not die there. O’Hara was with Cornwallis at Yorktown and commanded during the surrender because of Cornwallis’ illness. After Yorktown O’Hara remained a prisoner until his exchange on 9 February 1782 (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, I, 368; Christopher Ward, War of the Revolution, II, 790–93, 894). His name may have been confused with that of a Lieutenant O’Hara whom the British listed as killed at Guilford Court House. A report from South Carolina, however, also mentioned the death of General O’Hara (Pennsylvania Journal, 9 May 1781).

6Cornwallis was wounded at Guilford Court House, though not seriously enough to be listed among the casualties. A contemporary account by a British soldier tells that, after Cornwallis had one horse killed under him, he commandeered a dragoon’s mount near the front lines without observing that the saddlebags had worked their way under the animal and were catching in the underbrush. The soldier saw the danger in time to prevent the general from being injured and led him to safety (R[oger] Lamb, An Original and Authentic Journal of Occurrences during the Late American War from Its Commencement to the Year 1783 [Dublin, 1809], p. 362; Pennsylvania Journal, 11 April 1781).

7Pendleton probably refers to Joseph Jones’s letter of 19 March (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 319–20) and the Virginia delegates’ letter of 20 March 1781 (q.v.), which was written by Theodorick Bland. The Pennsylvania Packet of 24 March mentioned the death of Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria, Queen of Hungary, and mother of Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor (from 1765 to 1790), on 29 November 1780 and the prediction of the Tory journalist James Rivington that her death would cause a convulsion of European powers. The Packet on 8 May carried the following item from a Boston newspaper of 26 April: “The report lately propagated of the death of the Empress of Russia [Catherine II, d. 1796] probably arose from the decease of the Empress of Germany, which can have no influence upon the political system of Europe. Her Imperial Majesty of Russia still lives, and is at the head of the armed neutrality, which owes its existence chiefly to her influence and negociations.”

8Pendleton is referring to Britain’s recent conquest of the West Indies island of St. Eustatius (Pendleton to JM, 19 March 1781, n. 11).

9General Washington and several members of Congress also expected the other European powers in the League of Armed Neutrality—and above all Russia, its leader—to come to the aid of the Dutch, because the accession of the Netherlands to the League largely accounted for Britain’s declaration of war on that republic (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, 350; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 31, 71, 74, 77). Although JM in November 1780 supported Congress’ adoption of the principles of neutral rights as defined by the League of Armed Neutrality, he vigorously opposed the entrance of America into the League in May 1783. In his view, to join the League when the war was about to end would be of no advantage to the United States, but, on the contrary, might draw America into future European conflicts (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, 165, 167 n.; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 348–52). After declaring that “The armed neutrality in 1780 forms an Epoch in the history of maritime law,” JM commented at length upon the commercial rights of neutral nations in his letter of 28 July 1814 to Charles J. Ingersoll (Madison, Writings [Hunt ed.] description begins Gaillard Hunt, ed., The Writings of James Madison (9 vols.; New York, 1900–1910). description ends , VIII, 283).

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