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To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 14 May 1781

From Edmund Pendleton

Tr (LC: Force Transcripts). Endorsed, “Edmund Pendleton to James Madison.” Another copy is printed in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2d ser., XIX (1905), 132–33. An extract from the missing original is in Stan. V. Henkels Catalogue No. 694 (1892).

Virginia, May 14th 1781

Dear Sir

I was disappointed in receiving no letter from you by the last post, which was the greater, as I was anxious to be satisfied about a piece of Intelligence which had been related here by a Baltimore Merchant. A particular account of which he affirmed he had read both in a London & New York paper, that is, that the Bank of England had failed, however as I can’t find that any other person hath seen such an Account, or even heard it otherwise than from him, I conclude it to be some Hum,1 tho’ I am not able to develope the wit or policy meant by it: unless that he was not a warm friend to America & intended to sneer at that confusion in our paper which I am concern’d to hear happen’d about that time, from some State finesse between Pennsylvania & Jersey;2 pray how was that affair, & what consequences have attended, or are likely to result from it? since we can place very little confidence in Accounts which trading men give of money matters.

[p. 122]

Since my last Genl Philips after going as low as James Town suddenly tack’d about & sail’d up to Brandon3 where he landed his Troops; the Marquis, and Genl. Muhlenburg with a body of Militia, cross’d James River leaving Genl. Nelson with another body on this side4 to watch the Motions of the Enemy & give him notice if they should recross the River below. But Philips reach’d Petersburg before him, & Ld. Cornwallis being, as is said near Hicks’s Ford,5 about 45 miles from that Town, the Marquis found it impracticable to prevent their junction & return’d to Richmond where I suppose he will collect all his force to oppose them, but what his, or rather6 their united force may be, I know not, we are impatient for the arrival of the Pennsylvania line,7 since tho’ our Militia are going cheerfully to the scene, I fear they will be but badly Arm’d. The Assembly have adjourn’d to Charlottesville that their deliberations might be undisturbed. They will be in poor quarters there8 & some speak of going from thence to Staunton others to Fredericksburg, the day they have adjourned to is the 24th.9

We have been uneasy about the fate of Genl Green10 as his last letter to the Governor mentions his finding Cambden much stronger both in the works & Garrison, than he expected to find it, so that he had little to hope & much to fear. since then we are told that a Mr Willis11 is arrived from his Camp and relates an Action has happen’d, with the following circumstances “that a deserter from Green inform’d Ld. Rawdon his Artilery was not come up, Which induced his LdShip to come out in force to Attack Green, whose Artilery however came up just before and a Battle ensued which lasted 5 hours, when both Ar[mies]12 retired & encamp’d on the ground they had respectively Occupied the night before, & Green expected the fight would be renew’d next morning; The Enemy however retreated, were charged in their retreat by Colo. Washington who killed & took 250 making up their loss in the whole 600 kill’d, wounded & taken. Green’s loss about 200” This is Willis’s Account, who is said to be a Gentleman of credit; he adds that a few days before Green had intercepted about 300 Tories going into Cambden & killed the greatest part of them.13

If these things be true, I hope Green is in a better way than he & we fear’d he would be, and I am not able to Account for the Policy of Earl Cornwallis having left those States in such situation & come hither, unless he has a mind to add Virginia to the Roll of Nominal Conquests.

I am Dr Sr Yr mo affec & obt Servt

Edmd Pendleton

[p. 123]

Col. R. H. L. declin’d taking a Seat in the Assembly. I am told Mr Henry is not elected. I suppose he declined also.14

Cornwallis is at Halifax.15 the Marquis has cross’d Appomatox above to march down on Philips. the Militia go to Petersburg on this side.

1Humbug or hoax.

2For the rumor about the Bank of England, see Pendleton to JM, 7 May 1781, n. 2; for the Pennsylvania and New Jersey maneuvers affecting “our paper” currency, see Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 5 May 1781, and nn. 2 and 3.

3Brandon (sometimes called Lower Brandon in order to distinguish it from Upper Brandon, lying two miles to the northwest) was a seat of the “James River Harrisons.” It is in Prince George County, approximately six and a half miles west of the mouth of the Chickahominy River on the opposite bank. General Phillips had landed at Brandon on 6 May and moved westward to meet Cornwallis. The two armies joined at Petersburg on 20 May (Jameson to JM, 7 April, n. 10; Pendleton to JM, 7 May 1781, n. 9; Louis Gottschalk, ed., Letters of Lafayette to Washington, pp. 191, 196).

4That is, on the north bank. General Thomas Nelson, Jr., commander-in-chief of the Virginia militia, would be elected governor of the Commonwealth by the General Assembly on 12 June 1781.

5Hicks’s Ford, later the town of Hicksford, is today Emporia, the county seat of Greensville.

6This word is in neither the Massachusetts Historical Society copy nor in Henkels extract.

8This word is not in the Massachusetts Historical Society copy.

10Instead of “the fate of Genl Green,” Henkels extract reads, “the State of Gen’l Green’s army.”

11Probably Francis Willis, Jr. (1745–1829), of that portion of Berkeley County that was to become Jefferson County (now in West Virginia). A captain in the Virginia continental infantry, 1777–1778, he apparently served as a volunteer aide under his friend General Daniel Morgan during much of the southern campaign. By June 1781 Willis had returned to Winchester, where he became a captain of Virginia light dragoons and was dispatched by Morgan to scour his county for recruits and supplies for Lafayette. In 1784 Willis moved to Georgia and from 1791 to 1793 represented that state in Congress. Later he settled in Maury County, Tenn. (Heitman, Historical Register Continental description begins F. B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution (Washington, 1893). description ends , p. 597; Calendar of Virginia State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , II, 162, 250; Byrd Charles Willis and Richard Henry Willis, A Sketch of the Willis Family of Virginia, and of Their Kindred in Other States [Richmond, n.d.], p. 21).

12“Armies,” rather than “Ar.,” as in the Force transcript, appears in the Massachusetts Historical Society copy and in the Henkels extract.

13Willis’ story of the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill, a little over a mile north of Camden, S.C., on 25 April was partly accurate. A deserter’s assurance that Greene lacked cannon led Lord Francis Rawdon (Rawdon-Hastings) to attack the patriots who were entrenched on the hill. Their artillery arrived shortly before the assault, and the engagement lasted about five hours. By its close Greene had been obliged to retreat six miles, leaving Rawdon master of the field and able to claim a victory, albeit a Pyrrhic one. Rawdon seems to have had about 220 soldiers killed, wounded, or missing, and Greene about 260. Willis’ account of the exploits of Greene before the battle, and of Lieutenant Colonel William Augustine Washington after it, [p. 124] appears to be mostly inaccurate (George W. Greene, Life of Nathanael Greene, III, 239–53; Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, I, 472; Henry Lee, Memoirs of the War, II, 58–68; Greene to President of Congress, 27 April 1781, NA: PCC, No. 155, II, 47–50).

14Richard Henry Lee was not in the session of the Virginia General Assembly of May 1781, but Patrick Henry represented Henry County, as he had in the previous session (Pendleton to JM, 16 April 1781, n. 6; 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 , p. 13).

15On 23 April 1781 Cornwallis wrote to Lord Germain from Wilmington, N.C., of his decision “to take advantage of General Greene’s having left the back part of Virginia open, and march immediately into that province, to attempt a junction with General Phillips.” The next day Cornwallis sent a dispatch to Phillips saying that “if I should decide … to come to you, I shall endeavour to surprize the boats of some of the ferries from Halifax upwards.” From the context Cornwallis apparently meant Halifax, Va., on the Roanoke River. On the other hand, in his march north from Wilmington he passed close to Halifax, N.C., and hence it may be this town to which Pendleton refers (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, I, 422, 429).

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