Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Preston, 8 August 1780

From William Preston

Montgomery Augt. 8th. 1780


A most horrid Conspiracy amongst the Tories in this Country being providentialy discovered about ten Days ago obliged me Not only to raise the militia of the County but to ca[ll] for so large a Number from the Counties of Washington and Botetourt that there are upwards of four hundred men now on Duty exclusive of a Party which I hear Col. Lynch marched from Bedford towards the Mines yesterday. Colo. Hugh Crocket had Sent two young men amongst the Tories as tory Officers, with whom they agreed to Embody to a very great Number near the Lead Mines the 25th. Instant, and after securing that Place to over run the Country with the Assistance of the british Troops, who they were made to believe would meet them, and to relieve the Convention Prisoners. These they were to Arm and then subdue the whole State. A List of a Number of Officers was given to our Spies. This Deception gave our Militia an Opportunity of fixing on many of them who have been taken and I believe there are near sixty now in confinement. A number of Magistrates were called together from this Countyand Botetourt to examine Witnesses and enquire fully into the Conduct of those deluded Wretches In which we have been Engaged three Days; and I am convinced the Enquiry will continue at least a fortnight, as there are Prisoners brought in every hour and new Discoveries making. One has been enlarged on giving Security in £100,000 to appear when called for, some have been whipped and others, against whom little can be made appear, have enlisted to serve in the Continental Army. There is yet another Class who comes fully within the Treason Law, that we cannot Punish otherwise than by sending to the best Prisons in the Neighbouring Counties, untill they can be legally tried according to an Act of the last Session of Assembly, to which however we are Strangers, as we have not been able to procure a Copy of the Act and have only heard of it.

Some of the Capital offenders have dissappeared whose personal Property has been removed by the Soldiers and which they insist on being sold and divided as Plunder to which the Officers have submitted, otherwise it would be almost impossible to get men on these pressing Occasions. I would beg your Excellency’s Opinion on this head; as also what steps you Judge necessary to be taken by the Officers and Magistrates with the Prisoners, other than what I have mentioned.

I am your Excellency’s most obedt. Servt.

Dft (WHi); endorsed by Lyman C. Draper. The writer is identified by the provenance of the letter (Preston Papers) and by Digges’ acknowledgment (see below).

Preston’s letter was acknowledged by Lt. Gov. Dudley Digges, 17 Aug. 1780 (FC: Vi, photostat from Brit. Mus.: Add. MSS, 38,650). The letter arrived, says Digges, as TJ was about to “set out on a Journey home to take some little recess from Rusiness after a very long and laborious confinement”; Preston’s measures against the Tories are approved and commended. (Full text of Digges’ letter is printed in Official Letters description begins Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia, ed. H. R. McIlwaine description ends , ii, 168.)

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