Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Samuel Huntington, enclosing an Intercepted Letter from Leslie to Cornwallis, 10 November 1780

To Samuel Huntington, enclosing an Intercepted Letter from Leslie to Cornwallis

Richmond November 10. 1780.


I inclose your Excellency an intercepted Letter from Major General Leslie to Ld. Cornwallis. It was taken on a person endeavouring to pass through the Country from Portsmouth towards Carolina. When he was apprehended and a proposal made to search him, he readily consented to be searched but at the same time was observed to put his hand into his Pocket and carry some thing towards his mouth as if it were a quid of tobacco. It was examined and found to be what is now inclosed.1 As this is the first authentic disclosure of their purpose in coming here and may serve to found with somewhat more of certainty conjectures of their future movements while their disappointment in not meeting with Ld. Cornwallis may occasion new plans at New York, I thought it worthy of being communicated to your Excellency by Express.

Some Deserters were yesterday taken, said to be of the British Convention troops who had found means to get to the enemy at Portsmouth and were 70 and 80 Miles on their way back to the barracks when they were taken. They were passing under the guise of deserters from Portsmouth.

I have the honor to be with every sentiment of respect Your Excellency’s most obedt. & most humble servt,

Th: Jefferson

Alexander Leslie to Cornwallis

Portsmouth Virginia 4th. Novr. 1780.

My Lord

I have been here near a Week Establishing a Post. I wrote to you to Charles Town, And by another Messenger by Land. I cant hear for a certainty where you are. I wait your Orders. The Bearer is to be handsomely rewarded if he brings me Any note or Mark from your Ldship.

A: L:

RC (DLC: PCC, No. 71, i); in a clerk’s hand, with complimentary close, signature, and address by TJ; endorsed by Charles Thomson: “Letter from Govr Jefferson Nov 10. 1780. Read 17.” The cover also bears the following series of notations, indicating that TJ must have sent this important information northward immediately by special express: “Delivered in Annapolis the 13th. November at half after five P.M. Delivered at Baltimore 14 Novemr. 1780. at one oClock P.M. Delivered at Hartford 14th. Novemr. 1780. 25 minutes Past five P M. Reced at Elk 15th; four oclock P M and forwarded 16th; in the Morning HH.” (“Hartford” must be Harford Town, Harford co., Md., a station on the express line from Richmond to Philadelphia; see Maryland Council to Col. Henry Hollingsworth [whose initials appear above], 7 July 1780, Md. Archives, xliii, 214. “Elk” is Head of Elk, modern Elkton, Cecil co., Md.) Enclosure (filed with the letter in PCC, No. 71, i); this is the original intercepted letter, bearing the direction “Lord Cornwallis” on cover. Tr of part of TJ’s letter to Huntington (as indicated in note below) is in CtY; it is endorsed: “[…Th]omas Jefferson, Governour of Virginia, to the President of Congress, dated 10 Novr. 1780. No. 1 enclosing No. 2.

TJ gave both Gates and Washington more details on how the messenger attempted to conceal Leslie’s letter; see letters to them of this date. The intercepted letter was printed in Va. Gaz. (D & N description begins Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, 1751–1780, and Richmond, 1780–1781). Abbreviations for publishers of the several newspapers of this name, frequently published concurrently, include the following: c & D (Clarkson & Davis), D & H (Dixon & Hunter), D & N (Dixon & Nicolson), P & D (Purdie & Dixon). In all other cases the publisher’s name is not abbreviated description ends ), 11 Nov. 1780, with caption: “An intercepted letter taken by one of our out posts from a person in disguise.”

1Tr ends at this point.

Index Entries