Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Steuben, 31 December 1780

To Steuben

Richmond Dec. 31. 1780.


I have this moment received information that 27 sail of vessels, 18 of which were square rigged, were yesterday morning just below Willoughby’s point. No other circumstance being given to conjecture their force or destination, I am only able to dispatch Genl. Nelson into the lower country to take such measures as exigencies may require for the instant, until further information is received here. Then or in the mean time your aid and counsel will be deemed valuable by Sir Your most obedt. humble servt,

Th: Jefferson

RC (NHi); addressed by TJ: “Majr. Genl. Baron de Steuben”; endorsed. Tr (NHi); this appears to be the actual copy enclosed by Steuben to Greene in a letter dated Richmond, 31 Dec. 1780, which was intercepted and is now (along with its enclosure) in NHi: Benedict Arnold Papers; see below.

TJ’s information respecting the British fleet was derived from a letter written by Jacob Wray, a merchant of Hampton, to Gen. Thomas Nelson and by him transmitted to TJ; this letter has not been found, but for its contents see, further, Va. Council Jour., ii, 269; TJ to Harrison, 1 Jan., enclosing Wray’s letter; to Nelson, 2 Jan.; and to Wray, 15 Jan. 1781. Steuben, in his intercepted letter to Greene of this day transmitting a copy of the present letter, reported that Gen. Nelson had gone down “this side James River and I have dispatched Mr. Fairlie [Maj. James Fairlie, Steuben’s aide] down the River on the other side to procure intelligence”; Col. Senf, who at this time was escorting the French officers Custine and Laval to Portsmouth, had also been ordered to gather and transmit “every possible information of the movements of the Enemy”; from Washington’s letter to Steuben of 10 Dec., the latter estimated that the invading force “must amount to 2500 Men.” The cover of Steuben’s letter bears, among other notations now partly torn away, the following instruction: “This letter is to [sic] immediately as its matter [is] of great consequence. S Southall. D Q M G.”

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