To Thomas Nelson
Richmond Jany 16. 1781
The Bearer hereof Capt. Joel proposes to engage two others to undertake with himself an enterprize on the Enemy’s fleet wherever it shall be collected in Harbour. As he requires only an old Vessell of the most worthless kind, and proper preparations for her, I think the object will justify the risk. So many Orders and Measures may be necessary in the detail of executing this Business that I cannot do better than to give a general sanction to it and ask the favor of yourself to have everything provided which he may think necessary to ensure Success. Rewards are expected on desperate undertakings of this kind, and tho not necessary to stimulate him may be necessary for his associates. I will therefore leave it to yourself to fix them previously, or to agree with the Gentlemen that they shall be referred to the Executive after the Service shall have been performed.
Capt. Joel: Beesly Edgar Joel, an adventurer who had represented himself to the Pennsylvania authorities as a deserted British officer. He was imprisoned from June to Aug. 1780, when he was liberated at the direction of Washington, but “with positive injunctions not to come near the Army” (Joel’s deposition before Penna. Executive Council, 23 Nov. 1780, MS in PHMC; Washington, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, xix, 11, 375–6, 379; xx, 256; see also, Penna. Colonial Records, xii, 495; Penna. Archives, 1st ser., viii, 576). For the abortive result of Joel’s enterprize, see Nelson to TJ, 7 Feb.; TJ to Nelson, 13 Feb.; Joel to TJ, 9 Feb.; TJ to Joel, 14 Feb. 1781. Joel’s proposal to conduct a fire ship against the enemy fleet was probably the subject of the following letter from the Rev. Robert Andrews, who at this time was serving as secretary to Gen. Nelson: “Genl Nelson has something of Consequence to communicate to you and consult you upon. As it cannot be done with so much Propriety by writing, he wishes to see you as soon as possible.” This letter is dated at Williamsburg, 18 Jan. and is addressed: “James Maxwell Esqr. Commissioner of the Navy Chicahominy” (RC in Vi).