To Thomas Nelson
Richmd. Febry. 21. 1781.
I received your letter of the 18th. the night before last and deferred answering it till I could confer with Baron Steuben which I had an opportunity of doing yesterday evening. He shewed me a letter from Monsr. Tilly from which and the information of his aid who went down, we suppose the French squadron sailed on a cruise yesterday morning. They will however be within our call, and therefore we think it proper to go on with the preparations for enabling us to make an attempt on the Enemy, and for affording an asylum to any of the ships of [our] Ally which may at any time Come to us. I put into his hands the papers relative to Mr. Hair and he will give orders on the subject: he seems to consider him as no flag, but a prisoner. As to Mr. Hair’s calumnies on individuals of this State among whom I am one, I consider them as honorable testimonials; it is their known practice to bribe whom they can, and whom they cannot to calumniate. They have found one scoundrel in America, and either judging from that or their own principles they would pretend to beleive all are so. If pride of character be of worth at any time, it is when it disarms the efforts of malice. What a miserable refuge is individual slander to so glorious a Nation as Great Britain has been.
I spoke to Baron Steuben some time ago for a return of the number of Militia from each County which have been on duty and how long. As Militia duty becomes heavy it becomes also our duty to divide it equally. I have waited for this to order out releifs, which cannot be done on sure grounds without it. You will oblige me by having such a return made from your quarter as soon as possible.
I am sincerely sorry to hear of your indisposition. Wishing it speedily removed I am with much esteem. &c.
P.S. Is Capt. Kelly necessarily employed with you? If he can be spared we are desirous of employing him particularly in another effort to bring the Cannon from South Quay. The 24 ℔s are wanting immediately to be mounted at Hood’s. If he can proceed on this, he must come here.
The letter from Monsr. De Tilly, signed Le Gardeur de Tilly and dated 17 Feb., is in NHi. Nelson’s secretary, the Rev. Robert Andrews, had written Steuben on 19 Feb. that Nelson was confined with such a severe cold as to require “great care … to keep it from becoming pleurisy.” He also stated that the French commander expected to sail with the first fair wind, and added: “Genl. Nelson wishes to know whether your Designs with respect to York are still to be pursued” the next day Andrews reported that Nelson was so much worse that he was “no longer able to do any business” and that he had turned over the command to Col. Innes. Steuben replied in part as follows: “Notwithstanding the french fleet is to sail the first fair wind, My desires with respect to York are to be pursued” the reference to “York” is probably to the same subject as TJ’s previous reference to Preparations for … an attempt on the enemy (Andrews to Steuben, 19 and 20 Feb.; Steuben to Nelson, 20 Feb., all in NHi). For the Papers relative to Mr Hair (Hare) and for his Calumnies on individuals, particularly on TJ, see Turberville to TJ, 15 Feb. and Nelson to TJ, 18 Feb.