Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Richard Claiborne, 7 March 1781

From Richard Claiborne

Richmond 7th. March 1781.


I feel so much concern about the horses that are to be impressed for the expedition against Portsmouth, that I beg leave to propose to your Excellency a method which may very possibly answer our wishes as the manner which has been practiced for two days past has proved ineffectual.

Impresses cannot be made in a Country which has for a long time, in repeated instances, suffered from the conduct of persons who take upon themselves the priviledge to distrain from Individuals without proper authority, unless a party of men are detached upon the business. These with the Warrant from your Excellency and the instructions from myself wou’d be able to execute the duty with Justice to the Public and satisfaction to the People.

I have now in my Possession sixteen or twenty Continental horses which may be had at any moment. Were men mounted upon these with an Officer to command them they might proceed through the Country to Williamsburg and obtain a considerable Portion towards the Number wanted.

Tomorrow the time will expire in which this collection was to have been made but still the business must be done.

If this Proposal meets with the approbation of your Excellency and you will be pleased to order an officer and twenty men to be sent to me for the purpose the instructions shall be ready for him immediately.

I have the honor to be with great respect Your Excellency’s Most Obedient Humble Servant,

Rd. Claiborne DQMr.

RC (Vi); addressed and endorsed; Tr (NHi). Tr (DNA: RG 93).

On the same day Claiborne wrote Steuben (Vi; printed in CVSP description begins Calendar of Virginia State Papers … Preserved in the Capitol at Richmond description ends , i, 559) stating that he had “applied a third time to the Governor” for aid in impressing horses; that the “matter is now reduced to this—that I can get no men from the Executive, nor will any hire themselves for fear of offending their neighbors. The Governor thinks that it is not just to carry on an impress here, giving as a reason, that the people have been distressed in that point already, and thinks that the horses may be more easily procured in the lower Counties.” Claiborne added a postscript to his letter to Steuben “For a further proof” of his “disagreable siuation,” enclosing a letter from Stephen Southall to Claiborne, 7 Mch. (Vi; summarized in same, p. 558), asking to be excused from serving because of the impending death of a parent. In another letter to Steuben the same day Claiborne enclosed a copy of the present letter to TJ and also a copy of a letter from Benjamin Greene, who at Claiborne’s request “had waited on his Excellency for an answer to my proposition for obtaining the Horses … by which you will perceive that it is out of my power to get any assistance from that Quarter” (Claiborne to Steuben, 7 Mch. 1781, NHi). Benjamin Greene’s letter, dated 7 Mch. at Richmond at “¼ past 5 o Clock p.m.,” reads in part: “I waited on him [TJ] for an Answer [to yours to him containing the above proposal] which he returned verbally in person to this effect, ‘that he thought the men could not possibly be had, for that it was with the greatest difficulty he could procure three today to Guard some powder down the River a little way,’ he also said he believed the Horses might be procured easier than the men” (NHi). A month earlier Claiborne had written Timothy Pickering: “The Property of Individuals in this state is so often subjected to impresses and abuses by every order of men in public employ, that whatever is obtain’d from them, and left to others who are in the same situation to value, they will establish it to three or four prices; everyone will view his own as liable to be taken as another’s, and will appraise from partial or interested motives” (Claiborne to Pickering, 5 Feb. 1781, DNA: RG93 [not the letter of this date from Claiborne to Pickering, cited above in note to TJ to Pickering, 4 Mch. 1781]).

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