Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from George Weedon, 14 April 1781

From George Weedon

Williamsburg Ap. 14. 1781

Dear Sir

I am honor’d with the resolution of Council 10th Inst. and as Genl. Philip’s Letter dated 6th demanded an answer from me, have confined it chiefly to the very words of the Council, Copy of which have the Honor to enclose. I am desirous of cultivating the Liberal Idea held out by the British General to those who are unfortunate, as nothing but reciprocal advantages can result from it. I am happy to find the Honorable Executive will authorize their Officers to nourish it on just and equitable Ground.

I was in hopes of getting such as were not exchanged: enlarged on parole by promising that an equal Number should be sent in as soon as they could be march’d from Winchester and requested in my last Letter on the Subject, leave to make the overture, but as the Executive have not made any reply to that part, could not say to the British Commander that it should be done.

I am just setting off to Potowmac by order of the Baron, and shall pass through the Northward Neck. Will take the earliest Opportunity of advising your Excellency of every Hostile Occurence in that Quarter. Major Bradford my Aid de Camp will have the Honor of delivering you this and will inform you particularly of anything you may wish to enquire about in this Quarter to whom I refer you: I would thank your Excellency for a Warrant for about 7 or 8000 Pounds on account of my Pay. I have drawn none for upwards of two Years and am in want of a supply.

I have the Honor to be with Esteem & Regard Yr. Excellencies [Most?] Obt Servt.,

G Weedon

RC (Vi); in an aide’s hand, signed by Weedon; addressed and endorsed. Enclosure (Vi): Copy of Weedon’s letter to Gen. William Phillips, Williamsburg, 12 Apr. 1781, acknowledging Phillips’ letter to him of 6 Apr. (printed above under its date) and stating the conditions for exchanges as set forth in TJ’s letter to Weedon of 10 Apr. 1781, q.v.; this enclosure is printed in CVSP description begins Calendar of Virginia State Papers … Preserved in the Capitol at Richmond description ends , ii, 31–2.

Weedon here acknowledges “the resolution of Council of 10th Inst.” and states that his reply to Phillips was confined “chiefly to the very words of the Council.” Actually the Council had not adopted a formal resolution on 10 Apr. (as, for example, it had done on 4 Apr. on this same matter of exchanges) and the words that he relied upon with such exactitude were those of TJ himself. In this minor detail and in more important aspects Weedon’s letter to TJ creates the impression that he intended a delicate rebuff to TJ while framing it in an impersonal response to a plural executive. The effort to be precisely literal could be interpreted as an evidence of a cautious effort to carry out faithfully the intentions of the government. But another interpretation impresses itself upon the reader when the extent and context of the literal use of “the very words of the Council” are considered. Weedon, as was proper, altered TJ’s use of the plural when he came to employ TJ’s words in his letter to Phillips; it was no doubt proper for him to have omitted, as being unnecessary and possibly ambiguous, the following significant sentence in TJ’s letter: “under the American Constitution our powers as to exchange extend but to few subjects”; and his several modifications of phraseology and structure of TJ’s sentences may mean nothing more than an attempt at clarity of expression. But Weedon’s real intent becomes plain when, having paraphrased TJ’s letter, he concluded his letter to Phillips with these words of his own: “You are too well informed of the Profession of Arms not to know the Military are by no means answerable for the Resolution of the Civil, and I shoud be sorry to see the rigour of War extended to the innocent on account of anything done by them, that may or may not be approved. This far, however I think I can venture to say that while a liberal and just conduct is observ’d on your part, the Authority of this State will not be wanting in similar professions.” This remarkable statement must be read in the context of Phillips’ letter to Weedon of 6 Apr. 1781 in which he indulged in intemperate remarks about TJ’s “barbarous” and “insolent” letter to him and threatened to depart from “benevolent principles” if the Virginia government adopted the “rash and violent conduct” that he had reason to fear. It must be interpreted, too, in light of the fact that this letter of Phillips to Weedon was an intended affront to TJ quite aside from these intemperate expressions, for Phillips was careful to point out that he could not dignify TJ’s letter with a direct answer, but that he could confidently communicate with Weedon, from whom he had received “a number of Civilities” while imprisoned in Virginia. Insulting as it was, Weedon accepted this letter from Phillips and transmitted it to TJ without a word of censure for the former or sympathetic comment for the latter. More, his concluding remarks to a “brother in arms” imply disagreement with his own government and a sense of harmony with the British officer. It should be noted, too, that Weedon had urged that Steuben’s proposal of 29 Mch. should be adopted and the Council had failed to follow this advice. Moreover, Weedon had become involved in the Curle-Ellegood exchange and had been rebuffed by Council, though certainly in an impersonal manner. Most of all, perhaps, the action of the Board of Field Officers of Virginia in rearranging the line at Chesterfield in March had rankled with him, as it had also with Steuben and with Greene. See TJ to Weedon, 4 Apr. 1781; Steuben to Weedon, 1 Apr. 1781, NHi; Greene to Davies, 30 Mch. 1781 (Tr in CSmH). On 15 Apr. 1781 Weedon also sent Steuben copies of his correspondence with Phillips and added the following comment which contrasts significantly with the present letter to TJ: “I … hope [this letter to Phillips] will meet your approbation. I was fearful in assuming thus far of incurring your censure, and should have consulted you previous to my writing had time permitted, but as I have promised nothing further than what the Executive have authorized respecting the State Troops, or assured any thing of a Continental kind without the Authority of the Commanding Officer first obtained, I hope I have not stept out of my Line. I am exceeding desirous of Cultivating the liberal Idea held out by Genl Phillips to those who are unfortunate as nothing but reciprocal Advantages can result from it” (Weedon to Steuben, 15 Apr. 1781, NHi [FC in PPAP is misdated 25 Apr.]; Weedon was just setting out for a trip through the Northern Neck that had been planned for some days, and he promised to report on the defences of Fredericksburg, perhaps as a result of Oliver Towles’ appeal to Steuben of 14 Apr.; see note to Mercer to TJ, 14 Apr. 1781). TJ asked the auditors on 17 Apr. to issue to Weedon a warrant for £8000 (Vi: Contingent Fund Vouchers).

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