Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Those Appointed by Lafayette to Remove Horses out of the Route of the Enemy, 15 May 1781

To Those Appointed by Lafayette to Remove Horses out of the Route of the Enemy


There being reason to apprehend that the two hostile Armies under Lord Cornwallis and Genl. Phillips will form a Junction and for that Purpose pass through this State along the Road from Petersburg to Halifax, I instructed the Lieutenants of the Counties lying in that Route to give notice to the Inhabitants to remove all Horses fit for Cavalry within twenty Miles of an Enemy’s Army and all Draught Horses lying in their Front and within the same Distance and, if they fail’d, to take possession of them and send them to the Army within this State.

Time having been now given for the Execution of this Business lest there should be a Failure in the People or in the County Lieutenants you are hereby authorized to proceed and to take such Horses described as aforesaid as you shall find within the Limits specified, and moreover to proceed along the whole Route from Petersburg to Halifax as far as it lies within this Commonwealth and to require a Removal of all such Horses within twenty Miles of that Route and on Failure of the Owners to comply with your Requisition within a short and reasonable Time to take such Horses and retain them either for Public Service or to be returned to the Owners as shall be hereafter directed. Should the Route of the Enemy be different from that expected as before mentioned, you will be pleased to do in the Vicinities of that Route what is prescribed before as to the other, for all of which this shall be your Warrant. Given under my hand and the Seal of the Commonwealth at Richmond this 15th. Day of May 1781.

Thomas Jefferson

FC (Vi); at head of text: “Circular Letter to the Persons appointed by the Marquis Fayette to remove Horses out of the Route of the enemy.”

This action may have been initiated by Thomas Nelson, who apparently suggested it in a letter to Lafayette (see Langborn to TJ, 12 May 1781). TJ, however, had already called the matter to the attention of the Assembly before Nelson’s letter was forwarded to him (TJ to Speaker, 10 May). Such an action by the Governor was in effect an exercise of martial law and may have been in part responsible for the Act subsequently passed by the Assembly establishing martial law within twenty miles of the American army or of the enemy’s camp (Hening, description begins William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia description ends x, 411).

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