Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Tatham, 17 July 1807

Norfolk July 17th. 1807.

Dr. Sir.

The moment I dispatched my express of Yesterday, I set out in my Whale Boat to arrange the extension of my line of daily communication to Cape Henry; by the help of some of the leading Characters of Princess Anne. Capt. Reid, who dined at the same house (Mr. Christian’s) Lynhaven, & Mr. Christian, mounted their horses at the same moment; & on my respecting & interogating the object of their entrprize, Capt. Reid poured some good shot into his hand, & told me he was going to give John Bull the beef he had promised him yesterday; or to that effect.—In crossing the harbour, I observed one of the British Tenders Anchored on the Western side of Lynhaven Inlet, near the entrance. I immediately boarded a fishing Canoe, intimated that I had suspicions of them, & prevailed on them to let two of my men lay down in their Canoe; & put them secretly on shore where they might conceal themselves, & observe what passed. I furnished them with a Spy Glass, & hunting Horn; & ordered them to observe narrowly what passed, till I ran the Whale Boat round to Mrs. Keelings House landing, on the interior of the Peninsula; & to blow the horn in the event of any extreeme necessity. I had scarce got to Mrs. Keeling’s house when the horn was blown (vehemently & perpetually). I ran with Mrs. K’s overseer, & my Lynhaven Pilot & another of my boats Crew, to the spot. We there found our Two unarmed Men on the south point of Long Creek; the British on the N. Eastern of Long Creek, & Eastside of Lynhaven Inlet, and a third (which we since understand to be Capt. Reids party of neighbours) on the Western Side of the Inlet. The extreeme oblique distantes from (as to Capt. B seeming to be about point blank rifle shot) & the British near to us than to them, but perhaps (more generally) equidistant. My Men lamented the want of arms; & said they had prevented the British from escaping (or crossing) day boats without Arms; and felt themselves ill treated to be so exposed without means of attack or defence.

I found the two parties shouting & bullying across the Inlet; but inclined to suspect all to be British, & the whole a Sham to Catch my party, of whom they had probably information because I did not see here Capt. Reid and got between them & their Gun boat. To pretend a force, which did not exist, was an instantaneous expedient: 1st. to prevent the retreat of myself & boat being cut off on the Peninusla, 2dly.—To prevent the Enemy from escaping from the Light Infantry (under Lieut. Vashon) whom I had landed on the Spot they occupied, between Long Creek, & the sea, that morning; & who were to meet 40 Horse to join them, in Legionary disposition, between that & Cape Henry; a distance of Six miles.

I made my small party pick up sticks to represent Guns; dispersed them (as scattered infantry) among the S.Hills & pines; and called out, Loudly, “By Plattoons, to the right Wheel March!”—which was repeated (I believe by the British) in an Ironical strain.—I repeated my words & gave a blast on the horn, about which time (as well as I recollect) a firing, like Partridge shooting, commenced: I think Capt. Reids Party fired first; but the squally weather (which became ultimately excessive) & my attention to the main points I have stated herein before, occuring at that juncture, I cannot swear to the commencement of actual hostilities.—I retreated slowly, by the manoeuvre I had adopted; in order to shew the appearances of a strength, equal to the protection of the neighbourhood; &, I presume, spent about one hour on Mrs. Keelings Plantation, where this affair happened; dispatching two runners to call in a party of Horse & Infantry who Mrs. K. told me were in the neighbourhood.—The situation of my boat embayed in a Small Cove at her Landing, the firing of some Guns in her Cornfield—which we could suppose to be no other than British, induced all to conclude I had best push into the open Bay; after arranging signals (of the horn) with Mrs. K. for the information of our own troops, when I could be near enough to observe the result. We were now taken with as severe a black Thunder Storm & rain, as perhaps I had ever experienced. And when the Lightening cleared the Horizon, so that we could see the Land, I found the British Tender still at anchor where she had been before, & a [Gun?] boat (apparently) on Shore, near the Inlet.—I ran up the river to my Provision boat, & gave orders for her better safety, & on landing at Mr. Christian’s, I was told that Capt. Reid was in possession of the general commanding the British Jolly boat, & had interupted their Communications with their Gun boat, mounting a nine pound Carronaide as my Man reports of her. I think I saw two or three stagger as they ran off hoisted at, but saw none befaced. I mounted my Horse, took a negroe Pilot (now that night had closed) & rode to the Point Plantation (Williams’s) where this affair had happened, thence to Malkays & the Pleasure house: at which places, I learnt the same thing, & found none but the Women & children left at home. the Men being on the ground of skirmish, with Capt. Reid.—I dispatched the negroe (a trusty one) with my horn to his masters, & the signals I had given to my boats as their guide; & thought it proper to come off to Genl. Mathews, where I arrived at half past twelve, having left the Scene of action at about ten in the night, at which time the Comm[. . . .] signals had proved of no effect.

Genl. Mathews must look to himself hereafter—for information of such occurrences: my word is doubted, here of a transaction too conspicuous to be hidden under a bushel—

I have communicated all to Capt. Decatur, have sent additional [. . . .] down, but cannot procure arms, I find, till your orders authorize my application in conformity to the rules of Office.—I have spent the day in exertion to this End; & shall return to Lynhaven the moment my Express arrives—

Six o.’Clock is approaching. I have the honor to be in haste Dr. Sir—Yrs.

Wm Tatham

DNA: RG 59—ML—Miscellaneous Letters.

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