Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William H. Cabell, 22 July 1807

Richmond July 22. 1807.


Yours of the 19th. was received by yesterdays mail—On the order for discharging that portion of the Militia that had been sent to Norfolk from this place and Petersburg, some farther explanation is necessary than what I had time to give when I wrote to you before on that subject. That information should be asked from you, and that a decision should be made before time has been given to impart it, certainly requires explanation—Immediately after writing to you, I received a communication from General Mathews assuring me that the forces he then had with him, exclusive of the Richmond and Petersburg Detachments of Militia, were fully sufficient for their security: the British Squadron also had then left the Roads, and had taken a station off the Capes, and manifested a temper less hostile than before. The effects of that climate on those unused to it are well known, and its most sickly season is fast approaching. Those patriotic men had volunteered their services at a time when our dangers, altho really great had been much magnified, and they had been accepted from the belief that being prepared to move at a moments warning, they could repair to the scene of action sooner than even the Militia of the Country about Norfolk, who were undisciplined unarmed, and unprepared for service—It was therefore thought right to withdraw them the moment we were assured by the Commander there that their services were no longer necessary. Sickness was much feared on another account—it might diminish that zeal, that enthusiasm for the service which now so universally prevails. These were the considerations which induced a decision of the question, before we had heard from you—I am now however convinced that our decision was premature—But the troops are still there; for altho the representations of General Mathews had caused the order for their discharge, yet in a letter received from him this morning he states that he had undertaken to detain them until further orders or until he shall ascertain what course the British mean to pursue in consequence of the taking & detaining the five men mentioned in my last—I highly approve his conduct in keeping the troops, for had the circumstance been known to the Executive, the order for their discharge would certainly not have been given. His letter is dated on the 20th. at which time, he states two Vessels only, the Triumph & Melampus, were remaining, the Cleopatra having disappeared—No formal demand had been made for the men detained, altho an informal demand had been made of some gentlemen without authority—He states the Vessels to be within the Capes. It is well that you have a gentleman there whose situation enables him to give you correct information—We have in some instances suffered much for the want of it, & have at least once acted on that which we afterwards had the mortification to find incorrect it. Should more men be wanted for Norfolk or Hampton, such arrangements have been made as that they will be easily and quickly obtained in their vicinities. Five hundred on the north side, and 300 on the south side of James River, are held in readiness to march at a moments warning, besides the Militia of the County of Princess Ann, & at least of one half of Norfolk County not yet called into actual service.

I am extremely anxious to hear from you on the subject of the five men detained by General Mathews, for the more I think on that subject, the more I consider it as one calculated to precipitate the war, which altho inevitable, might perhaps have been postponed until we should be much better prepared, for every moments delay is to us important—

I am with the highest respect Sir yr. Ob. St.

Wm H: Cabell

DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

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