Patrick Henry in Council to Henry Laurens
Wmsburg Novr. 23d. 1778.
I am Honoured with the Receipt of your Favour of the 14th. instant covering two Acts of Congress viz. one of the 10th. instant for obtaining from this State & Maryland, Gallies to attack East Florida.1 another of the 11th for requesting permission to export from Petersburg in Virginia a Quantity of Flour & Bread for the use of his most Christian Majesty.2
No Time has been lost in giving Efficacy & Despatch to both these Measures. Orders are issued to the Naval Office to permit the Exportation of the Flour & Bread as requested.3 I only wish that the French Gentlemen might be informed, that the Quality of our Flour this year is by no means equal to what it is in common Harvests, owing to the Weavil & other Accidents.
In the Deliberation which was had on the Subject of furnishing the requisite Aid to attack Florida, the Council with myself ever anxious to forward the Views of Congress, were not a little embarrassed. We have two Vessels called Ship Gallies drawing eight or nine feet water carrying about eighteen 3 or 4 Pounders & one of them formed to use two heavy Guns in the Bow in Still Water with Men, & about Six smaller Gallies, calculated for Service in the Bay or rivers. The latter it is thought cannot without great Danger of Sinking, be sent to Sea. The former are therefore pitched upon to go on the Service required, if Congress think them fit.4 In the mean time Orders are given for them to be got in readiness which I’m informed may be in three Weeks; and they will proceed to Charles Town unless they are countermanded by Congress.
Besides these two Vessels there is the Ship Caswell belonging to this State Stationed in North Carolina to protect the Trade. She carrys about Guns 12, 9, & 6 pounders & 135 men & draws about 5 feet Water.5 I write to Day to Governor Caswell6 to know if she can be spared, & if possible to get her added to the other two above described, for the expedition. When Congress were pleased to call for Vessels fitted for this particular Service, their Designs might have been answered if the Service had been explained. Not being favor’d with any such Explanation I have been obliged to proceed in uncertainty.
When General McIntosh7 was directed to begin his Operations on the Frontiers against the Indians I gave orders to 14 Counties beyond the Mountains to furnish him with any number of Militia he should call for. His Requisitions were sent to such of them as he chose long since. The number of Men sent to him, I know not. But a few Days ago three County Lieutenants appeared before the Council Board & informed that their Counties & two others adjacent, were called upon by the General to send him 1,000 men immediately. These Gentlemen easily convinced the Executive, that it was impossible to comply with this Demand, because it would be the 20th December before the men could be assembled at some rendezvous to begin the march, & that no Tents, Kettles, Horses, provisions or Necessaries were to be had for the Service: And because many of the Troops would have 400 Miles to proceed thro’ a Country chiefly Desart, & utterly unfurnished with those Things which are essential to the Support of human Life at that inclement Season when the Snows are several Feet Deep on the great Ridges of Mountains, many of which Lay in their Rout. Knowing therefore the utter impossibility of the Measure, the Council unanimously concurred with me in judging it necessary to countermand General McIntosh’s orders, & I have accordingly done so.8 The General shall be apprized of it as soon as possible, & will take his measures accordingly.
I did myself the honor to inform you by Letter which I doubt from yours has not reached your Hands, of several Matters respecting the marching of the Militia from this State to Charles Town, which was requested by Congress.9 When the requisition arrived here the Assembly was sitting. It became necessary to lay the matter before them as the Law gave the power of marching the Militia to a Sister State only in cases of actual Invasion. An Act was thereupon passed to enable the Executive to send out the Militia when certain Intelligence of an intended Invasion should be received.10 Just in the Instant when orders were going to be sent to put the Men in Motion for Charles Town, a Letter from Governor Johnston arrived, by which it was apparent the Enemy had no Designs on that place but it was said, meditated a Descent on the Eastern Shore. Upon this the Council thought with me it was proper to suspend the Matter, & it has remained in that Suspense ’till the present Time.11
I send inclosed a List of sundry Acts of Congress received Since Septr. last,12 most or all of which I thought I had acknowledged the Receipt of by particular addresses which I had the honor of sending you.
The Variety of Matter which the present occasion calls on me to mention will I hope plead my Excuse for the Length of this Letter.
I beg to be presented to Congress in the most acceptable manner & in Terms expressive of that high Regard with which I have the Honour to be
Sir Yr. Mo. obedt. & very hble Servt.
P.S. I am looking out for a Messenger to carry your Despatches to Govr. Caswell
1. The retained copy of Laurens’ letter of 14 November is in NA: PCC, No. 13, fols. 162–63. On 2 November, Congress resolved that if the enemy did not invade South Carolina and Georgia as expected, the considerable patriot army gathered there under General Benjamin Lincoln should “endeavour to reduce the province of East Florida.” Believing that the capture of St. Augustine would require a land and sea operation of considerable size, Congress on 10 November authorized Lincoln to recruit more soldiers in the south and called upon Maryland and Virginia to dispatch “armed galleys” there, at continental expense, as quickly as possible (Journals of the Continental Congress, XII, 1091, 1116–21).
2. Having purchased in the name of Louis XVI the cargoes of the ships “Gentille” and “Adventurer,” Conrad Alexandre Gerard, French minister to the United States, requested Congress on 11 November “to give the necessary orders” for them to sail. Congress acceded on that day by authorizing Laurens to write Governor Henry explaining “the nature of this transaction, and the necessity of the vessels immediate departure” (ibid., XII, 1122). In his letter asking Henry to permit them to sail, Laurens assured Henry that the breadstuffs were for French military use, “wholly unconnected with private trade.” On 17 November 1778 the General Assembly of Virginia passed an “Act to enable the Governour and Council to supply the armies and navies of the United States, and of their allies, with grain and flour” (Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , IX, 584–85; Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held At the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The Journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used, unless otherwise noted, is the one in which the journals for 1777–1781 are brought together in one volume, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , October 1778, p. 66).
3. On 23 November the Council of State “advised his Excellency to grant permits to the two Vessels” and to inform Congress of his action (Journals of the Council of State, II, 222).
4. The Council of State on 23 November advised Henry “to request the Commissioners of the Navy Board to give directions for the Dragon & Tartar Ships of war (there being no Gallies fit for the Service) to be got in readiness for the Expedition” (loc. cit.). In December 1776, “for the protection of Chesapeake Bay and the adjacent cape and coasts,” Virginia was building “four gallies of eighty odd feet keel” and taking steps to construct as many more “much larger” ones (Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held At the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The Journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used, unless otherwise noted, is the one in which the journals for 1777–1781 are brought together in one volume, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , October 1776, p. 102). Owing to the fall of Savannah to the British on 29 December 1778, the “Dragon” and “Tartar” did not leave Virginia.
5. The “Caswell” was stationed in Ocracoke Inlet, an arm of the sea giving ready access through Pamlico and Albemarle sounds into the Blackwater River in southeastern Virginia. Evidently the ship was hardly seaworthy, because in June 1779 Jefferson reported that “her bottom is eaten out” and she had “sunk at her station” (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , III, 20).
6. Richard Caswell (1729–1789), prominent in the civil and military life of his state for thirty-five years before his death, delegate to the First Continental Congress and to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, served as governor of North Carolina in 1777–1779 and 1784–1786. Henry’s letter to him is in H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of Virginia Governors, I, 327–28.
7. Brigadier General Lachlan McIntosh (1725–1806) was named on 25 July 1778 to lead an expedition that autumn against the western Indians. See above, Henry to Laurens, 8 July 1778, and notes. Hampered by a shortage of men and equipment, McIntosh was unable to launch his expedition until October. By the end of the year he had reached the junction of the Muskingum and Tuscarawas rivers in the Ohio country. After building and garrisoning Fort Laurens there, he withdrew with the remainder of his force to Fort Pitt (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1931–44). description ends , XIII, 79–80, 499–502).
8. On 20 November 1778 the Council of State advised Governor Henry to countermand McIntosh’s demand for two hundred militia from each of the counties of Washington, Montgomery, Botetourt, Greenbrier, and Rockbridge (Journals of the Council of State, II, 220–21).
9. Henry’s letter of 9 November on this subject was read in Congress on 18 November 1778 (Journals of the Continental Congress, XII, 1140).
10. This act empowered the governor, if “he shall receive certain information” of the enemy’s intention to invade another state, to send a maximum of three thousand Virginia militiamen to its aid (Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , IX, 477).
11. On 31 October 1778, while the governor and the Council of State were conferring about dispatching one thousand militia to Charleston, the letter from Governor Thomas Johnson (1732–1819) of Maryland arrived, naming Boston as the likely target of the enemy fleet which had left New York on the 17th. Johnson apparently did not mention “the Eastern Shore” (H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of Virginia Governors, I, 319–20). Sixteen ships under Vice Admiral John Byron, hampered by a storm, made an unsuccessful attempt to blockade in Boston harbor the French ships under Vice Admiral Charles Henri Hector, Comte d’Estaing. See Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1931–44). description ends , XIII, 259–60.
12. Inclosure not found.