James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 30 October 1780

From Edmund Pendleton

Tr (LC: Force Transcripts).

Virga October 30th. 1780

Dear Sir

Since my last yr favr of the 17th has come to hand & we have a Visit from the Troops imbarked at New York. My accounts of them are very Imperfect, but they seem to have divided themselves, landing 1000 Infantry & 100 horse at Hampton & another body at Portsmouth. We have just heard that they have re-imbarked from Hampton after taking about 500 head of cattle, but whether they meant to go off or come up James River & take Possession of Wmsburg, seem’d doubtful. perhaps the paper of today may give us information,1 and give you also a more perfect Account of the agreeable turn in our Southern Affairs, than I am able to do, having Accounts of various pieces of good fortune in that quarter said to be well authenticated, but so jumbled together and the scenes at the same time so distant, that I cant develope the Intelligence Satisfactorily. Thus Tarlton is surprized & 600 of his legion taken, but where or by whom is not said. I conjecture tis at Charlotte by Colo. Davidson, perhaps join’d by the Group of Colos who beat Ferguson at Kings Mountain. A Council of british officers & Indians are taken with many goods at Augusta in Georgia. this I suppose to be the affair of a Colo. Clarke mention’d in Dixon’s last paper. 6000 French have landed & taken the Savannah, & sombody has driven Ld Cornwallis from his Dinner & some body has taken George Town. but who they are & whether the same body did both I am not inform’d, perhaps yr Accounts from Genl. Gates may be more Intelligible.2 I think the Stroke the British Commerce hath received from the combined Fleets off Cape Finistre, must humble them a little & perhaps they may think seriously of Peace.3 Pray is it true that a Congress of Ministers from the Belligerant as well as Several Neutral powers, is expected to be held under the Mediation of Russia? & may we expect any good from it, or is it mere amusement? Is a General Exchange of Prisoners agreed on, or only a partial one. We hear Dr Lee & Mr Izard are with you & are open & unreserv’d in their Abuse of Dr Franklin. They must have very strong proofs before they can affect the character of that great Man & Philosopher, so long & universally esteem’d for his Wisdom and Integrity, but I am more concerned for our Common Interest which must receive Injury from every Internal wrangle of this Sort.4

A sufficient number of our Delegates had not met to make an House on Thursday last & as many of the lower Gentn. went away on the News of the Invasion[,] I doubt they have not yet met, tho’ a fortnight has elapsed since they should have met.5 The sickly season may have Occasioned this, otherwise ’twil be difficult to Account for the Cause of such supineness at so Critical a juncture, when the consequences may be fatal. I hear the Militia March on this Occasion with great Alacrity & even Ardour, tho’ I think the setting them in motion is rather slow.6

I hope the Prizes to the Saratoga have found their way through the Fogg to some of our ports, & not reached New York.7 I wish you may be able to read this letter. my paper is horid but ’tis the best I can get. I am with great regard,

Dr Sr Yr Affe & Obt Servt.

Edmd Pendleton

1General Henry Clinton appears to have directed General Leslie’s command to penetrate Chesapeake Bay primarily to prevent Virginia and Maryland from sending military supplies and troop reinforcements to General Gates’s shattered army after the Battle of Camden (JM to Pendleton, 3 October 1780, n. 6). Thanks, however, to the patriots’ victory at King’s Mountain and the resulting uprising of back-country settlers against the British, the pressure upon Gates was temporarily eased, and between 14 and 29 October Cornwallis’ army retreated from Charlotte, N.C., to Winnsboro, S.C. For this reason, Leslie’s force by late October was more urgently needed to reinforce Cornwallis than to distract Virginia and Maryland from aiding Gates. Furthermore, the surprising speed with which Virginia’s militia assembled to oppose Leslie helped to convert his invasion into a localized raid, characterized mainly by his troops moving slaves, horses, and cattle from river-edge plantations to Portsmouth. By “paper of today” Pendleton probably meant the 25 October issue of the Virginia Gazette (Richmond, Dixon and Nicolson), due to be delivered at Edmundsbury on the date of his letter. This issue devoted only a few lines to the invasion. The versions of this letter found in Stan. V. Henkels Catalogue No. 694 (1892), p. 82, and in Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2d ser., XIX (1905), 118, read “300 horse” rather than 100. The latter figure agrees with that given by Jefferson in his letter of 25 October 1780 to Huntington (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 , IV, 67).

2The Gazette of 18 October erroneously noted that Colonel Elijah Clarke (1733–1799) of Georgia had driven the British from Augusta. It also mentioned a minor exploit of a contingent from Colonel William Davidson’s (1746–1781) North Carolina brigade. Somehow this latter episode became merged, in the rumor reaching Pendleton, with the momentary success of Colonel William R. Davie’s troops, mentioned in n. 3 of Pendleton to JM, 17 October 1780. General Gates’s letter of 16–18 October 1780 to the president of Congress reported the alleged fall of Augusta as well as the equally fictitious landing of French or Spanish troops at Sunbury, Ga. (NA: PCC, No. 154, II, 299–300). Colonel Clarke would not help to recapture Augusta until June 1781, and the enemy would not evacuate Georgetown and Savannah until May and July, respectively, of that year (Christopher Ward, War of the Revolution, II, 813–15, 840).

3See JM to Pendleton, 17 October 1780, n. 4. A brief mention of this engagement is also in the Virginia Gazette (Richmond, Dixon and Nicolson) of 18 October.

6Above, n. 1.

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