James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 5 March 1781

From Edmund Pendleton

Tr (LC: Force Transcripts). Addressed to “The Honble James Maddison jr Esqr Philada.” Another copy is printed in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2d ser., XIX (1905), 123–24.

Virga March 5. 1781

Dear Sir

I have yr favr of the 13th past and thank you for the foreign Intelligence, on which head we are made to expect something more Interesting this week, by an Account which a Gentleman Affirms he saw going to the Press in yr1 city, of Count D’Estaigne’s having taken 7 sail of the line of British ships out of a Squadron of 9. & forty odd Transports—wither bound, we hear not, & of course taking it by the best handle for ourselves, we set it down for the reinforcement we have been threaten’d with, to their Southern Army; and conclude we have so many less to contend with.2

In mentioning the race between Green & Cornwallis, I stated them as running Parrelel at the distance of about 60 miles; It seems they were much closer & in the same tract, Green’s rear frequently Skirmishing with the other’s Van to give his own time to get on. however Dan River ended the Pursuit,3 His Ldship having staid on the South side about ten days—retreated to Hillsborough, & there divided his Army into 3 bodies, one setting out towards Salisbury, another towards Cape Fear, & a third, taking a course between.4 If he continues that order of March, as his Parties must soon be far distant one from another, I think two at least if not the whole, must fall a Prey to the Pursuers, or to Govr Nash & Caswell5 who, he6 said, have a large body in their way:7 But this is rather supposed to be a Shamade,8 & that he will soon reunite them in one body, & March for Cambden.9 Be it as it may, I think our Cavalry must do something on this retreat.

It is mentioned as from good authority, that the French ships in our Bay had been out on a cruise, & returned with five provision Ships & two Arm’d Vessells, destined for Portsmouth[.] I fancy a Seasonable disappointment to the Enemy, who are rather Scarce there.10 Our Assembly met on Fryday last & Colo Lee placed in the Chair without opposition.11 We continue to pick up men for the War & shall get more than I expected.

The Groupe of Cols I formerly mentioned it is now said brought Green 2000 men who are chearfully gone with him in the pursuit, and I hope will be an Over Match for Cornwallis’s Mirmidons, in bearing the fatigues of March, as well as Skirmishing should they meet in the woods.12 let Virga have credit for having thus stop’d this powerful Adventurer, on her borders, if she should not be able to give a more agreable Account of him.

My nephew13 is still with me & desires his complts to you & Mr Jones.

I am Dr Sr yr affe & Obt Servt

Edmd Pendleton

1The “yr” in the Force transcript appears as “New York” in the Massachusetts Historical Society version. “N. Y.” is probably what Pendleton wrote.

2Nothing in confirmation of this alleged exploit of Vice Admiral Charles Henri Hector, Comte d’Estaing, has been discovered. He left Cadiz, Spain, for Brest, France, on 7 November 1780 in command of a French squadron. Storms and adverse winds prevented him from reaching his destination for almost two months (W[illiam] M. James, The British Navy in Adversity: A Study of the War of American Independence [London, 1926], p. 247; Doniol, Histoire description begins Henri Doniol, Histoire de la participation de la France à l’établissement des États-Unis d’Amérique (5 vols.; Paris, 1886–92). description ends , IV, 474, 543).

3See Jameson to JM, 3 March 1781, n. 7. No earlier letter to JM in which Pendleton had mentioned “the race” toward the Dan River has been found. Pendleton alternated his weekly letters between JM and Jones. Hence Pendleton may have discussed the subject in a letter to Jones, perhaps written on 26 February.

4From 17 to 26 February, during Cornwallis’ withdrawal from the south bank of the Dan River to the south bank of the Haw River, he had sent out detachments from his main force to forage for provisions and rally Tories to his standard (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, I, 360–61). These detachments probably gave rise to the rumor that Cornwallis had split his force into three groups.

5Abner Nash (ca. 1740–1786), governor of North Carolina in 1780–1781, served briefly in Congress late in 1782 and early in 1783. Except for a short period after the Battle of Camden, Richard Caswell commanded the militia of North Carolina from the spring of 1780 until the end of the war.

6Either “‘tis,” as in the version printed in Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, or “it’s,” as given in the extract from the letter in Stan. V. Henkels Catalogue No. 694 (1892), pp. 83–84, is probably what Pendleton wrote rather than “he,” as copied by Peter Force’s clerk.

7In obedience to Major General Richard Caswell’s orders, about 1,060 North Carolina militiamen, organized in two brigades, joined Greene’s army early in March (George W. Greene, Life of Nathanael Greene, III, 189; Christopher Ward, War of the Revolution, II, 782–83).

8Probably meaning “ruse.” Pendleton may have fabricated the word by appending the last three letters of “ambuscade” to “sham.” If he meant “chamade,” he was mistaken about its meaning, because he obviously was not referring to a signal to parley.

9Cornwallis had begun his northward march from Winnsboro, S.C., about thirty-five miles west of Camden in that state.

11Ibid., n. 5.

12Shortly before the Battle of Guilford Court House on 15 March, Greene’s army was reinforced from Virginia by four hundred troops of the continental line under Colonel Richard Campbell and nearly seventeen hundred militiamen under Brigadier Generals Robert Lawson and Edward Stevens (George W. Greene, Life of Nathanael Greene, III, 189; Christopher Ward, War of the Revolution, II, 782–83).

13Judge Henry Pendleton of South Carolina.

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