Virginia Delegates to Thomas Jefferson
RC (LC: Continental Congress Miscellany, portfolio 103). Written by JM and signed by JM and Joseph Jones. Addressed to “His Excellency The Governor of Virginia” and docketed by a clerk, “Delegates for Virga. in Congress Mar. 6th. 1781 AD.” There appears in Joseph Jones’s hand, at the close of the text of the letter, “Phila: 6th Mar: 1781.” Jefferson may have momentarily overlooked this dating, for at the close of the letter he wrote, and then he or someone else marked out, “This probably should have been dated the 5th. or 6th. Mar. 1781.”
Phila: 6th. Mar: 1781
The Minister of France having imparted to Mr. Jones as Chairman of a Committee appointed to confer with him1 on some secret matters the intentions of Ct. Rochambeau and Mr. destouches explained in the inclosed note,2 we thought it of such consequence that your Excellency should be certainly apprized of them, that notwithstanding the probability of the communication being made through some other channel3 we determined to guard against all risk of failure by despatching one of the established Expresses. As the success of the Enterprize will depend s[o] much on secrecy of preparation, and celerity of execution[,] We beg leave to intimate to your Excellency, that it is the wish of the Minister that no persons should be admitted to a knowledge of it, from whom it can be justifiably concealed, and that such military stores, particularly heavy cannon & mortars, as are in the hands of the state and will be wanted for a siege may be in readiness to go forward at a moment’s call. The Minister also wishes that some supplies of provision, of beef especially, for the French troops may be included in your general preparations.4 we are with great respect
Yr: Excelys. obed. hum Servts.
Jas. Madison Junr.
1. On 20 February 1781 a congressional committee including JM had drafted a letter for the president of Congress to send to General Washington, asking him to urge Admiral Charles René Dominique Sochet Destouches and Lieutenant General Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau, if “the late storm has rendered the French naval force superior,” to move “the French forces to the southward” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 179; Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXI, 300–302, 322). The Chevalier de La Luzerne informed Congress on 2 March of the partial success of the French squadron which had just returned to Rhode Island from Chesapeake Bay (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 271; Jameson to JM, 3 March 1781, n. 6). On the same day, at the request of La Luzerne, Congress named a committee of five delegates to confer with him (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 224–25).
2. The enclosure has not been found, but it must have been a report that the entire French fleet under Destouches was preparing to sail against Benedict Arnold’s ships at Portsmouth and to land artillery and some eleven hundred troops in Virginia.
3. Samuel Huntington, president of Congress, also wrote Jefferson on 6 March, advising him to expect a reinforcement of French men and ships and enjoining him to secrecy (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 , V, 72).
4. Having sailed from Newport on 8 March with eight ships of the line, Destouches met a British fleet of heavier armament under Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot off the coast of Virginia eight days later. After an inconclusive engagement, Destouches turned north and arrived back in Narragansett Bay with most of his ships on 26 March (Pendleton to JM, 2 April 1781, n. 2; Providence Gazette; and Country Journal, 31 March and 7 April 1781; Edwin Martin Stone, Our French Allies … in the Great War of the American Revolution … [Providence, 1884], pp. 359–62). Washington was chagrined by the halfhearted manner in which the French had carried out their mission. He implied that if they had followed his counsel to sail in force, they would have defeated the British fleet and captured Arnold (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXI, 371–74).