James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 19 March 1781

From Edmund Pendleton

Tr (LC: Force Transcripts). Endorsed, “Edmund Pendleton to James Madison.” Another copy is printed in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2d ser., XIX (1905), 124–25.

Virga March 19, 1781

Dear Sir

Yr favr of the 27th1 was closely followed by Col. Harrison who gave me much information; I had the Satisfaction, among other things, to learn that your health was re-establish’d, which I had entertain’d some fears about, from Accounts last fall. May it long continue firm & Vigorous.2

I have been long in hopes of hearing some good Account of Cornwallis, in consequence of his mad trip, and Reports for some time had been very favourable to such expectations.3 Having nothing from thence lately, we considered [it]4 as a bad omen, and are prepared for any disagreeable Intelligence, to which two loose stories, of the defection of a Militia General Grigory, who had engaged to betray & deliver up 1000 men, but was discovered in time to prevent it5—and the Surprize of our Infantry under a Colo. Williams, have a good deal contributed.6 A third indeed is added, that our Militia, cool in ardor in proportion as they retire from the line of the State, & grow impatient. I wish they could always be engaged as soon as they are Collected, whilst they possess that fire which they carry from home.7 I fear indeed that they want provisions in that Countrey, not abounding in them at best, & now exhausted by the Ravage of both Armies. In short I cannot avoid my fears of disagreeable news from that quarter after expecting the best.

It is strange that we can’t depend upon what we hear even from the Sea coast of our own Countrey. You’l have heard of the Enemy’s having come from Portsmouth into Hampton Neck for plunder. the Spirit of a few neighbouring Militia, tho’ they got hurt in the opposition, deprived them of all their plunder, except a few negroes & horses. we first heard they had gone back to their Den; then that they had advanced to York Town.8 We were last week assured the Marquis had got safe down & a considerable French Fleet arrived; Now we are told that neither has happen’d;9 We have two Accounts circulating, which we consider in Opposition [to]10 each other, & but one of them can be true, if either be so—that St Eustatia is taken by Britain and that Count D’Estaigne had burnt 300 Ships in Kingston Harbour & plunder’d the Town. If the Account of the Count’s former Capture of part of Hood’s Squadron be true, the latter is not improbable; Nor if it be groundless, is the former:11

Were the Outlines of the Basis of a Treaty for Peace which were published in the Packet, really sent from Spain, or fabricated in Philada? I think they would be a good foundation to build on.12

My mouth waters when I read the Advt. for the Sale of the Saratoga’s Prize, containing such a quantity of that Cordial Elixir I have long been deprived of—however I will not depart from the restraint I laid on myself13 from the beginning, to purchase nothing which is not absolutely necessary.14

We have just heard that our Allies have lost their Naval Superiority to the Northward.15 my Complts. to Mr Jones.16 I am

Dr Sr Your Affecte & obt Servt

Edmd Pendleton

Our Assembly have yet done nothing, being engaged in a dispute about privilege.17

The Marquis is arrived at York in a whale boat, two days after another boat arrived there with about 30 men—the residue of his men got to Annapolis just time enough to escape two Frigates Arnold sent up to take them.18

1Not found.

2For Benjamin Harrison’s resumption of his seat in the House of Delegates on 12 March, upon returning from his official mission for Virginia to Philadelphia, see Jameson to JM, 3 March 1781, n. 5. JM’s reported ill health is commented upon in n. 12 of the Reverend James Madison to JM, 9 March 1781.

4The “it” appears in the Massachusetts Historical Society copy.

6Early on 6 March Cornwallis attacked a small body of Virginia militia stationed north of Guilford Court House, N.C. By the close of the day, after an effective delaying action, the militia had yielded only enough ground to enable them to join the force under Colonel Otho H. Williams (1749–1794), Greene’s adjutant general (Williams’ report to Greene, 7 March 1781, in William Johnson, comp., Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene … [Charleston, S.C., 1822], I, 463). In his report of 17 March 1781 to Lord George Germain, Cornwallis commented: “I marched on the 6th to drive them in and to attack General Greene if an opportunity offered. I succeeded completely in the first, and at Weitzell’s Mill on the Reedy Ford, where they made a stand, the back mountain men and some Virginia Militia, suffered considerably with little loss on our side; but a timely and precipitate retreat, over the Haw, prevented the latter” (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, I, 361–62).

7“Retire from the line of the State” means either march farther outside their own state or further separate from the rest of their state line of troops. On 10 March 1781 General Nathanael Greene complained that the militia “come and go in such irregular Bodies that I can make no calculations on the strength of my Army or direct any future operations that can ensure me success” (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, 112).

9Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 6 March 1781, n. 4. Lafayette’s continental troops had been detached from Washington’s army on 20 February. Accompanied by thirty of them as a bodyguard, Lafayette left Annapolis in a small barge and arrived at Yorktown on 14 March. Soon thereafter, noticing ships of war entering Chesapeake Bay, he assumed that they were the French vessels sent from Newport to help him drive Benedict Arnold’s men out of Virginia. On 25 March he learned to his chagrin that the ships were a British squadron which nine days earlier had convinced Admiral Destouches that he should return his fleet to the safety of Narragansett Bay. With his hope of success blasted by this news, and by the word that Arnold was being reinforced, Lafayette returned to Annapolis by land, arriving there on 3 April (Louis Gottschalk, ed., The Letters of Lafayette to Washington, 1777–1799 [New York, 1944], pp. 159–68; 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, 261–62, 342–43).

10From Massachusetts Historical Society copy.

11Pendleton to JM, 5 March 1781, n. 2. The source of Pendleton’s misinformation about Comte d’Estaing’s exploits is unknown. Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney took St. Eustatius on 3 February, soon after learning that Britain had declared war on the Netherlands on 20 December 1780. As a neutral entrepôt, St. Eustatius had greatly hampered the British navy in its efforts to destroy American and French commerce in the West Indies. Rumors of the fall of St. Eustatius reached Philadelphia by 6 March (Pennsylvania Packet, 10 March 1781). Rear Admiral Sir Samuel Hood (1724–1816) participated in the Battle of the Saints in April 1782 and commanded in the Mediterranean in 1793–1794. He later was twice a member of Parliament and was created a viscount twenty years before his death.

12The Pennsylvania Packet of 6 March 1781 contained a report of 22 November 1780 from London about a “basis of a treaty of peace … said to be received by the last two mails from Madrid and believed to be authentic.” The seven articles of this proposed “treaty” called for an end of hostilities in Europe on 15 January 1781, in America and Africa on 15 March, and in Asia on 15 July; for Great Britain to renounce all sovereignty over the United States; for a general return of territorial conquests, with Spain withdrawing from West Florida and keeping only New Orleans; for France, Spain, and the United States to guarantee “Canada together with East and West Florida forever to Great-Britain”; and for all four powers to agree that “none of them shall have any retrospect to the desolation made by the war, or have any claim or demand for damages suffered in the course of it: but on the contrary, they engage to live in amity as good friends and allies, and that their respective ports shall be open to each other for mutual support and affiance in time of need, agreeable to the law of nations.” Of unknown authorship, this spurious document goes unmentioned in the Journals of the Continental Congress and in the letters to the president of Congress from the American envoys overseas. The Pennsylvania Packet of 6 March most probably was forwarded to Pendleton by another correspondent or by JM in a letter which has not been found. Benjamin Harrison was back in Richmond from Philadelphia by 12 March, but he must have covered the distance with unusual speed if he brought that issue of the newspaper with him (Jameson to JM, 3 March 1781, n. 5).

13The Massachusetts Historical Society copy reads, “I laid myself under.”

14The Pennsylvania Packet of 24 February reported that “yesterday arrived a prize brig, with a very valuable cargo, consisting of 300 pipes of Madeira wine, &c. She is from Madeira bound to Charlestown, and was taken by the Saratoga sloop of war, Commanded by John Young, Esquire.” Three days later the same newspaper contained this advertisement: “This Morning at Ten o’Clock at Messrs. Willing and Morris’s Wharf, Will be Sold by Public Auction; a Quantity of Lisbon Wine, in Pipes, Hogsheads, and Quarter-Casks: Being the Remainder of the Cargo of the Prize Brigantine Chance, taken by the Privateer Brigantine Ariel.” Pendleton probably confused the wine to be sold at this auction with the cargo captured by the “Saratoga.”

15Pendleton had apparently just learned that the damage done to the British ships in Long Island Sound by a storm on 22 January was less severe than was at first reported. Two ships which were presumed lost had rejoined the fleet by late February, and the French squadron at Newport was already “less strong than the English” (Douglas Southall Freeman, George Washington, a Biography [7 vols.; New York, 1948–57; Vol. VII, by J. A. Carroll and M. W. Ashworth], V, 261–62; Jameson to JM, 3 March 1781, n. 6).

16Joseph Jones.

17Pendleton refers to a dispute on 13 and 19 March between the House of Delegates and the Senate over the correct interpretation of Article VIII of Virginia’s Form of Government (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, 115). This article prescribed that all “money bills” must originate in the House and could only be “wholly approved or rejected,” rather than amended, by the Senate. The Senate complained that the House, taking advantage of this prohibition, had incorporated in a supply bill certain extraneous matters—especially those punishing counterfeiters and declaring new issues of paper money to be a legal tender—which, if properly embodied in a separate measure, the senators would be able to amend. The House of Delegates yielded and framed a distinct act, eventually acceptable to the Senate, “for punishing the counterfeiters of the paper money of this state or of the United States, and for making the same a legal tender.” “Specifick contracts,” which stipulated payments in specie, still obligated the debtor to fulfill his pledge in hard money rather than in depreciated paper currency (Journal of the House of Delegates, March 1781 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 , pp. 23–24, 26–29, 33, 37, 39; 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 , X, 397–400).

18Above, n. 9. In a letter of 15 March to Governor Jefferson, Governor Thomas S. Lee of Maryland identified these “two Frigates” merely as “of the rate of about 18 and 20 guns.” They appear to have been the sloops “Hope” of sixteen guns and “General Monk” of eighteen (Calendar of Virginia State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , I, 573, 583; Wm. Laird Clowes, The Royal Navy: A History from the Earliest Times to the Present [7 vols.; Boston, 1897–1903], IV, 111–12).

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