James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 23 April 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), 129.

April 23d. 1781.

Dr Sir

Since my last nothing material has come to my knowledge, the Fleet up Potowmack proved as I expected a mere plundering party, or if they meant any thing hostile against Alexandria or Fredericksburg, they were deter’d from the Attempt by the preparation made to receive them.1 They have been Alarm’d at Richmond for some time past expecting another Visit from the Enemy, upon hearing they were in James River;2 I am just now told they are in Possession of Williamsburg,3 but cannot learn their numbers, or whether they mean to stay there or plunder & return. a body of Militia are about 5 miles off, but I suppose Inferior to the Enemy, as they did not dispute the City with them.4 Should they mean to take a Post there, they will command the whole Neck down to Hampton,5 & will oblige Us to keep up two large bodies of Militia one on each side James River, which can afford no Assistance to each other, whilst the Enemy, masters of the Water, can throw in aid from one post to the other if there be occasion; I fear our crops, of corn particularly, will be much Injured by the large Number of Militia already in Service,6 & yet more will be necessary unless Succours arrive Speedily from the Northward. What is become of the Pennsylvania line? We have been told that they had refus’d to March Southward, but since that they are expected to reach Fredg this day—had we those and the Marquis’s Corps, we might hope to drive off these Invaders, which cannot be done by Militia alone especially ill found as Ours are.7 Yr brother left me this Morning in his way to the University, Mr Wythe having advertised his lectures to commence the 1st. of May. I expect yr brother will hear of the Enemy’s possession of it, and return.8 [He] left the family well. I am

Yr as usual9

Edmd Pendleton

1For the threat to Alexandria and Fredericksburg, see Jefferson to Virginia Delegates, 13 April 1781, n. 3; Pendleton to JM, 16 April 1781.

2See Jameson to JM, 14 April 1781, nn. 6 and 7. Richmond was to escape a second occupation by the British until 16 June because of the timely arrival of Lafayette’s troops there on 29 April. On that day British troops led by General Phillips, who a few days before had destroyed much shipping at Osborne’s on the James River, were at Manchester, directly across that stream from Richmond (Christopher Ward, War of the Revolution, II, 872).

3Either Pendleton or Peter Force’s clerk inadvertently wrote “Williamsburgsburg.”

4A British detachment landed at Burwell’s Ferry on the James River during the afternoon of 20 April, occupied Williamsburg by nightfall, and remained there for two days. A small force of Virginia militia commanded by Colonel James Innes withdrew from the town upon the approach of the enemy (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, 504–6; Jameson to JM, 28 April 1781).

5That is, the peninsula between the York and James rivers, with Hampton at its southeastern end, fronting upon Hampton Roads and Chesapeake Bay.

6Jefferson was also alarmed about the prospect of a small harvest of corn because of the calls for more and more militia at seeding time (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, 539).

7See Jameson to JM, 14 April 1781, n. 7; and Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 17 April 1781, n. 10. The version published by the Massachusetts Historical Society has the militia “ill formed” instead of “ill found.” Pendleton probably wrote the latter, meaning poorly equipped and fed.

8William Madison had been a student at the College of William and Mary (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (2 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 294, 295, n. 9). As professor of law and police at the college for ten years beginning in 1779, George Wythe was the incumbent of the first chair of law in an American college. The advertisement of Wythe’s classes has not been found. Because of the war, the college was closed for a year beginning in March 1781 (ibid., II, 49, 51, n. 6; William and Mary Quarterly, 1st ser., IV [1895–96], 264; XV [1906–7], 264).

9The letter as printed in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society omits this sentence and begins the next preceding sentence with “He” rather than with the probably erroneous “We” appearing in the Force transcript.

Index Entries