James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates to Thomas Jefferson, 24 April 1781

Virginia Delegates to Thomas Jefferson

RC (LC: Continental Congress Miscellany). Written by Theodorick Bland and signed by Bland and JM. Docketed, “Virga Delegates Letter 24th April recd May 81.”

Philadelphia April 24th: 1781


We were yesterday Honord with your Excellency’s of the 13th Inst. with its enclosures. You may be assured that our utmost endeavors have been exerted in forwarding the arms and stores mentiond in our last, but insurmountable difficulties have prevented their seting off untill now but we are happy to inform you that the first of them will go on to day as the Qr. Mastr. assures us.1 we have anticipated the circumstance mentiond in the Extract of Genl. Greenes letter to the Baron,2 by urging the board of War with every argument for the necessity of a Speedy Supply which they are taking measures to procure but I fear with little prospect of immediate effect, neither theirs nor our exertions will be slackend on that head but we cannot advise a reliance on the Success. Your desire concerning the Prisoners, has been communicated to the Minister of France who has expressed his fears that such a step could not be Justified on the Common principles adopted by European nations at War, but at the Same time thinks there will be no difficulty of complying with your desire signified in your last letter (13th) now before us.3 a late letter from the Commander in Chief gives us some reason to think that the British have a serious intention of making a descent in Delaware Bay at least to forage, and secure all the Provision they can on the Peninsula that lays below new Castle and the head of Elk if Possible—in Consequence of which measures have been taken to remove all the flower Cattle and Short forage on that Peninsula calld the Eastern Shore, out of their Reach, and also from the Jersey Shore Bordering on Delaware Bay, for which purpose the Board of War are vested with powers by Congress, and the Executives of Jersey Pennsyvania Delaware Maryland and Virginia are request[ed] to Send their assistance to aid in the execution of this necessary measure[.]4 Authentic Accounts have arrived here that Don Galvez has enterd the Bay of Pensacola with a considerable sea and Land force has made good his landing, and been Joind by a large body of troops on the 25th of March, and there is little doubt but that important place will soon be in the hands of Spain,5 by the same account we are informed that a detachment of Rodneys fleet consisting of seven ships were seen standing towards that place and immediately the Spanish Admiral Put to Sea from the Havannah with sixteen Sail of men of War of the line and five or Six thousand land forces to intercept the British and secure Success to the assailants.6 a report prevails here Which gains credit that the fleet from Corke consisting of two or three men of War and 120 ships under their Convoy, had fallen in with a french Squadron of twelve or fourteen Ships of the line, and that very few of the Convoy escaped falling into the hands of our Ally7—and a Vessel from Cadiz informs us that War was declared by that nation against the British—& that a Manifesto had been Published by Holland at that Port Authorizing the Dutch to make reprisals on the English Nation before he left Cadiz8

We have the honor to be with sentiments of the highest respect & esteem Yr. Excelly’s Most Ob & hum: Servts.

J. Madison Junr

Theok. Bland

P.S. we are happy to inform Yr. Excy. [that] a large detachment of the Pennsylva line are at length in motion towards Virginia & we hope will arrive in time to Check the Progress of the Enemy in that state.9 we have accts that the Confederacy is taken by the Roebuck & Orpheus off this Coast.10

1The delegates were still trying to forward from Philadelphia to Richmond the military materiel of Virginia which had been a part of the cargo of “Le Comité.” In their letter of 17 April to Jefferson (q.v.), they had told him of their hope to have Quartermaster General Timothy Pickering provide the means of transportation.

2For this extract, in which Greene mentioned his desperate need of lead to Steuben, see Jefferson to Virginia Delegates, 13 April 1781, nn. 4 and 5.

4The “Eastern Shore” of Maryland and Virginia lies between the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay. On 7 April Congress was informed by a letter from Brigadier General David Forman, rather than from Washington, of the probable design of “the Enemy to possess themselves of the Peninsula between the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays.” The following day, upon the recommendation of the Board of War, Congress directed the Board to have “the public stores” immediately removed from the threatened area. Congress also recommended to the executives of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia that they “take the like measures with respect to all the provisions and forage … which will not be necessary for the consumption of the inhabitants” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 365–67). Informed of Forman’s letter, Washington commented in a dispatch of 16–19 April to Congress, laid before that body on 23 April, that the British detachment, apparently about to embark at New York, might be bound for “the peninsula,” but more likely would have Virginia or the Carolinas as its destination. To be on the safe side, Congress thereupon broadened its directive of 8 April to the Board of War by including “the Jersey shore adjacent to the Delaware,” “all beef cattle and provisions and forage collected and stored,” as well as “all public stores,” and by addressing an appeal for co-operation to the executives of Pennsylvania and New Jersey as well as to the three mentioned above (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 434, 436; 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, 488; 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, 475). “Head of Elk” is now Elkton, Md., where the Elk River flows into a northern arm of Chesapeake Bay.

5Bernardo de Gálvez, captain general of Louisiana, forced the capitulation of the British fort at Pensacola on 9 May 1781. The delegates gained their information from an abstract of a letter, written in Martinique on 18 March 1781 and printed in the Pennsylvania Packet of 24 April 1781, but they misread the informant’s “26th” of February as the “25th of March.” As a matter of fact, Gálvez was reinforced by troops from Mobile and New Orleans on 22 March (Lawrence Kinnaird, ed., Spain in the Mississippi Valley, 1765–1794 [3 vols.; Washington, 1946–49], I, xxx).

6Bland wrote “16 Sail” and then interlineated “sixteen” without deleting “16.” The information about a detachment of Admiral Rodney’s fleet sailing toward Pensacola seems to have been erroneous. Having captured the Dutch island of St. Eustatius on 3 February 1781, Rodney remained there for about three months. In mid-March he ordered a portion of his squadron under Admiral Hood to blockade four French ships at Fort Royal, Martinique (W. M. James, British Navy in Adversity, pp. 255–57). Perhaps this episode accounts for the false rumor in the letter. The word about the fleet from “the Havannah” is at least partly false. A Spanish squadron, which left that Cuban port on an undetermined date, brought reinforcements to Gálvez by 19 April, raising his total force to “more than 7,000 troops” (Lawrence Kinnaird, ed., Spain in the Mississippi Valley, I, xxx).

7This report, also appearing in the Pennsylvania Packet of 24 April, seems to have almost no foundation in fact. The story probably originated from the departure in mid-March from Spithead and Cork of a fleet under Vice Admiral George Darby, convoying a large number of supply ships. Darby’s main mission, successfully accomplished and without effective opposition from either the French or Spanish, was to deliver provisions to the British besieged at Gibraltar. Some of the victualing ships had the East and West Indies as their destination (W. M. James, British Navy in Adversity, pp. 302–5; David Hannay, A Short History of the Royal Navy, 1217–1815 [2 vols.; London, 1898–1909], II, 262–63).

8In spite of the ambiguous context, “that nation” must refer to the Netherlands, which had been at war with Great Britain since December 1780. The phrase “before he left Cadiz” obviously refers to the master (a “Captain Ross”) of the unnamed “Vessel from Cadiz” which reached Marblehead about 10 April, after an eight-weeks’ voyage. The delegates again were passing along to Jefferson what was reported in the Pennsylvania Packet of 24 April. See also 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, 231 n.

10The “Confederacy,” thirty-two guns, was captured on 15 April by the “Roebuck,” forty-four guns, and the “Orpheus,” thirty-two guns (Gardner W. Allen, A Naval History of the American Revolution [2 vols.; Boston, 1913], II, 368, 556).

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