James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 30 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), 129–30. An extract from the missing original is in Stan. V. Henkels Catalogue No. 694 (1892).

Virga. April 30. 1781

Dear Sir:

Since my last yr. two favrs of the 10th & 17th have come to hand together, a week’s mail having fail’d to come to Fredericksburg on Account of the Enemy’s being up Potowmack, and that I judge was the reason of yr missing my letter of that week, which has probably since reached you.1 I hope I give all the credit due to the Report of the Russian junction with Great Britain when I don’t believe a word of it, such an event may take place at some future period, but the haughty temper of the latter must come down first.2

You’l probably have heard of the Progress of General Philips in this State, they paid a visit to York & Wmsburg, where they behaved civilly enough doing little or no mischief. Our Militia at the latter place consisting of about 800 under the command of Colo. Innes were able to have repelled the party who came there, but Innes knowing they had sent a large3 body to land [up James River to cut off his retreat, very prudently retired in time &] cross’d Pamunky at Ruffin’s Ferry.4 The Enemy remain’d but a few days at Wmsburg, went up James & Appamattox River, landed at Cedar Point & march’d to Blandford, where Genl Muhlenburg, who had come up by land on the South side of James River & was joined by some militia of the Neighbourhood to the Amo[unt] in the whole of about 1500, was Posted to oppose them; a warm conflict ensued, which lasted about 25 Minutes, in which I am happy in assuring you, our Militia discovered a Bravery which would have done honour to Veteran troops, & gives a happy presage of our being finally able to repel these Invaders. It was with difficulty that the general could bring them off when he judged it prudent to do so, and they retreated in good order with their cannon to our camp at Chesterfield Court House. As I have seen no official Account, I can only give you that I have had from different persons who were in the Action, & say our loss in kill’d, wounded & Missing is about 100[.] they speak from conjecture only when they say they must have killed at least 200 of the Enemy, but I think our Marks men must in that time have done very considerable Execution, & left them little but the name of Victory to boast of.5 Reports are Various & uncertain as to their motions since the Action, at one time they are on their March to Richmond & at others that they are at Manchester on the Opposite side of the River. I wish they may persevere in their Intention to Possess our Capital once more, as I think a good Account will in that case be given of them, but I rather suspect they are shewing such an intention whilst their Vessels load with tobacco at Petersburg, & then they will go to the Mouth of Appamattox & ship themselves for Portsmouth.6 Innes with his body of men has joined Colo. Wood7 who had another at Richmond that is daily reinforcing, but to crown our hopes, the Marquis’s Troops would reach that post [today or?]8 last night. I had the pleasure of seeing them as they pass’d and they are indeed a fine body of men, I anticipate the spirits their appearance must give Our Militia, & I hope in my next to be able to give you some pleasing Intelligence,9 in the meantime I am

Yr very affe

Edmd Pendleton

I have just heard that the Marquis’s Troops March’d from Han[ove]r Court House (about 20 Miles from Richmond) 3 hours before day yesterday Morning by order from him who was at Richmond—so that I suppose the Enemy was approaching & we may expect to hear of an Action.

1JM’s letters of 10 and 17 April have not been found. Pendleton’s letter of 7 April was probably the one delayed in transit.

2In one of his missing letters, JM likely had discounted the rumor that Catherine the Great had died and that her son, later Paul I, had allied Russia with Great Britain (Pendleton to JM, 2 April 1781, n. 7).

3The extract in the Henkels catalogue has “larger,” but the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society version agrees with the Force transcript.

4The portion in brackets is found both in the Henkels extract and in the copy printed by the Massachusetts Historical Society. The latter, however, omits all the words between “Colo. Innes” and “knowing” (Pendleton to JM, 23 April 1781, n. 4). The Pamunkey and Mattaponi rivers join at the southeastern end of King William County to form the York. Ruffin’s Ferry (later Claiborne’s Ferry) was sometimes called Sweet Hall Ferry during the Revolution because it was close to the Ruffin plantation of that name on the third big loop of the Pamunkey River from its mouth (Peyton Neale Clarke, Old King William Homes and Families [Louisville, 1897], pp. 22, 35, opp. p. 80).

5See David Jameson to JM, 14 April, n. 6, and 28 April 1781, n. 4. Even General Steuben, usually chary with his compliments, praised the conduct of the Virginia troops at Blandford (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, 550n.). The number of battle casualties is uncertain. John Banister, a resident of the neighborhood, wrote Theodorick Bland on 16 May 1781 that the Virginians had ten soldiers killed and the British at least fourteen (Charles Campbell, ed., Bland Papers, II, 69). Either Pendleton was misinformed concerning the British movements or, as seems more likely, the similarity in place names caused him absent-mindedly to write “Cedar Point” for “City Point” (Virginia Historical Register, IV [1851], 201 and note k; James G. Scott and Edward A. Wyatt, Petersburg’s Story: A History [Petersburg, Va., 1960], pp. 17, 34, 52).

6See Pendleton to JM, 23 April 1781, n. 2. In the face of the enemy’s threat, the seat of government of Virginia was moved early in May from Richmond to Charlottesville. Under orders from Lord Cornwallis, Colonel Tarleton and his “British Legion” of dragoons went to Charlottesville to destroy military stores and to capture Governor Jefferson and the members of the General Assembly. Jefferson evaded Tarleton, but a few of the legislators were made prisoners (Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, March 1781 Session in Bulletin of the Virginia State Library, XVII, No. 1 (January 1928). description ends , May 1781, pp. 3–4; Henry Lee, Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States [2 vols.; Philadelphia, 1812], II, 209–11).

7James Innes (1754–1798), a prominent Williamsburg lawyer and orator, was from 1776 to 1778 a lieutenant colonel in the 15th Virginia Regiment of the continental line. Thereafter, he commanded a militia unit until the autumn of 1781 and served for three months in the following year as judge advocate general of the continental army. A graduate of Donald Robertson’s school and the College of William and Mary, he became president of the Virginia Board of War in 1779 and attorney general in 1786. He was in the House of Delegates in 1780–1782 and 1785–1787 and played a leading role in the ratification of the Federal Constitution by the Virginia Convention of 1788. James Wood was superintendent of prisoners of war in Virginia in 1781.

8The Force transcript reads “as on last night,” while the Massachusetts Historical Society copy reads “or last night,” preceded by a blank space indicating an indecipherable or missing word. Probably Pendleton intended to write “today or last night,” for it was on 29 April that Lafayette’s troops arrived in Richmond (Jameson to JM, 14 April 1781, n. 7).

9Except for the signature, the Massachusetts Historical Society copy closes the letter with this word.

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