James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 7 May 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), 131–32. An extract from the missing original is in Stan. V. Henkels Catalogue No. 694 (1892).

Caroline 7th May 1781

Dear Sir

I have yr favr of the 24th past, which contain’d & inclosed much Intelligence1—from the various accounts of French & Spanish Fleets, they would almost appear to cover the Seas in Europe, America & the West Indies, & when the promised spirited exertsion of the Dutch is added, we may hope our cruel & haughty enemies are on the Eve of being reduced to reason at least; more especially if our present current report should prove true, that the Bank of England has become Bankrupt—and if it is not, Our author must lie wilfully, as he affirms he read a full and circumstantial Account of it in a London & in a New York paper.2 I shall be impatient to receive your next paper on that account perhaps that may have changed Sir Harry Clinton’s purpose of coming Southward, since we are told by some officers just from your city, that he had not left New York.3

General Philips in his way up James River, at Wmsburg, & all other places, affected to show great lenity, avoiding all private injury or even requiring paroles from individuals not in arms. the affair at Blandford was not so considerable as I wrote you, the Number killed not exceeding ten on either side. Our Militia however behaved well, since there were not above 500 engaged against 2000 at least, whom they fought for two hours & more than once produced disorder in their ranks.4 The arrival of the Marquis’s Corps was critical to save Richmond, which I believe the Enemy meant to Occupy. They even Meditated an Attack on the Marquis on this day se’nnight; when Arnold was detached with 1500 to cross below & begin an Action with the Marquis’s left Wing, whilst Philips was to cross from Manchester with the remainder of the Army & Attack his right.5 part of Arnolds troops had cross’d when Philips was induced to recall him & drop6 the affair, on Information that Muhlenburg was coming down the South side James River with a large body of Militia, which however was a mistake for he came down on the North side & was ready to have received Philips, if he had attempted to cross. There was then an end to Philips’s good humour, and he began with burning the Warehouses in Manchester as he did, before & after, all those on that side from thence to Blandford, containing it is said about 15000 hogsheads.7 they went down the River sweeping all the slaves and other property & Pillaging & destroying Houses, in which business they had got as low as Sandy Point on Friday evening last; Our Army is Marching down on this side, nearly opposite to them, so that I believe they will not call again at Wmsburg.8 Their plunder is immence particularly in slaves—of whom the Vessels lately up Potomac got a large number also and a Vessel lately at York Town ship’d 360 from that neighbourhood, so infatuated are these wretches that they continue to go to them, notwithstanding many who have escaped inform others of their ill treatment, those who are not sent off to the West Indies being kept at hard labour upon very short allowance, so as to perish daily. We have a good body of Militia in the field join’d to the Marquis, so that we should not fear the Enemy,9 if we could bring them to Action, but the situation of our rivers whilst in their power will unavoidably enable them by running from one to another, to do much Mischief to individuals & Plunder now appears to be their mode of Warfare in all parts. I hope their Marine Dominion will not be of long duration & then we can fight them on more equal terms.

I have heard nothing respecting Genl Green for a long time. Our Lawson10 I hear is setting out with a body of Militia to join him, I wish he had also the Pennsylvania line.11

I am Yrs affecty

Edmd Pendleton

1See Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 24 April 1781, for much of the “Intelligence” which JM must have written to Pendleton in the missing letter to him of that date.

2This report was false, as Pendleton himself soon concluded (Pendleton to JM, 14 May 1781). Where the story started is not certainly known. Philadelphia editors apparently had not heard it; otherwise they would have welcomed it in their newspapers. The rumor may either have been an expansion of a report of New York City origin, printed in the Pennsylvania Packet of 13 February, that the Bank of England had suspended payments for two or three days, or of an account of 22 February from William Carmichael in Madrid, appearing in the same paper on 28 April 1781, that business stocks in London had trended downward since the beginning of the war with the Netherlands. Although the bullion reserve of the Bank of England was the smallest in three years, the institution was far from bankrupt (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 265–66; Sir John Clapham, The Bank of England: A History [2 vols.; New York, 1945], I, 176–79, 296).

3See Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 24 April 1781, n. 4. On 13 April Clinton wrote to Cornwallis, “I shall not probably move to Chesapeak, unless Washington goes thither in great force.” Characteristically, Clinton was in a quandary about what the general military plan of his British troops in 1781 should be. He felt that he needed many reinforcements and that he would rather resign his position than have to co-operate longer with the aged and undependable Admiral Arbuthnot, commanding the British fleet in New York waters (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, I, 406, and passim).

5Arnold’s force alone would have outnumbered Lafayette’s, for the latter had only twelve hundred men at Richmond (Christopher Ward, War of the Revolution, II, 872; Jefferson to Virginia Delegates, 6 April, n. 4; and Jameson to JM, 14 April 1781, n. 7).

6The Massachusetts Historical Society copy reads “stop.”

7Unlike the Force and Henkels versions, the Massachusetts Historical Society copy reads “Islandford” instead of Blandford, and 1,500 hogsheads instead of 15,000.

8Sandy Point is in Charles City County on the north side of the James River, about two miles above the mouth of the Chickahominy. The British were across the James from Sandy Point, in Surry County.

9The Massachusetts Historical Society copy reads “feel the Enemy.” Lafayette himself had a very different idea of his strength. He wrote to Washington from Richmond on 8 May:

“There is no fighting here unless you have a naval superiority or an army mounted upon race horses. Phillip’s plan against Richmond has been defeated, he was going toward Porsmouth … [but] has altered his plans and returned to … Brandon on the south side of James River where he landed the night before last. Our detachement is under march towards the Hallifax Road … [but] unless he acts with an uncommon degree of folly he will be at Halifax before me [and meet Cornwallis coming north]. Each of these armies is more than the double superior to me. We have no boats, few militia, and less arms.… When Gal Greene becomes equal to offensive operations this quarter will be relieved. I have wrote to Waïne to hasten his march but unless I am very hard pushed shall request him to proceed south ward. The militia has been ordered out but are slow, unarmed, and not yet used to this business” (Louis Gottschalk, ed., Letters of Lafayette to Washington, p. 191).

10The Massachusetts Historical Society version reads—probably incorrectly—”One Lawson.” Robert Lawson had also commanded Virginia militia at the Battle of Guilford Court House.

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