James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 28 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), 135–36. An extract from the missing original is in Stan. V. Henkels Catalogue No. 694 (1892).

May 28th 1781

Dear Sir

Since my last I have yr two favrs of the 8th & 15th—the former have met wth a circuitous passage thro’ several Post offices beyond me.1 The Noise about the paper money Was as weak as the cause which produced it, and proves I fear that people in those parts have more at heart the making fortunes, than promoting the glorious Cause we are concern’d in;2 however it must be acknowledged that our Finance hath wanted Stability and System; different States will adopt various modes of complying with the requisitions of Congress, and Individuals in each will pertinaciously pursue their Opinions, so as to carry at one Session what they have been over ruled in at a former, & hence arises that mutability, so destructive of every Political measure.3 I fear this mischief hath its Origin in human Nature, & that a change will be difficult; however I think Congress have taken the most promising method to effect it, in appointing this important subject to the sole consideration of one man, whose mind shall be kept free from the distraction of Various Objects; and from the general Character of Mr Morris the choice of him Appears Judicious.4 I cordially wish success to his endeavours.

Our people are made very angry by a Report that the Pennsylvania,5 instead of forwarding their Troops wth that celerity, which their duty & the situation of things demanded, were throwing out Insulting speeches that Virginia was too grand—let her be humbled by the Enemy, & such like.6 What consequences this may produce, I know not, but they will be chargeable to the Companies of Land Jobbers, who for their own Interest are poisoning the minds of the people by their falacious publications.7 I am sorry that line was not forwarder,8 as for want of them probably the Marquis was obliged to abandon Richmond, which he left on Saturday evening & retired on this side Chickahominy; We suppose this step was occasioned, by information that the Enemy was crossing that swamp below & by Marching up on the Hanover side meant to cut off his retreat, however we deal in conjecture only and if the Marquis means to avoid an Action at present, it will be probably a prudent measure, since tho’ his numbers would be fully equal to the most flattering expectations if they were regulars, it might be too much to risque the loss of his few valuable Veterans, upon the firmness of Militia.9 Our last Account of the enemy was that they had landed at Westover & were on Saturday between that & four miles Creek, which I believe is about 20 miles from Richmond, they are said to be between 4 & 5000. 12 Vessels are lately come up James River, some say they bring Earl Cornwallis’s Baggage & Invalids from Cape Fear, others that they brought Troops from New York, perhaps some of each.10

A Militia man just return’d from a tour of duty under General Green, & who is said to be a man of credit, reports that a few days after the action of the 25th of April, Ld Rawdon burnt Cambden & retreated to George Town, leaving behind him his own & our sick & wounded. That the Virginia Militia being discharged in the Evening, stay’d all night, and two hours before day next morning Genl. Green marched with his Army, he could not tel which way, but supposed towards George Town, if this deserves any credit. I suppose you’l have an express from the General.11

I am glad to hear Mr Jones is return’d to Congress on more accounts than one.12 I shall write him by this post & hope he’l releive you from half the labour of corresponding wth

Dr Sr Yr Affe friend

Edmd Pendleton

Perhaps my next may be dated from the Mountains.13

1Neither of JM’s letters has been found. Pendleton wrote from his plantation, Edmundsbury, in Caroline County.

3In the Massachusetts Historical Society version “neutrality” is most probably an incorrect substitute for Pendleton’s “mutability.” After “every” he may have written and then crossed out “childish.” This, at least, is what Force’s copyist did.

4On 20 February 1781 Congress had unanimously elected Robert Morris (1734–1806) of Philadelphia to be superintendent of finance. Morris made his acceptance contingent upon Congress’ permitting him to continue his extensive private business and to control appointments and dismissals of personnel within the Department of Finance. Congress agreed to most of Morris’ terms but only after many weeks of opposition to them by Samuel Adams and other delegates. Although on 14 May Morris signified his acceptance of the position, he did not officially take office until July 1781 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 180, 432–33; XX, 455–56, 499, 723–24; Clarence L. Ver Steeg, Robert Morris: Revolutionary Financier, with an Analysis of His Earlier Career [Philadelphia, 1954], pp. 60–61).

5The extract in Henkels catalogue also has “Pennsylvania,” but in the Massachusetts Historical Society version it is “Pennsylvanians,” which is obviously what Pendleton intended to write.

6Delay in being paid and lack of food and equipment principally accounted for the belated march of the Pennsylvania continental line, commanded by General Wayne, from York to Virginia (Pendleton to JM, 26 March, n. 11; Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 17 April 1781, n. 10). Although examples of “Insulting speeches” have not been found, there is no doubt that many Virginians attributed the slowness of northerners in sending aid to a desire to have Virginia “humbled by the Enemy” (Pendleton to JM, 26 March 1781, n. 12; Joseph Jones to George Washington, 31 May 1781, quoted in Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 105–6). Instead of “let her be humbled,” the Henkels extract reads, “better be humbled.”

7For the opposition of land companies, largely controlled by Pennsylvanians, to Virginia’s title to the Old Northwest and to territory that is now West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and southwestern Pennsylvania, see 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, 72–77, 176–78. Pendleton may have had the “Land Jobbers” particularly in mind because of the recent publication of Samuel Wharton’s Plain Facts, which attacked Virginia’s claims to the West and defended the validity of the Indiana Company’s title (JM to Jefferson, 3 April 1781, n. 2).

8In the Henkels extract the word is “forwarded.”

9The junction at Petersburg on 20 May of Cornwallis’ troops with those of Arnold, the imminent landing of about two thousand more British soldiers from New York, the failure of Wayne’s long-expected reinforcements to arrive (above, n. 6), and the fact that almost 60 per cent of Lafayette’s three thousand men were untested militia obliged Lafayette to avoid a pitched battle. “I am wavering between two inconveniences,” he informed Washington in a letter of 24 May. “Was I to fight a battle I’ll be cut to pieces, the militia dispersed, and the arms lost. Was I to decline fighting the country would think herself given up. I am therefore determined to scarmish, but not to engage too far, and particularly to take care against their immense and excellent body of horse whom the militia fears like they would so many wild beasts.” In the face of the enemy’s threat, most of the public stores and personal property had been removed from Richmond by the date of this letter. Fearing that his army would be surrounded, Lafayette withdrew from the town on 26 May and moved to a more secure position to the northward in Spotsylvania County, between the North Anna and Rappahannock rivers (Louis Gottschalk, ed., Letters of Lafayette to Washington, pp. 198–99).

10Westover, the ancient seat of the Byrd family, is on the north bank of the James River in Charles City County, about seven miles east of the confluence of the James and Appomattox rivers. Upstream from Westover, Four Mile Creek in Henrico County joins the James River about nine miles southeast of Richmond. Because there was nothing of military value left in the town and Lafayette had withdrawn from it, Cornwallis delayed entering the capital until 18 June. On 26 May Cornwallis wrote to Clinton from Westover that the reinforcement from New York had arrived in the James River and that from Richmond he proposed to move to Williamsburg, “which is represented as healthy, & where some subsistence may be procured, and keep myself unengaged from operations, which might interfere with your plan for the Campaign, untill I have the Satisfaction of hearing from you” (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, I, 487–88).

11On 10 May, or about two weeks after his victory at Hobkirk’s Hill on 25 April (Pendleton to JM, 14 May 1781, n. 13), Lord Rawdon reduced Camden to “little better than a heap of rubbish,” evacuated the town, and withdrew southward toward Monck’s Corner. With his force much diminished by the expiration of the terms of service of many militiamen, and in dire need of more horses, Greene felt unable to pursue Rawdon and bring him to a stand. Greene soon turned westward, where several British posts on the Congaree and Santee rivers had fallen to the patriots early in May. On the twenty-second of that month he joined his troops with those already besieging Ninety-Six (now Cambridge, S.C.), the last enemy stronghold except Augusta in either the Carolina or Georgia upcountry (George W. Greene, Life of Nathanael Greene, III, 277–81, 300–305).

12Joseph Jones resumed his seat in Congress on or shortly before 14 May (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 503).

13On 29 May, “more to comply with the earnest importunity of neighbours than influenced by [his] own Judgment or inclination,” Pendleton headed westward from Edmundsbury with some of his slaves and other movable possessions. When he returned after nearly a two-months’ absence, he found that his plantation had not been occupied by the British (David John Mays, Edmund Pendleton, 1721–1803 [2 vols.; Cambridge, Mass., 1952], II, 173–74).

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