James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Pendleton, 31 July 1781

To Edmund Pendleton

RC (LC: Madison Papers). The cover is missing, but the letter is docketed by Pendleton, “James Maddison jr. Esqr. July 31. 1781.”

Philada. July 31st. 1781.

Dr. Sir

I have the pleasure of your’s of the 23d.1 I congratulate you on your return to Caroline and on the safety of your estate from the ravages of the Enemy.

The mail of last week having been intercepted near Wilmington has kept back the post a day later than his usual arrival,2 and I have now but a few moments for the discharge of my epistolary duty. The only certain information we have lately had from Europe is that the Mediation tendered by Russia in the dispute between England & Holland has been referred by the former to the General pacification in which the mediation of the Emperor will be joined with it. As this step is not very respectful to Russia, it can only proceed from a distrust of her friendship,3 & their hopes of a favorable issue to the Campaign which an intercepted letter from Ld. G. Germaine shews to [be] extravagantly sanguine[.]4 There has been nothing from the W. Indies for several weeks.5 General Washington is continuing his preparations & progress agst. N. York.6 I shall hazard no predictions with regard to the event of them. Col. Willet we understand has lately given a decisive defeat to a party from Canada on the Frontiers of N. York.7

With very sincere regard I am Dr. Sir Your obt friend & Servant.

J. Madison Junr.


2Some of the letters printed in Rivington’s Royal Gazette (New York) of 15 September 1781 had been intercepted by the enemy while being borne to addressees south of Philadelphia.

3See Pendleton to JM, 6 July, n. 19; and Virginia Delegates to Nelson, 24 July 1781, and n. 2. JM means that Great Britain did not trust Russia, the sponsor of the League of Armed Neutrality, to mediate impartially in a conflict involving the Netherlands, whose adherence to the League was the real cause of the Anglo-Dutch phase of the war. But, if thrown into the scales of a peace involving all the warring nations, Dutch interests would be of little weight, and especially so if the Hapsburg Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, should be co-mediator. Although the Hapsburgs had been in defensive alliance with France for twenty-five years, their interests would not permit them to let Great Britain be greatly weakened (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 410).

4The letter to which JM refers must be that of 7 March 1781 from the secretary of state for the colonies, George Sackville Germain (1716–1785), later Viscount Sackville, to Sir Henry Clinton, which was printed in the Pennsylvania Packet of 21 July 1781. Germain predicted that “the southern provinces will be recovered to his majesty’s obedience before the long promised succours … can arrive from France”; that Washington would be obliged to take refuge in New England; that Cornwallis’ movements in the Carolinas would be “rapid and decisive”; and that the American force was “so very contemptible” that “no resistance on their part is to be apprehended that can materially obstruct the progress of the king’s arms in the speedy suppression of the rebellion.”

5This remark is surprising because the Pennsylvania Packet of 31 July published an account from St. Kitts, dated 7 May, telling of the indecisive battle off Martinique on 29 April between the squadrons of Comte de Grasse and Admiral Hood (W. M. James, British Navy in Adversity, pp. 258–59).

6Since the operations of 2–3 July (JM to Mazzei, 7 July 1781, n. 19) and the junction of the American troops with Rochambeau’s army near White Plains, N.Y., on 6 July, Washington’s headquarters had been in the vicinity of Dobbs Ferry. On 30 July, unaware that Grasse’s fleet was off the Chesapeake capes on that day, Washington wrote to General Greene in expectation of keeping the main continental army in the neighborhood of New York City (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 , XXII, 430).

7The Pennsylvania Packet of 2 August told of Colonel Marinus Willett’s victory on 1 July over Indians and Tories who, the day before, had looted and burned Currytown on the Mohawk River near Canajoharie, N.Y. Willett lured the enemy into a trap, killing about forty of them and suffering losses to his own men of only five killed and nine wounded or missing (Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds., Public Papers of George Clinton, VII, 81; Christopher Ward, War of the Revolution, II, 651–52). The Packet listed the enemy’s loss as eighty-four men killed or captured. Marinus Willett (1740–1830) had resigned his command of the 5th New York Continental Regiment on 1 January 1781 to head the New York militia and state troops being raised for the summer campaign. He was mayor of New York City from 1807 to 1811 and JM’s frequent correspondent during the War of 1812 (Heitman, Historical Register Continental description begins F. B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution (Washington, 1893). description ends , p. 436).

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