Virginia Delegates to Thomas Nelson
RC (Historical Society of Pennsylvania). Written by Joseph Jones except for the other signatures. With this letter the Virginia delegates began numbering their dispatches to Nelson at the top. This was “No. 7.”
Philada. Augst. 28th. 1781
We were yesterday favored with your Excellency’s two letters of the 10th. & 17th. instant. Our plan of writing weekly by the post has we assure you been in no instance departed from.1
As soon as a State of your advances to the prisoners brought from Charlestown arrives we shall endeavour to obtain a reimbursement of them. At the same time it is incumbent on us to apprize you that the present condition of the public Treasury, & the pretensions of almost every state to exertions & contributions beyond its just proportion which would warrant similar applications, forbid much reliance on our success.2 The force of these obstacles has just been experienced in the impracticability of obtaining for General Spotswood a small sum assigned over to him by a Citizen of Virginia to whom it was due from the United States.3 The danger of increasing the importunities and discontent of the public Creditors by such a precedent, and the appropriation of every fund to the essential purposes of the Campaign from which it is surmized relief must eventually accrue to Virginia, prevailed over every consideration drawn from the justice of the demand & the use to which it was destined. So uncertain indeed must be the reimbursement of all advances made for the U. States whilst our means continue so inadequate to the general expenditures, that the State will be justified in declining them in every instance where humanity & the most essential objects will admit. To prevent however as far as possible objections to repayment in cases where they cannot be avoided, we request the attention of Your Excellency to the keeping us well informed of the compliance of Virginia with the several requisitions of Congress, & of all such extraordinary supplies as may from time to time be derived from her.
All that we can answer on the subject of cloathing for the Soldiers is that due attention will be given to the equitable share which Virginia is entitled to out of the general supplies procured for the U. States. The capture of a very large Ship, the Marquis la fayette freighted with almost the whole of our expectations for the present year renders this resource for the present very deficient.4 About three thousands suits which arrived some time ago at Boston from Spain, with the unspecified contents of a Vessel just arrived at the same place from France constitute the principal Stock on hand.5 The additions to be made to it will depend on the generosity of our Ally & the chances of the Sea.
By a French Frigate which came with the Vessel last mentioned, & which brings a supply of money & other Articles to the French Armaments, we understand that the Brest fleet commanded by the Count de Guichen sailed on the 23d. of June in order to make a junction with that of Spain, and that the French Squadron composed of five Ships of the line destined to the East Indies had fallen with the British Squadron under Commodore Johnstone, of the same number of Ships of the line, & the same distination, off the Cape Verd Islands, that the latter had been obliged after a severe combat, to seek shelter under a Portuguese fort on the coast of Africa; & that four of its Convoy had been taken by the former.6
A communication of every thing relating to the operations of the main army, and which can properly be entrusted to the channel of the post, makes a part of our plan of correspondence; and if little has been hitherto said on that head, it was, because little has taken place that required it. At present the movements of the Army indicate designs of material consequence, but as we have no doubt that wheresoever a disclosure of them can be useful it will be made through a military channel, we shall readily be excused in passing them over.7
We are assured from the proper quarter that no more of the Arms sent to the Southward have been charged to the State of Virginia than were allotted to be her own property.8
Twelve blank commissions with instructions &c. for armed Vessels were sent on the 15th. instt. by Express from the Secretary’s office which we hope will for the present be sufficient.9
We have the honor to be with sentiments of the highest esteem & respect Yr. Excelly’s Obt. & humble servants
x10 Jos: Jones.
J. Madison Junr.
1. Nelson’s two letters are apparently lost. They may have emphasized his annoyance, expressed in his letter of 3 August (q.v.), because he had not heard from the delegates. All their weekly letters to Governor Nelson up to this time have been found, except that of 7 August 1781.
2. In one of his missing letters, Nelson apparently mentioned the expenses of Virginia in providing for the former prisoners of war recently arrived at Jamestown. See Pendleton to JM, 23 July, n. 9; and Jameson to JM, 15 August 1781. Congress did not even attempt to extend financial aid from public funds to the civilians of South Carolina and Georgia who were taken to Philadelphia after being released by the British from captivity in Charleston. Instead, on 23 July 1781 Congress decided to request “the executives of the several states not in the power of the enemy” to endorse the efforts of five commissioners appointed by Congress to solicit private gifts or loans of money for the relief of the “sufferers.” Persons who lent money for this purpose were assured that Congress eventually would reimburse them, if South Carolina or Georgia failed to do so (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 782–83).
4. Judging from the report of her capture by the “Endymion,” forty-four guns, on 5 June 1781, the merchant ship “Marquis de la Fayette,” equipped with forty guns, was “loaded for Congress with Arms, Cloathing, and Bale Goods, bound to Philadelphia. The Value of this Ship, according to the estimate delivered by Capt. Frederick to Government, is very considerable” (Daily Advertiser [London], 20 June 1781). It was carrying clothing and other military supplies which John Paul Jones had been unable to bring to America earlier in the year (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, 23, n. 7, and 316, n. 5). By 23 August 1781 James Lovell knew of the ship’s loss, and six days later it was noted in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Upon Benjamin Franklin’s urging, King Louis XVI ordered that the ship’s cargo be duplicated and forwarded immediately. The articles thus replaced were alleged to have cost nearly 2,300,000 livres. Congress was angered later when it was billed for both cargoes (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 319; XXI, 1004, 1139; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 194; Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 520, 524, 660; William Emmett O’Donnell, The Chevalier de la Luzerne, French Minister to the United States, 1779–1784 [Bruges, 1938], p. 188 n.).
5. Washington wrote Robert Morris on 13 July 1781 that “about 3000 Suits of Cloaths have arrived at Boston from Spain but unfortunately the Coats are scarlet” (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, 367). The Pennsylvania Packet of 28 August mentioned the docking at Boston on 15 August of a French transport “having on board clothes and warlike stores of all kinds, on account of the United States.” These were part of the supplies which John Laurens had arranged to be shipped from France (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, 259–61; JM to Pendleton, 3 September, 1781; Virginia Delegates to Nelson, 4 September 1781; Sara Bertha Townsend, An American Soldier: The Life of John Laurens [Raleigh, N.C., 1958], p. 177).
6. See Pendleton to JM, 23 July 1781, n. 11. The twenty-four ships of the line, under the command of Luc Urbain du Bouexic, Comte de Guichen, combined in July at Cadiz with a Spanish squadron of like size to convoy troops and lay siege to Minorca, beginning in August (W. M. James, British Navy in Adversity, p. 306). With this operation and his later largely ineffectual convoy and patrol duty in European waters, Guichen, then over seventy years of age, ended his half-century of service in the French navy early in 1783 (Baron Ludovic de Contenson, La Société des Cincinnati de France et la Guerre d’Amérique, 1778–1783 [Paris, 1934], p. 189). The delegates were summarizing the inaccurate report in the Pennsylvania Packet of 28 August. The account of the battle of 16 April 1781 between Commodore George Johnstone (1730–1787) and Vice Admiral Pierre André de Suffren Saint-Tropez is incorrect. Suffren, with five ships of the line and two frigates, surprised Johnstone’s squadron of similar strength, lying at anchor and ill prepared for combat, in the harbor of Porto Praya, Cape Verde Islands, en route to the Cape of Good Hope. Finding the enemy at such a disadvantage, Suffren probably would have won a decisive victory had his attack not been so hastily improvised (W. M. James, British Navy in Adversity, pp. 381–86). Johnstone’s dispatch of 30 April 1781 to Wills Hill, Earl of Hillsborough, telling in detail about the battle, appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet of 4 September 1781.
7. The Virginia delegates may be hinting, with a regard for military security rare in the eighteenth century, at the movement of Washington’s and Rochambeau’s armies. Of these troops, the vanguard passed through Philadelphia on 2 September. Washington’s letter of 27 August to the president of Congress, announcing, “I am now on my March with a very considerable Detachment of the American Army, and the whole of the French Troops, for Virginia,” was received in Congress on the day the present letter was written (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 , XXIII, 50, 55–56; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 913).
8. Probably these were the weapons mentioned in the agreement with Cowell, 27 April, and Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 27 April and 8 May 1781. In Philadelphia, late in August, there were one thousand repaired muskets, in addition to those already sent to Virginia. Following a debate on 31 August, Congress decided, with the unanimous approval of the Virginia delegation and over the opposition of the one delegate from North Carolina, to amend the resolution of 26 April 1781 so as to place these muskets at the disposal of Washington “with the army now going to the Southward” rather than to dispatch them to the governor of North Carolina (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 923–24).
9. Charles Thomson wrote that he was sending “twelve setts of Commissions for private armed Vessels with bonds & Instructions,” as requested by the Virginia delegates (NA: PCC, No. 18, fols. 13–14). In one of his missing letters mentioned in the first paragraph, Nelson may have requested the delegates to send him these letters of marque.
10. The “x” seems to mean that Jones, rather than any of the other signatories, wrote the letter. The “x” also appears on the cover under the “Ex” of the address, “His Excellency Thomas Nelson Esqr.”