James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Pendleton, 3 September 1781

To Edmund Pendleton

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Addressed to “The Honble. Edmund Pendleton Esqr. Caroline County Virginia.”

Philada. Sepr. 3d. 81.

Dear Sir

I am favored with yours of the 27th. ultimo. This letter will be the most agreeable of any I have long had the pleasure of writing. I begin with informing you that the Commander in chief and the Ct. Rochambeau, the former with a part of the American Army, and the latter with the whole of the French are thus far on their way for the Southern Department. The American troops passed through the Town yesterday. The first division of the French today. The 2d will pass tomorrow. Nothing can exceed the appearance of this specimen which our ally has sent us of his army, whether we regard the figure of the men or the exactness of their discipline.1

Yesterday also arrived from his Special Mission to the Court of France Col. John Laurens. Although his success has not been fully commensurate to our wishes, he has brought with him very substantial proofs of the determination of that Court to support us. Besides a considerable quantity of Cloathing, & other valuable articles, there are upwards of 16,000 Stand of Arms. It is rather unlucky that they found it expedient to put into Boston instead of this place from whence the distribution of them would have been so much more easy.2

I wish I could have concluded the intelligence without adding that Admiral Hood with 13 Sail of the line from the West Indies lately arrived at New York and after being joined by Greaves with 8 Ships put again immediately to sea. The French squadron under de Barras had previously sailed from New Port. as the expected arrival of de Grasse from the W. Indies could not be unknown to Hood, there is li[ttle] doubt that his activity is directed against the Junction of the two F. fleets.3 Not a word as yet of the Congress at Vienna. I hope the issue of this campaign will compel England to a more active concurrence in the pacification, than she could be expected [to] give whilst the ideas of the American Secretary prevailed in her Councils.4

I am Dr. Sir Yrs. sincerely

J. Madison Junr.

1On the day this letter was written, and again the next day, President Thomas McKean, with Washington and Rochambeau standing on his left and the members of Congress on his right, reviewed the French troops as they marched past the state house in Philadelphia. Two newspapers of the city gave this memorable occasion much attention, heaping praise upon “the brave, noble and virtuous Prince,” Louis XVI, of whom “Angels might envy … his acquired glory” (Pennsylvania Packet and Pennsylvania Journal, each of 8 September 1781). Although the Pennsylvania Gazette omitted all reference to these parades, it did note the arrival in the city on 30 August of Washington and Rochambeau, “the illustrious pair of Defenders of the Rights of Mankind,” and extolled the perfection in drill exhibited to a vast audience by one of the French regiments on the afternoon of 5 September (Pennsylvania Gazette, 5 and 12 September; James Thacher, Military Journal of the American Revolution … [Hartford, Conn., 1862], pp. 271–72).

2See Virginia Delegates to Nelson, 28 August 1781, n. 5. Laurens, with Thomas Paine as a fellow passenger, had arrived in Boston on 25 August, after a passage of eighty-six days, in the French frigate “Resolu,” convoying two transports. Although their original destination had been Philadelphia, the captain decided to dock at Boston after being warned that British men-of-war were on the lookout for him off the Delaware capes (Pennsylvania Journal, 12 September 1781). Laurens’ report of his mission is in Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 685–92. The invoices for the arms and other military equipment which he brought from France are in NA: PCC, No. 165, fols. 165–253.

3Shortly after Admiral Hood reached New York on 28 August with fourteen ships of the line, four frigates, a fireship, and a sloop, he and his superior, Admiral Graves, put out to sea with nineteen vessels in an effort to intercept the French ships. On 30 August Admiral Grasse brought his twenty-eight men-of-war, carrying 3,300 infantry, safely into Chesapeake Bay. When the British squadron appeared off the Chesapeake capes on 5 September, Grasse with his much heavier armament went out to meet them, primarily in order to open the entrance to the bay for the fourteen warships from Newport, commanded by Admiral Barras, bringing siege artillery and about six hundred more French troops. Grasse’s mission was accomplished on 10 September. Three days later, following over a week of fighting and maneuvering in a futile effort to disperse the superior French force so as to afford relief to the beleaguered Cornwallis, Graves gave up and set sail with his considerably damaged fleet for New York. He reached there on 19 September (Pennsylvania Packet, 6 September 1781; W. M. James, British Navy in Adversity, pp. 288–96; Edwin M. Stone, Our French Allies, pp. 406–8).

4See Virginia Delegates to Nelson, 24 July, n. 2; and JM to Pendleton, 31 July 1781, nn. 3 and 4. The “American Secretary” was Lord George Germain, who was secretary of state for the colonies. Many years later JM selected all of the letter for publication except the last two sentences of this paragraph and the complimentary close. See Madison, Papers (Gilpin ed.) description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , I, 97–98.

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