James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 10 September 1781

From Edmund Pendleton

Tr (LC: Force Transcripts). Addressed to “The Honble James Maddison jr Esqr Philadelphia.” Another copy, made from the missing original, is printed in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2d ser., XIX (1905), 140–41. An extract is given in Stan. V. Henkels Catalogue, No. 694 (1892).

Virga. Septr. 10, 1781

Dear Sir

Very little important hath happened here, at least that has come to my knowledge, since the great event of the safe Arrival of the Fleet & Army of our good Ally in Chesapeake.1 It was supposed that Earl Cornwallis would, on their Arrival, have endeavoured to effect an escape to the Southward of James River; But whether the precautions taken by the Marquis to prevent him,2 or his confidence in his own Strength, or in being timely reinforced, influenced his stay,3 I know not, but so it is that he must now abide his fate at York Town, the French troops having landed at James Town4 & join’d the Marquis, so as to cut off his passage out of that neck5 so long as he is deprived of the dominion o’er the Waters; and tho’ he might cross his Army over into Gloucester, where we have a body of Militia,6 he could not that way expect to escape since tho’ they are not strong enough to oppose his Army in the field, they might harrass their March, until a sufficient force could get above them & take them in that Neck, but this I think they will not attempt, since by such a step they would7 immediately Sacrifise all their Vessels, which at present lie up York River above the Town.8

I hear that a party of Militia a few nights agoe, took a small Picquet & 8 light horsemen between Williamsburg & York,9 since which it is said they have called in all their Picquets—& keep their swarm of Negroes busily employed in intrenching & Fortifying, I suppose they have gleaned all the provisions in that Neck; In Gloucester Our Militia have removed most of the Stock, & disrobe’d the Mills in their Neighbourhood, so that they will draw little supplies from thence, & I think can’t have any considerable stock, deserters say they are provided for six weeks only.10 We hear a large number of men are coming hither from the Northern Army. Our Mills are impressd to grind for them & our Allies, but a remarkable drought render most of them in these parts useless. We have Accounts from the Southward, that General Green’s Army was moving towards the Enemy on the 18th past, which if true, indicates an increase of his strength, or diminution of that of the Enemy, since on the 10th11 his army was only thought able to Act on the defensive.12 We expect here to have a busy Autumn, supposing this is to become the Seat of War since the Commander in Chief is to honour us with his presence; we are daily in expectation of his Arrival by land, tho’ we are told the Troops come by water down the Bay; I hope they will not [meet]13 with such a disappointment as the Marquis & his troops experienced in that voiage,14 tho’ we are told that the Enemy give out that a superior Fleet will soon drive off the French. Of such a Fleet at New York, we have various Accounts, some say they are 29 sail of the line, others 23 only,15 if the former, & they can all venture to leave that Station, I judge that the prior possession our friends have of the Bay, would quiet their apprehensions of danger from an Attack; But can they venture to draw all their Fleet from New York & leave the French Fleet behind them at Rhode Island?16 I think upon the whole that we must have this Army, which will go a good way towards destroying their American force, & give Us peace.

The French have Ld Rawdon, two Colonels & some other british officers taken on their passage from Charles Town to London.17 I am

Dr Sir Yr Affe & Obt Servt.

Edmd. Pendleton

1See JM to Pendleton, 3 September 1781, n. 3. When the news of Grasse’s arrival in Chesapeake Bay reached Philadelphia on the evening of 5 September, “the bells of Christ Church were rung, and joy appeared in every countenance” (Pennsylvania Packet, 6 September; Pennsylvania Journal, 8 September; Pennsylvania Gazette, 12 September 1781).

2In a letter of 15 August 1781, announcing Grasse’s intention to come to Chesapeake Bay with his fleet, Washington ordered Lafayette immediately to “take such a position as will best enable you to prevent their [the enemy’s] sudden retreat thro’ North Carolina, which I presume they will attempt the instant they perceive so formidable an Armament.” Upon receiving this letter on 21 August, Lafayette speedily moved Wayne’s Pennsylvanians to the James River at Cabin Point and on 7 September established his own headquarters at Williamsburg (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, 502; Louis Gottschalk, ed., Letters of Lafayette to Washington, pp. 218–28).

3Clinton’s letter of 6 September, assuring Cornwallis that about four thousand troops were embarked at New York for his relief, did not reach him until eight days later (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, II, 152–53; below, n. 8).

4The copy in Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society reads “James River.” This is probably an error, since the extract in Henkels catalogue, also made from the original manuscript, agrees with the Force transcript.

5That is, the narrowest portion of the peninsula between the York and James rivers, four miles above Yorktown.

6This force, soon to be under Brigadier General George Weedon’s command, would increase in number to 1,500 and be joined about the close of September by the six hundred men of the Duc de Lauzun’s legion and by eight hundred marines from Grasse’s fleet (Henry P. Johnston, The Yorktown Campaign and the Surrender of Cornwallis, 1781 [New York, 1881], p. 100).

7“They would not” in the Force transcript is certainly an error, since the “not” violates the obvious meaning and does not appear in either of the other copies.

8On 16 September Cornwallis wrote Clinton: “If I had no hopes of Relief, I would rather risk an Action than defend my half-finished Works. But as you say Admiral Digby is hourly expected, and promise every Exertion to assist me, I do not think myself justifiable in putting the fate of the War on so desperate an Attempt.” The next day Cornwallis added: “This place is in no State of defence. If you cannot relieve me very soon, you must be prepared to hear the Worst” (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, II, 157–58).

9These may be the prisoners mentioned by Lieutenant Colonel John Taylor in his letter of 9 September 1781 to David Jameson (McIlwaine, Official Letters description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia (3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29). description ends , III, 40–41; Journals of the Council of State description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (Richmond, 1931——). description ends , II, 386).

10In his letter of 16–17 September, Cornwallis informed Clinton that “by examining the Transports, and turning out useless Mouths, my Provisions will last at least Six Weeks from this day, if we can preserve them from Accidents” (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, II, 158).

11The copy in Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society reads “the 15th.”

12Pendleton may have gained his information from Major Richard Keith Call, who had recently returned to Virginia on a mission for General Greene. On 23 August the latter began the march from the High Hills of Santee which led to the Battle of Eutaw Springs on 8 September 1781 (Pendleton to JM, 6 August 1781, n. 5; Louis Gottschalk, ed., Letters of Lafayette to Washington, p. 230; George W. Greene, Life of Nathanael Greene, III, 384–88; Christopher Ward, War of the Revolution, II, 825–28).

13The copy in the Force transcripts omits this word.

14Although the leading French officers traveled from Maryland by land, stopping to enjoy the hospitality of Mount Vernon before they and Washington reached Lafayette in Williamsburg on 14 September, many of the troops and all of the artillery and other heavy equipment were moved by boats from the Head of Elk to the James River (Douglas S. Freeman, George Washington, V, 323–31). For Lafayette’s “disappointment,” see Pendleton to JM, 19 March 1781, n. 9.

16On the day this letter was written, the French fleet, arriving from Newport to join Grasse’s ships, dropped anchor in Lynnhaven Bay. See JM to Pendleton, 3 September 1781, n. 3.

17See Pendleton to JM, 23 July 1781, n. 7. The fleet of Grasse captured Lord Rawdon aboard a packet bound from Charleston to England. JM probably knew this already from reading the Pennsylvania Packet of 6 September 1781. Rivington’s Royal Gazette (New York) of 20 September 1781 expressed relief that “his lordship is become prisoner to a power ever distinguished by the most elegant manners and the tenderest sensibility.” Rawdon was exchanged soon after reaching Brest.

Index Entries