James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 8 October 1781

From Edmund Pendleton

Tr (LC: Force Transcripts). Addressed to “The Honble James Maddison jr Esqr Philadelphia.” Another copy, made from the original manuscript, is printed in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2d ser., XIX (1905), 141–42.

Edmundsbury, October 8, 1781

Dear Sir:

I have yr favr of the 18th Past and felt the justice of yr remark as to the benefits derived & in prospect to Virginia from the presence of the Commander in chief, and the Fleet & Army of our Allies, whom we are exerting ourselves to feed, and hope they will not suffer in future, a little they have experienced, without murmuring:1 They meet every mark of respect they so justly merit & great cordiality prevails in the Army.

don’t you think our Citizens are patriots indeed, who patiently submit to have their provisions seised & pd for with a bit of paper called a Certificate, when they might have specie for it from the French. some great men evade the seizure & sell, and this will occasion Opposition & compel Government to take just & equal Proportions, wch has hitherto yielded to official ease & convenience.2 These Citizens nevertheless are the Objects of certain cabals your way to do them injustice.3

Pigeon Hill on Genl Nelson’s farm near York, was strongly fortified by the Enemy, who gave out they would warmly defend it, as an eminence which commanded the Town. it was Attack’d about a week agoe, & evacuated with little resistance, as was also another Out Post on the River about a mile below, so that their whole force being within their confined Wall, may be literally said to be drawn to a point, having little more ground than they can stand on;4 I mean all their force on that side, for some yet remain in Gloucester, who under the command of Dundas & Simcoe, went out last week in quest5 of Plunder, but were driven back with some small loss, by the French Legion.6

We are told one great Bomb Battery was to begin to play as7 last Saturday, and that sanguine officers, promised themselves a Surrender in five days.8 The No. & Western winds have hitherto prevented the French from passing any ships above York, in consequence of wch the British had the command of that river above, but as they were quite inactive, and a Report prevailed that their Vessels were unrigg’d, ungun’d & unmanned We have carried provisions for the Army down that River to Wmsburg[.] unfortunately a good deal of flour & corn were lately taken, and increased their stock of provisions.9

I am sorry to hear the Spaniards have again mounted their Hobby Horse,10 because our good friends must get behind them, however we cannot complain, whilst we find our Ally able & willing to give us such Substantial Assistance, that at the same time he can take an Airing with another friend. But is it true that we are to reward this friend of our friend (for I believe that is all Spain pretends to) with a Cession of such inestimable importance to Us? I really thought that Matter had stood upon a Resolution of our Assembly never to make that Cession. I am now told they relax’d it so far as to leave our delegates at liberty to yield it, if they judged it necessary.11 It is said further that the Court of Spain never desired or thought of it, but it is one of the fruits of the Cabal agt. Virga. and by their contrivance the requision was made by yr Minister to Spain. I always had a good Opinion of that Gentn. and wish for the sake of his Character as well as other reasons, it mayn’t be true, but if it is, his being recalled & Sus. per Coll.12 would be a small recompense to the public for such a Conduct.

I was in hopes the Possession our friends had of the Bay, would ‘ere now have produced some Vessels, particularly with Salt, which we much want,13 but have not heard of any, perhaps they may be below. I am

Dr Sr Yr Affe & Obt Servt

Edmd Pendleton

1The sense is clarified if a period replaces the comma after “future,” and “a” is capitalized.

2See JM to Pendleton, 18 September, and n. 8; and Jameson to JM, 29 September 1781, n. 6. In a letter of 18 September to Nelson, Jameson wrote: “The people are generally averse to trust the public even on this important occasion, when the Salvation of themselves and their property depends on the Support of the Fleet and Army now with us.… some about Fredericksburg … declare they will not thresh their Wheat, unless they may be allowed to make their own bargain for it with the French Agents.… Something effectual must be done, and speedily.… A circular letter from His Excellency Genl. Washington dispersed through out the Country … would have the happiest effects” (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, 57).

3Although the two copies, independently made from the missing original, agree that this sentence is as Pendleton wrote it, he may have intended after “cabals” to say, “and you may do them injustice.” In mentioning “cabals,” he perhaps referred to agreements between farmers in certain localities not to thresh or to sell their wheat except for specie, to the concerted refusal of some millers to grind the grain, to “the machination” of French agents to get provisions for their own troops, or to the co-operative efforts of Loyalists to help Cornwallis by discouraging their humbler neighbors from assisting Washington. On 18 September Governor Nelson ordered the arrest in Middlesex, Essex, and Stafford counties of eleven prominent men who had been “guilty of Conduct which manifests Disaffection to this Government & the Interest of the United States” (ibid., III, 55–56, 74; Isaac S. Harrell, Loyalism in Virginia, pp. 54–55). Too late to ease the present discontent, the Virginia General Assembly, in the session of October 1781, enacted two laws—one “for adjusting claims for property impressed or taken for public service” and the other “to regulate impresses” (Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , X, 468–69, 496).

4See Nelson to Virginia Delegates, 5 October 1781, nn. 2 and 3. Pigeon Hill, near the source of Yorktown Creek, was a low “eminence” rising from the generally level terrain. On the hill was one of the three redoubts abandoned by Cornwallis during the night of 29–30 September (A Plan of the Posts of York and Gloucester of Virginia … Surveyed by Captn. Fage of the Royal Artillery. Published According to Act of Parliament, the 4th June 1782 [n.p., n.d.], a plat).

5This is “search” in the copy printed in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

6See Jameson to JM, 29 September, n. 2; and Nelson to Virginia Delegates, 5 October 1781, n. 4. On 3 October 1781 Colonel Dundas and his command were attacked while returning, heavily laden with corn, to Gloucester Point after a foraging raid. Although the Queen’s Rangers under Colonel Simcoe was one unit of Dundas’ covering force, Tarleton’s legion bore the brunt of the Franco-American assault.

7The “one” is “our” and the “as” is omitted in the copy printed in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

8In the Pennsylvania Packet of 16 October there is an extract from a soldier’s letter, written near Yorktown on 1 October 1781, asserting that “In six days from this date we will be (in all human probability) in their works.” On 6 October, in a private letter to Thomas McKean, president of Congress, Washington wrote, “I am not apt to be sanguine, but I think in all human probability Lord Cornwallis must fall into our hands” (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, 189). Although Washington, five days earlier, had been able to report to the president of Congress that, except along the river above Yorktown, the “Investment of the Enemy is now fully compleated,” he was delayed thereafter by a shortage of wagons for “bringing our heavy Artillery and Stores from the landing place on James River.” On Saturday evening, 6 October, he commenced “serious operations” by starting to dig the “first parallel” of trenches. For this reason Washington was not ready to bombard the enemy’s lines until the afternoon of 9 October (ibid., XXIII, 159, 186, 212).

9See JM to Pendleton, 18 September 1781, n. 9. From mid-September until the surrender of Cornwallis a month later, Washington pleaded in vain with Grasse to place “two or three Ships above the Enemy’s posts on York R; for want of this only means of completing the Investment of their works, the british remain masters of the navigation for 25 miles distance above them, and have by their armed Vessels intercepted supplies of the greatest value.… The loss is redoubled by diminishing our means and augmenting those of the enemy, at a most critical time.” Grasse professed to fear British fireships, shoals, sunken hulks in the channel, and adverse winds (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, 124, 160–64, 169, 208–9, 225–26, 235).

10To force the British to surrender Gibraltar (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, 297, 298, n. 3; Mason to Virginia Delegates, 3 April 1781, n. 9; JM to Pendleton, 18 September 1781).

11See JM to Pendleton, 18 September 1781, and n. 6. The “cession” was the abandonment by the Virginia General Assembly and by Congress, early in 1781, of their former “ultimatum” that the court of Spain, in the hoped-for treaty to give military aid to the United States, must acknowledge the right of America to navigate the Mississippi River freely, from its source to its mouth (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, 196, n. 4; 302–3; Instructions to Jay, 2 May 1781).

12Suspensus per collum (hanged by the neck). Although John Jay, the minister of the United States at Madrid, had been unenthusiastic about the earlier insistence by Congress that Spain guarantee Americans free navigation of the river, he did not strive to bargain away this “right”; neither he nor any other American needed to remind His Catholic Majesty of Spain’s advantageous position athwart the lower Mississippi (Samuel F. Bemis, Diplomacy of the American Revolution, p. 107).

13See Virginia Delegates to Nelson, 14 August, and n. 2, and 20 August 1781.

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