James Madison Papers

Thomas Nelson to Virginia Delegates, 20 October 1781

Thomas Nelson to Virginia Delegates

FC (Virginia State Library). Docketed: “To the Delegates Octr. 20. 1781 From Gov Nelson Congratulates Delegates on the Capture of York Town & Gloucester & the whole British army at these points yesterday (19th) the whole Garrison marched out and grounded their Arms.”

Camp before York, Octr. 20. 1781


It is with infinite Pleasure I congratulate you on the Reduction of York & Gloucester, & the Capture of the whole British Army under Lord Cornwallis. On the 17th. at the Request of Lord Cornwallis Hostilities ceased,1 & yesterday the Garrison of York, amounting to upwards of two thousand nine hundred Effectives, rank & file, marched out & grounded their Arms. Their sick are about seventeen hundred. The Garrison of Gloucester & the Men killed during the Siege are computed at near two thousand, so that the whole Loss sustained by the Enemy on this Occasion must be between 6 & 7000 Men.2 This Blow, I think, must be a decisive one, it being out of the Power of G. B. to replace such a Number of good Troops. His Excellency Genl. Washington’s Letter will inform you of the Nature of the Capitulation, to which I must refer you, not having yet procured a Copy of the Articles.3 I have the Honour to be, Gentlemen, &c

Your Favours of Sepr. 4th & 9th.4 have been received. The Interruption in our Correspondence, that is on my Part, has proceeded from accident partly, Letters being ready for the last Post, but through Hurry not sent to the Office, till too late.

1On 17 October Washington granted Cornwallis’ request for a “Cessation of hostilities” for twenty-four hours. During this time Cornwallis hoped that the terms of surrender, which he empowered two of his officers to propose to two officers to be appointed by Washington, would be accepted. Rejecting these terms, Washington stipulated his own on the next day, and Cornwallis necessarily agreed to them on 19 October (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, II, 189, 192–93; 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, 236–38, 241–42).

3Word of the Yorktown capitulation reached Philadelphia on 23 October 1781, and Washington’s official report arrived early the next morning. Thereupon, Congress adjourned about noon to permit the delegates to “go in procession to the Dutch Lutheran Church, and return thanks to Almighty God,” and, with the officials of Pennsylvania and the townspeople, to celebrate the victory thereafter until evening (Pennsylvania Packet, 23 October and 1 November 1781; Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, XXIII, 241–44; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1071; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 250 n.). The Articles of Capitulation are printed in Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, II, 199–203.

4Nelson should have written “& Octr. 9th,” since the delegates in their letter of that date (q.v.) most pointedly reminded him of his failure to correspond with them.

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