Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison
RC (Virginia State Library). Written and franked by JM. Addressed to “His Excellency Benjamin Harrison Esqr. Governor of Virginia[.] Public service.”
Philada. Jany. 1st. 1782
A Letter from Genl Heath1 who commands the army on the North River, dated the 26th. Ulto: informs Congress that an intelligent person from N. York had reported to him that an embarkation of troops was taking place there, that he saw a part of them going on board, and a number of dragoon horses hoisted into the Vessels, that he was told by a Captain with whom he was well acquainted that Genl Leslie had written to Genl Clinton that unless he was reinforced with nine hundred men he could not defend Charlestown,2 that a much larger number than that were to embark, that besides Charleston they were destined to Georgia & Augustine. The person did not know all the corps that were to embark but was informed there were to be some British, some Hessians, & the new-raised corps, of which Robinsons3 & the N. York Volunteers were particularly mentioned. They appeared to be bringing down much baggage to the wharves. It was said they expected to have the whole on board by the sunday preceding the date of the letter.4
Although the general plan of our official correspondence excludes unauthenticated intelligence, the successful enterprize of the Marquis de Bouilli agst. the island of Eustatius, is attended with so many marks of reality that we can not well omit it. The article in the inclosed gazette under the Antigua head in particular, is little short of confirmation of it.5
We have the honor to be with the highest respect & esteem Yr Excellency’s Obt. & very hble Servts.
J. Madison Jr.
1. The entire first paragraph of the present letter is nearly a verbatim copy of a large portion of William Heath’s dispatch of 26 December, read in Congress on 31 December 1781 (NA: PCC, No. 157, fols. 435–36).
2. In a report of 30 November 1781 to Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton, Major General Alexander Leslie stated that, having only about 3,500 troops fit for duty, he could do little more than hold Charleston, unless reinforcements reached him. By this date Clinton was resigned to maintaining merely a few coastal positions in South Carolina, Georgia, and northern Florida (William B. Willcox, ed., The American Rebellion: Sir Henry Clinton’s Narrative of His Campaigns, 1775–1782 [New Haven, Conn., 1954], pp. 588–89, 591–92).
3. Colonel Beverley Robinson (1722–1792), a native of Middlesex County, Va., moved in 1748 to New York, where his wife possessed much valuable property. A veteran of the French and Indian War, Robinson conspicuously manifested his allegiance to Great Britain during the Revolution by organizing the Royal American Legion. Also engaged in secret service, he tried to win Ethan Allen and his Vermont followers to the British cause. Following the war, he lived for a time in Canada before making his home in England.
4. That would be 23 December 1781. According to a contemporary New York newspaper, quoted in the Pennsylvania Packet of 26 January 1782, the reinforcements sailed on 25 December. These reinforcements, “amounting to about 550 men,” belonged to the “corps in the southern district” who, being for various reasons on leave in or near New York City, were returning to their commands (William B. Willcox, ed., American Rebellion, pp. 356, 592).
5. Word received from Antigua of the bloodless conquest of St. Eustatius on 26 November 1781 by a small force led by the governor of Martinique, François Claude Amour, Marquis de Bouillé (1739–1800), appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet of 1 January 1782. More complete accounts are in the Packet of 3, 10, and 31 January. Upon returning home from the West Indies at the close of the war, Bouillé was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and, at the outset of the French Revolution, commanded an army on the eastern frontier of his country. Owing to his conspicuous role in the unsuccessful attempt in 1791 of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to escape from France, Bouillé necessarily became an émigré. He served for three years in the forces of the Prince of Condé and the Duke of York before retiring to spend the remainder of his life in England. He and Lafayette were cousins (Louis Gottschalk, Lafayette Joins the American Army [Chicago, 1937], pp. 69, 194).