James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Edmund Pendleton, 9 April 1782

To Edmund Pendleton

RC (New York Public Library). The cover is missing, but Pendleton docketed the letter, “James Madison Esqr. Apl: 9. 1782.”

Philada. April 9th. 1782

Dear Sir

The paper of this morning will make a small but high seasoned addition to the treat afforded you by our last parliamentary intelligence.1 A French frigate is lately arrived at Rhode Island which has brought despatches for the Chevr. de la luzerne, the contents of which are not yet disclosed. The Cargo of the Frigate is said to be coin for their army. She was destined for Chesapeak, but unluckily chased into another port.2 It is added that she sailed from Brest with a large fleet under de Guichen who had repaired the havoc of Kampenfelt & the storm and was proceeding for the West Indies. Our Intelligence from this last quarter seems to authorize an expectation that a powerful descent has before this been made on Jamaica, by the combined armaments of France & Spain.3

A more authentic copy of the Capitulation of Brimston[e] Hill supplies an omission which excited some little surprize. The Garrison is expressly restrained from serving agst. the Allies of France as well as against the King himself whose name alone was inserted in the copy first brought hither. Whether this omission was mere mistake in the English Printer or one of those little dirty frauds which they have so often practised is uncertain.4

A Flag from N. York with Cloathing for the British Prisoners is just arrived here. On a search into the Contents Unlicensed goods to the amount it is said of several thousand pounds value have been discovered. Other Flags we are told are gone on to Maryland & Virginia. I hope equal vigilance will be employed with respect to them.5

I have nothing to add from within doors. No step is yet taken on the subject of Vermont.

With great regard I am Dr Sir Yr. Obt Friend & servt.

J. Madison Jr

1For the “treat,” see JM to Pendleton, 19 March 1782, and nn. 1 and 2. The Pennsylvania Packet of 9 April 1782 afforded the “addition” by allegedly quoting from Charles James Fox’s philippic in the House of Commons on 27 November 1781. In characterizing the speech, composed by the ministry and delivered from the throne at the opening of Parliament, the Packet quoted Fox as saying: “It is the language of traitors who have ruined us, and who have left us but the hope of seeing them one day expiate on the scaffold the enormity of their crimes. This day I hope is not distant.” Although Fox’s indictment was devastating, the Packet may have erred in claiming that he branded the members of the ministry as “traitors.” According to Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates description begins William Cobbett, ed., The Parliamentary History of England from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803 (36 vols.; London, 1806–20; continued as Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates). description ends (XXII, cols. 692, 705), he stated that both in Parliament and “at the tribunal of justice” the ministers must hear about the outcome of their “disgraceful and ruinous measures” and “expiate them on the public scaffold.” In Fox’s view, the war was “accursed and abominable.”

2See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 5 March 1782, n. 3. This was the frigate “Émeraude,” which reached Newport on 26 March, forty-two days out of Brest, bearing dispatches, dated in February, to La Luzerne (Acomb, Journal of Closen description begins Evelyn M. Acomb, trans. and ed., The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Closen, 1780–1783 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1958). description ends , pp. 193, 195; Pennsylvania Packet, 9 April 1782). The French minister may have decided not to divulge the content of the dispatches to Congress lest the news of additional financial aid from France increase American lethargy. He wrote to Washington concerning alternate possibilities in waging the campaign of 1782 and requested the General’s estimates of both the American and British forces (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 302–3). In two letters on 28 April, Washington supplied these data and also informed La Luzerne that the “Treasure which came in the Frigate” had been safely moved inland (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 , XXIV, 178–82).

3See Pennsylvania Packet, 6 April 1782; and JM to Pendleton, 25 February 1782, n. 4. The Comte de Guichen remained in France, but two warships of his former command reached Fort Royal, Martinique, on 20 March, after convoying a large number of troop transports and store ships from Brest. Having at long last a sufficiently strong land force and expecting assistance from the Spanish soldiers and squadron at Hispaniola, the Comte de Grasse was enabled to launch an expedition against the British in Jamaica. With his freedom to maneuver severely limited by the necessity of escorting 150 transports loaded with troops, Grasse sailed from Martinique on 8 April. On the following day—the date of the present letter—Hood, commanding the forward division of Rodney’s fleet, closed upon Grasse’s van in the St. Lucia channel and opened the first phase of the Battle of the Saints (W. M. James, British Navy in Adversity, pp. 330–35).

4See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 19 March 1782, n. 8. The Articles of Capitulation had appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet of 20 March. This version omitted from the second of the seventeen “Articles” the rectification printed by the Packet in its issue of 9 April.

5The particular episode mentioned by JM has not been identified. With increasing frequency, British flag-of-truce ships were smuggling goods of enemy origin into American ports. See Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 23 March 1782, and nn. 1 and 2.

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