James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 20 May 1782

From Edmund Pendleton

Tr (LC: Force Transcripts). Another copy, also made from the original manuscript, is in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2d ser., XIX (1905), 152–53. An extract is in Stan. V. Henkels Catalogue No. 694 (1892), pp. 89–90.

Virga. May 20th 1782

Dear Sir:

Your favr of the 7th1 brought me the debates in Parliament on which I suppose had been founded the story mentioned in my Last of their having acknowledged Our Independence, a weak ground indeed, but yet I conclude it is all they had.2 I wish you had given me yr sentiments upon it, perhaps they might have placed the transaction in a more favourable light than it now appears to me,3 which is that of a mere Tub thrown out to amuse that Whale,4 the present dangerous Spirit of the Nation, in hopes time may Occasion it to evaporate, and Ministry may still pursue their beloved Object: For what does this last proceeding amount to, more than a Resolution to suspend for a very precarious time Active Operations in America, that they may be more at leisure to make effectual War agt France and Spain in other parts?5 Oh yes, they are to make peace with Us, & we hear that General Carleton is arrived with the necessary powers:6 what do they mean by talking of Peace with Us, & vigorous War with our ally, with whom we have solemnly engaged to make it a Common Cause? Are they encouraged to this Insult by any former Instance of our perfidy, the tardiness of our Ally, or the ill success of our conjunct efforts? let the unshaken firmness of America, the unbounded generosity of France and the events of the War answer. This farce of Peace then is only resolvable into that amusement before mentioned to Allay the present ferment, without quitting the War; Let them take care however that it don’t recoil upon them with double force at some future day. And let Us not relax in Our preparations for repelling any Attack wch may be meditated. I had yesterday from Richmond an Account of a great Naval Action in the West Indies said to have been taken from an Antigua paper, the result of which is told me [in]7 two ways; by one the French had 4 line of battle ships taken & two sunk, according to the other only one was taken & one sunk, agreeing that Count De Grasse’s ship The Ville de Paris was taken. The story is that the French Fleet of 31 sailed to join the Spanish Fleet, & were met by the British of 33, which they were compelled to engage to give the transports under their convoy, an Opportunity of escaping, the paper is silent whether that was effected,8 but it is said the French Commandant at York has written the Governor that the transports were safe, and speaks of the Action rather as a Bagatelle.9 I have hopes the Antigua Rivington may have Exagerated the british advantage, but fear the loss of that Valuable Officer & ship is too true. I am impatient to hear the certain Account & whether the French formed the Junction with the Spaniards after the action.10 Mr Tyler is Speaker of the Delegates in opposition to Col. Lee,11

3The word “in” precedes this comma in the version published in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

4Jonathan Swift, in the preface to Tale of a Tub (1704), wrote, “Seamen have a custom, when they meet a whale, to fling him out an empty tub by way of amusement, to divert him from laying violent hands upon the ship.”

5Pendleton may have heard of the actions mentioned in JM to Randolph, 14 May 1782, and nn. 3 and 4.

6See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 7 May, and n. 4; 14 May, and nn. 15 and 16; JM to Randolph, 14 May 1782, and n. 8.

7From copy in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

8See Ambler to JM, 18 May, and n. 6; JM to James Madison, Sr., 20 May 1782, and n. 4. According to W. M. James, thirty-seven British and thirty French ships of the line participated in the battle. Although the 104-gun “Ville de Paris,” the flagship of the Comte de Grasse, was the most formidable vessel of the two fleets, the British armament totaled 2,748 cannon and the French only 2,246. The transports carrying about 9,000 French troops succeeded in taking “shelter under the guns of Guadeloupe” before 12 April, the decisive day of the battle (W. M. James, British Navy in Adversity, pp. 332–33, 448–50).

9The Comte de Rochambeau wrote from Yorktown to Governor Harrison on 20 May, but, judging from the latter’s reply, the dispatch had not mentioned the Battle of the Saints (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, 230–31). On the same day the Baron von Closen noted, “M. de Rochambeau, understanding the character of the Americans among whom we were living, simply told them that according to this information [a gazette from Grenada], it was really a great success for our side” (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 , p. 204).

10Between the latter half of April and 10 June, “fourteen French and eleven Spanish ships of the line, 104 merchants vessels preparing for convoy” and about 19,000 French and Spanish troops assembled at Cap Français, Haiti. Perhaps in some measure because fevers and other ailments were epidemic among the soldiers, they refrained from attacking the British. On the other hand, the possibility that this force, together with other Spanish ships at Havana, would launch an offensive obliged the British to patrol the Caribbean until the end of the war (W. M. James, British Navy in Adversity, pp. 354–62).

11Randolph to JM, 10 May 1782, and n. 12; and 16–17 May. At this point, Peter Force’s clerk wrote, “[The rest cut off].”

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