George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Patrick Henry, 20 September 1776

From Patrick Henry

Williamsburgh Sept. 20th 1776

Dear Sir.

After a long & Severe Illness, I am now but just able to come hither in Order to discharge as I may be able, the Dutys of my public Station. Will you pardon me for asking the Favor of a Correspondence with you? Besides the pleasure it will give me, I shall be taught by your Ideas, to form more correct Opinions, of those Movements that may be proposed for the general Defence in this Quarter. It is conjectured by Some, that the Enemys Cruisers will come to the South at the End of the Campaign. In the mean Time the Navigation is open. I wish that Circumstance may be well improved.

We have beat the Cherokees in some hot Skirmishes with inferiour Numbers.1 Colo. Christian marches very shortly with abt 1750 men agt the overhill Towns at which the whole Nation is or must shortly be collected. I doubted whether there were men enough ordered for the Service; but the Colo. thot the Number Sufficient.2 I hear from good Authority that the Creeks observe a Neutrality & refuse to assist our Enemys, So that I think they will stand the Brunt alone except the Assistance of a few Renegade Shawanese Mingo’s &c. The Eastern Towns of the Cherokees are destroyed & 1800 men from S. Carolina (as I’m this day told by a Capt. in Gadsden’s Regiment) were marching agt the middle Settlements, but did not propose going to the overhill Towns.3

We have heard of the Affair at Long Island. I trust every virtuous man will be stimulated by it to fresh Exertions. My poor friend Sullivan I hear is a prisoner, & Report says at Congress to offer Terms of peace. I should not think he would be the Bearer of disadvantageous Offers.

I can readily guess the infinite Variety of Affairs with which you are worried. God grant you may end the glorious Work in which you are so nobly engaged, & be crown’d with Success. With Sentiments of the most perfect Esteem I am Dear sir yr most obt Servt

P. Henry Jr.

ALS, MH: Jared Sparks Collection.

1Henry is referring to the Cherokee raids on the Holston and Watauga river settlements in July, which were repulsed by frontier militia from Virginia and North Carolina (see O’Donnell, Southern Indians description begins James H. O’Donnell, III. Southern Indians in the American Revolution. Knoxville, Tenn., 1973. description ends , 40–43).

2William Christian (1743–1786) of Fincastle County, one of the most prominent men in western Virginia and a brother-in-law of Henry, served under Henry as lieutenant colonel of the 1st Virginia Regiment from August 1775 to March 1776, when Congress named him to succeed Henry as the regiment’s colonel (see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 4:211). Christian resigned that commission in August, however, to accept appointment by the Virginia council as colonel of the 1st battalion and commander in chief of all the forces raised for an expedition against the upper or overhill towns of the Cherokee in present-day eastern Tennessee (see Journals of the Council of State of Virginia description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds. Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia. 5 vols. Richmond, 1931–82. description ends , 1:82, 103). When Christian’s troops reached the overhill towns in October, the Cherokee fled without giving battle, and a majority of them subsequently capitulated to Christian (see O’Donnell, Southern Indians description begins James H. O’Donnell, III. Southern Indians in the American Revolution. Knoxville, Tenn., 1973. description ends , 47–49). In January 1777 Henry appointed Christian to the Indian commission that negotiated a preliminary peace treaty with the Cherokee the following April. Christian, who had represented Fincastle County in the House of Burgesses from 1772 to 1776 and the first three conventions, served in the state senate in 1776 and from 1780 to 1783, and he was one of the commissioners who negotiated the Cherokee treaty of 1781. In 1785 Christian moved to Kentucky.

3In August a force of 1,120 South Carolinians commanded by Col. Andrew Williamson burned the lower Cherokee towns, and during September and early October Williamson’s troops joined a force of 2,500 North Carolinians under Gen. Griffith Rutherford in destroying the middle Cherokee towns (see ibid., 43–47). Christopher Gadsden (1724–1805), who became colonel of the 1st South Carolina Regiment in June 1775, served in the Continental Congress from 1774 to January 1776, when he returned to South Carolina to command the provincial forces defending Charleston. Congress appointed Gadsden a brigadier general on 16 Sept. 1776. He resigned that commission in August 1777, however, after a bitter dispute over command of the Continental troops in South Carolina with Gen. Robert Howe, whom he fought in a duel the following year. In the spring of 1778 Gadsden was named vice president of the state, and in 1779 he was designated its lieutenant governor. After Charleston fell to the British in 1780, Gadsden was imprisoned, first in Charleston and then at St. Augustine. He was released in July 1781, and in January 1782 he declined election as governor, choosing instead to serve in the state assembly.

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