George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 26 September 1780

From Thomas Jefferson

Richmond September 26. 1780.


The inclosed Copy of a letter from Ld Cornwallis to Colo. Balfour was sent me by Govr Rutledge: lest you should not have seen it I do myself the pleasure of transmitting it, with a letter of Genl Harrington to Genl Gates giving information of some late movements of the Enemy.1

I was honored yesterday with your favor of the 5th inst. on the Subject of Prisoners, and particularly of Lt Govr Hamilton.2 You are not unapprised of the influence of this Officer with the Indians, his activity, and embittered Zeal against us; you also perhaps know how precarious is our tenure of the Illinois Country, and how critical is the situation of the new Counties on the Ohio. These Circumstances determined us to retain Govr Hamilton & Majr Hay within our Power, when we delivered up the other Prisoners. On a late representation from the People of Kentuckey by a person sent here from that County, & expressions of what they had reason to apprehend from these two Prisoners in the event of their liberation; We assured them they would not be parted with, tho we were giving up our other Prisoners. Lt Colo. Dubusson Aid to Baron de Kalb lately came here on his parole with an offer from Ld Rawdon to exchange him for Hamilton. Colo. Towles is now here with a like proposition as to himself from Genl Phillips, very strongly urged by the Gel. These and other Overtures do not lessen our Opinion of the importance of retaining him: and they have been and will uniformly be rejected. Should the settlement indeed of a Cartel become impracticable without the consent of the States to submit their seperate Prisoners to its Obligation, we will give up these two Prisoners, as we would any thing rather than be an obstacle to a general Good; but no other circumstances would I believe extract them from us. These two Gentlemen with a Lt Colo. Elligood are the only Seperate Prisoners we have retained, & the last only on his own request, & not because we set any store by him.3 There is indeed a Lt Govr Rocheblawe of Kaskaskie who has broken his parole & gone to N. York, whom we must shortly trouble your Excellency to demand for us as soon as we can forward to you the proper documents.4 Since the forty Prisoners sent to Winchester as mentioned in my letter of the 9th Ulto about 150 more have been sent thither, some of them taken by us at Sea, others sent on by Genl Gates.5

The exposed and weak state of our Western settlements and the dangers to which they are subject from the Northern Indians acting under the influence of the British Post at Detroit, render it necessary for us to keep from five to eight hundred Men on duty for their defence this is a great and perpetual expence; could that post be reduced and retained it would cover all the States to the South-East of it. We have long meditated the attempt under the direction of Colo. Clarke, but the expence would be so great that whenever we have wished to take it up this Circumstance has obliged us to decline it; two different estimates make it amount to two Million of Pounds, present Money. We could furnish the Men, provisions and I believe every necessary except Powder; had We the Money, or could the demands from us be so far supplyed from other quarters as to leave it in our Power to apply such a Sum to that purpose and when once done it would save annual expenditures to a great amount When I speak of furnishing the Men, I mean that they should be Militia: such being the popularity of Colo. Clarke & the confidence of the western people in him that he could raise the requisite Number at any time. We therefore beg leave to refer this matter to yourself to determine whether such an enterprize would not be for the general good, & if you think it would, to authorize it at the general expence: this is become the more reasonable if as I am informed the ratification of the Confederation has been rested on our Cession of a part of our Western Claims a Cession which (speaking my private opinion only) I verily believe will be agreed to if the Quantity demanded be not unreasonably great.6 Should this proposition be approved it should be immediately made known to us as the season is now coming on at which some of the preparations must be made the time of execution I think should be at the breaking up of the Ice in the Wabache & before the Lakes open the interval I am told is considerable.7 I have the honor to be with every sentiment of esteem & respect Your Excellency’s Most obedient & most humble servt8

Th: Jefferson

LS, DLC:GW; copy, DLC: Jefferson Papers. GW’s secretary Robert Hanson Harrison docketed the LS: “recd 8.” He also wrote “ansd 11th” on that docket, but the draft of GW’s reply to Jefferson is dated 10 October.

1The enclosure from Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis to Lt. Col. Nisbet Balfour, dated August, overstated Patriot casualties at the Battle of Camden and outlined severe measures to punish “all the Inhabitants of this province who have subscribed & have taken part in this Revolt” (DLC:GW; see also Cornwallis to John Harris Cruger, 18 Aug., in Cornwallis Papers, 2:19).

The enclosure from Brig. Gen. Henry William Harrington to Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates, written from camp near Cross Creek, N.C., on 16 Sept., reported that “the Enemy” had moved away from Camden. Harrington also conveyed erroneous intelligence “directly from Wilmington” about a “Combined Fleet” that had “captured 100 Sail of British Merchantmen and carried them to the Havannah—They also say they saw the French Fleet on this Coast” (DLC:GW; see also GW to Gates, 8 Oct.).

Henry William Harrington (1747–1809) was a South Carolina planter who served as a militia captain in 1775 and 1776. Moving to North Carolina, he became a militia colonel in November 1779. Temporarily promoted to brigadier general in June 1780, he resigned in November after losing much of his property to the British.

3For earlier consideration of an exchange involving Henry Hamilton, former British lieutenant governor of Detroit, see GW to Arthur St. Clair, 2 April, and notes 1 and 7 to that document; see also Commissioners for the Exchange of Prisoners to GW, 26 March (second letter), and notes 5 and 6 to that document.

Jacob Ellegood (1742–1801), a planter in Princess Anne County, Va., commanded the Queen’s Own Loyal Virginia Regiment as a lieutenant colonel from November 1775 until his capture in later 1776. He was released on parole in May 1781 but never exchanged. Banned from Virginia, he moved in 1791 to the British province of New Brunswick, where he served in the legislature, owned slaves, and purchased Benedict Arnold’s former home.

4Phillippe-François Rastel, Sieur de Rocheblave (d. 1802), rose from cadet to lieutenant with French forces during the French and Indian War, after which he moved to the Illinois country. Entering British service, he was captured by Col. George Rogers Clark’s Virginia troops in July 1778. He escaped to New York, settled near Montreal after the war, and became a member of the provincial legislature.

6Virginia delegate Joseph Jones likely communicated this information to Jefferson (see Jones to GW, 6 Sept., and n.4 to that document).

7For prior contemplation of an expedition against Detroit, see Jefferson to GW, 10 Feb. and 19 March; GW to Daniel Brodhead, 4 Jan.; and Brodhead to GW, 18 March and 24 April.

8Jefferson wrote the complimentary closing on the LS.

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