George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, 8 November 1780

To Thomas Jefferson

Head Quarters Passaic Falls 8th November 1780


I have been honored with your Excellencys favors of the 22d 25th and 26th ulto.1 We have already had reports that the Enemy left Portsmouth precipitately a few days after landing. I shall be happy to hear it confirmed, as well as the cause to which their hurry is attributed—that of the appearance of a French or Spanish Fleet upon the Coast of Carolina.2 Should this account be premature, and should they establish a post in Virginia, I think it will be good policy to remove the troops of Convention to a greater distance from them. General Phillips has applied for Passports for a Flag Vessel to proceed to James River, as heretofore, with Cloathing and other necessaries for those troops. This will be granted, and should they be removed from Charlotteville, your Excellency will be pleased upon the arrival of the Vessel in James River to give directions for her to proceed to the most convenient place of debarkation, relatively to where the troops may be.3

I am glad to hear that you have permitted Govr Hamilton and Major Hayes to go to New York—while they remain there upon parole, they will be less capable of concerting mischief than in Virginia, and it will deprive the enemy of a pretext for complaining that they are treated with rigor.4

Another embarkation is said to be preparing at New York, and I think it a very probable circumstance considering the situation of the enemy’s affairs in South Carolina, and ours in this.5 They are well acquainted with the expiration of the times of the better half of our Army, the latter end of December, and they know they may safely detach, equal to the number we disband, from this time to the Month of May or June next, which is as soon as we generally get our recruits into the Field. Should the enemy continue in the lower parts of Virginia, they will have every advantage by being able to move up and down the Rivers in small parties, while it will be out of our power to molest them for want of the means of suddenly transporting ourselves across those Rivers to come at them. This might be in a very great degree obviated and they kept in check, if we had a number (say [ ]) Flat Boats upon travelling carriages attending the Army collected to watch their motions. We could then move across from River to River with more rapidity than they could go down one and up another, and none of their detachments would be ever6 secure by having the Water between them and us—Major Genl Greene is perfectly acquainted with the kind of Boats I have mentioned, and with the mode of fixing them. He will give the proper directions for having them constructed, should your Excellency approve the plan—New Castle I think, from its situation, would be a good and safe place to build the Boats.7 I have the honor to be.

Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1For the arrival in Virginia of a British expedition, see Jefferson to GW, 22 and 25 Oct. (see also GW to Samuel Huntington, 17 Oct., n.2, and Nathanael Greene to GW, 31 Oct., and n.4 to that document). The letter dated 25 Oct. also reported the paroles given Henry Hamilton and Jehu Hay. Jefferson’s letter to GW dated 26 Oct. proposed relocating the Convention Army prisoners.

2GW mentioned the same erroneous intelligence regarding French or Spanish operations along the southern coast when he wrote Edmund Randolph on 7 Nov. and William Fitzhugh on this date.

3See William Phillips to GW, 4 Nov., and n.4 to that document; see also Phillips to GW, 30 November.

4Hamilton’s treatment while a prisoner had been a serious concern (see GW to Jefferson, 6–10 Aug. and 13 Sept. 1779; see also Jefferson to GW, 17 July and 1, 2, and 8 Oct. 1779).

5For these largely erroneous reports, see John Jameson to GW, 31 Oct. 1780.

6At this place in the draft, Tilghman wrote and then struck out “safe, while we had it in our power to reach them.”

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