George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 10 November 1780

From Thomas Jefferson

Richmond November 10. 1780


I inclose your Excellency a copy of an intercepted Letter from major General Leslie to Lord Cornwallis. it was taken on a person endeavouring to pass thro the country from Portsmouth towards Carolina. when he was apprehended and a proposal made to search him he readily consented to be searched but at the same time was observed to put his hand into his pocket and carry something towards his mouth as if it were a quid of tobacco. it was examined and found to be a Letter, of which the inclosed is a copy, written on silk paper, rolled up in gold beaters skin, and nicely tied at each end so as not to be larger than a goose quill. As this is the first authentic disclosure of their purpose in coming here, and may serve to found, with somewhat more of certainty, conjectures of their future movements, while their disappointment in not meeting with Lord Cornwallis may occasion new plans at New york, I thought it worthy of communication to your Excellency.1

some deserters were yesterday taken, said to be of the british Convention troops who had found means to get to2 the enemy at Portsmouth and were seventy or eighty miles on their way back to the barracks when they were taken. they were passing under the guise of deserters from Portsmouth.3 I have the honor to be with the greatest esteem & respect Your Excellency’s Most obedient & most humble servt

Th: Jefferson

LS, DLC:GW; copy, DLC: Jefferson Papers; copy, enclosed with Samuel Huntington to GW, 17 Nov., DLC:GW. The complimentary closing on the LS is in Jefferson’s writing. GW replied to Jefferson on 9 December.

1Jefferson enclosed a letter from Maj. Gen. Alexander Leslie to Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis written at Portsmouth, Va., on 4 Nov.: “I have been here near a week establishing a Post, I wrote to you to Charles Town and by another Messenger by Land I can’t hear for a certainty where you are, I wait your Orders—the bearer is to be handsomely rewarded if he brings me any note or mark from your Ldship” (DLC:GW; another copy of this letter was enclosed with Huntington to GW, 17 Nov.; see source note above). For Leslie’s British expedition to Virginia, see GW to Huntington, 17 Oct., n.2, and Nathanael Greene to GW, 31 Oct., n.4.

2Jefferson wrote this word above the line on the LS.

3Jefferson also wrote Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates from Richmond on this date: “The British Convention troops will proceed immediately to Fort Frederick in Maryland. The Germans will remain in Albemarle till accommodations can be provided for them in the same place. From them we have no apprehensions of desertion to the enemy. Some British were taken yesterday who are said to have been with the enemy and were returning to the barracks. Two or three days ago a british emissary from Portsmouth, was taken endeavouring to proceed towards Carolina. … By this you will find our conjectures verified that they expected to meet with Lord Cornwallis in the neighbourhood at least of this country, and are disappointed and without an object. Can you not take measures for finding out the other messenger to Lord Cornwallis who went by Land? The force we shall now immediately have together authorizes me to assure you, you need not apprehend their penetrating any distance southwardly” (Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 4:108–9; see also n.1 above and Jefferson to GW, 3 Nov.).

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