George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 26 November 1780

From Thomas Jefferson

Richmond November 26th. 1780.


I have been honoured with your Excellency’s Letter of the 8th instant.1 having found it impracticable to move suddenly the whole Convention troops, british and germans, and it being represented that there coud not immediately be covering provided for them all at fort Frederic we concluded to march of2 the British first from whom, was the principal danger of desertion and to permit the germans who shew little disposition to join the enemy to remain in their present quarters till something further be done. the British accordingly marched on the 20th instant, they cross the blue ridge at the Rockfish gap and proceed along that valley.3 I am to apprize your Excellency that the Officers of every rank both British and german but particularly the former have purchased within this State some of the finest horses in it. you will be pleased to determine whether it will be proper that they carry them within their lines. I believe the convention of Saratoga entitles them to keep the horses they then had; but I presume none of the Line below the rank of field officers had a horse.4 Considering that the british will be now at fort frederic, and the Germans in Albemarle, Alexandria seems to be the most central point to which there is navigation. would it not therefore be better that the flag vessel solicited by Genl Philips shoud go to that place? it is about equally distant from the two posts. the roads to Albemarle are good. I know not how those are which lead to fort frederick.

your letter referring me to General Green for the mode of constructing light portable boats unfortunately did not come to hand till he had left us.5 we had before determined to have something done in that way, and as they are still unexecuted, we shou’d be greatly obliged by any draughts or hints which could be given by any body within the reach of your Excellency.6

I received advice that on the 22nd instant the enemy’s fleet got all underway and were standing towards the Capes. as it still remained undecided whether they woud leave the bay or turn up it, I waited the next stage of information that you might so far be enabled to judge of their destination. this I hourly expected, but it did not come till this evening when I am informed they all got out to see in the night of the 22d. what course they steered afterwards is not known.7 I must do their General and Commodore8 the justice to say that in every case to which their influence or attention coud reach as far as I have been well informed, their conduct was such as does them the greatest honor in the few instances of unnecessary and wanton devastation, which took place, they punished the aggressors.9 I have the honor to be with every sentiment of esteem & respect. Your Excellency’s most obedient and most humble servant

Th: Jefferson


2This word should be read as “off.”

3Rockfish Gap was about twenty miles west of the Albemarle barracks near Charlottesville, Va., where the Convention Army had been held. For the march of the prisoners through the Shenandoah Valley to Fort Frederick, Md., see Chase, “Years of Hardships,” description begins Philander D. Chase. “‘Years of Hardships and Revelations’: The Convention Army at the Albemarle Barracks, 1779-1781.” Magazine of Albemarle County History 41 (1983):9-53. description ends 39–40; see also Jefferson to GW, 3 Nov., and notes 7 and 8 to that document.

4Jefferson had written Benjamin Harrison from Richmond on 25 Nov.: “Since I had the honor of informing the General assembly of the instructions which had been given on the subject of the British Convention officers and their horses, Colo. Wood writes me that he has received a notification from Genl. Washington of the exchange of eighty eight of them, and that they are to proceed to Elizabeth town immediately where they will receive the General’s further orders. The whole of the British having marched from the barracks, Colo. Wood leaves that place tomorrow, and wishes to be immediately informed whether the new destination of these officers will make any alteration in the permission as to their horses. I have no doubt but that Genl. Washington would of course prohibit their carrying within the enemy’s lines horses which they have purchased since the convention of Saratoga: but as an express sets out this day with dispatches for Headquarters, I propose to mention the matter particularly to him that we may ensure it’s not escaping attention; unless the General assembly should think proper to advise any other measure” (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 , 4:154–55; see also GW to James Wood, 8 Nov., and Wood to GW, 7 Dec.).

5See n.1 above. Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene had left Richmond on or shortly after 20 Nov. (see his first letter to GW, 19 Nov., and notes 2 and 4 to that document).

6Jefferson concluded a letter to Greene written at Richmond on this date: “General Washington referred me to you for instructions as to the mode of building light boats portable on wheels and which would be singularly useful in this Country in case of its invasion. This Letter unfortunately did not come to hand till you had left us. Any information you can have time to give on this head will much oblige me” (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 , 4:157–58; see also n.5 above, and GW to Jefferson, 27 Dec., found at GW to Jefferson, 9 Dec., n.9).

7The British fleet transported troops under Maj. Gen. Alexander Leslie that had occupied Portsmouth, Va. (see Thomas Nelson to Jefferson, 22 Nov., in 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 , 4:142; see also Greene to GW, 31 Oct., n.4).

8Commodore George Gayton commanded the British fleet.

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