George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 13 December 1780

From Thomas Jefferson

Richmond December 13. 1780


I had the honor of writing to your Excellency on the subject of an expedition contemplated by this State against the british post at Detroit, and of receiving your answer of october 10th.1 since the date of my Letter the face of things has so far changed as to leave it no longer optional in us to attempt or to decline the expedition, but compels us to decide in the affirmative and to begin our preparations immediately the army the enemy at present have in the south the reinforcements still expected there and their determination to direct their future exertions to that quarter are not unknown to you. the regular force proposed on our part to counteract those exertions is such either from the real or supposed inability of this State as by no means to allow a hope that it may be effectual. it is therefore to be expected that the scene of war will be either within our country or very nearly advanced to it; and that our principal dependance is to be on militia, for which reason it becomes incumbent to keep as great a proportion of our people as possible free to act in that quarter. in the mean time a combination is forming in the westward which if not diverted will call thither a principal and most valuable part of our militia. from intelligence received we have reason to expect that a confederacy of british and Indians to the amount of 2000 men is formed for the purpose of spreading destruction and dismay through the whole extent of our frontier in the ensuing spring. shoud this take place we shall certainly lose in the south all aids of militia from beyond the blue ridge besides the inhabitants who must fall a sacrifice in the course of the savage irruptions. there seems to be but one method of preventing this, which is to give the western enemy employment in their own country. the regular force Colo. Clarke already has with a proper draught from the militia beyond the Allegany and that of three or four of our most northern counties will be adequate to the reduction of fort Detroit in the opinion of Colo. Clarke, and he assigns the most probable reasons for that opinion. we have therefore determined to undertake, and to commit it to his direction. whether the enterprize shall be at continental or State expence we will leave to be decided by Congress hereafter, in whose Justice we can confide as to the determination. in the mean time we only ask the loan of such necessaries as being already at fort Pitt will save time and an immense expence of transportation. these are:

4 field pieces 6 pounders

3000 balls suited to them

one Mortar

3000 shells suited to it.

2 howitze[r]s

grape shot

necessary implements and furniture for the above.

1000 spades

200 pick axes

1 travelling forge

some boats ready made shoud we not have enough prepared in time.

some ship carpenters tools.

These articles shall be either identically or specifically returned. should we prove successful it is not improbable they may be where Congress woud chuse to keep them. I am therefore to solicit your Excellency’s order to the Commandant at Fort Pitt for the above articles which shall not be called for until every thing is in readiness, after which there can be no danger, of their being wanted for the post at which they are. indeed there are few of the articles essential for the defence of the post. I hope your Excellency will think yourself justified in lending us this aid without awaiting the effect of an application elsewhere as such a delay woud render the undertaking abortive by postponing it to the breaking up of the ice in the lake. independant of the favorable effects which a successfull enterprize against Detroit must produce to the United States in general by keeping in quiet the frontier of the northern ones, and leaving our western militia at leisure to aid those of the south, we think the like friendly office performed by us to the States whenever desired and almost to the absolute exhausture of our own magazines give well founded hopes that we may be accommodated on this occasion. The supplies of military stores, which have been furnished by us to Fort Pitt itself, to the northern army, & most of all to the southern, are not altogether unknown to you. I am the more urgent for an immediate order because Colo. Clarke awaits here your Excellency’s answer by the expresses, tho his presence in the western country to make preparations for the expedition, if you enable us to undertake it, is so very necessary.2 to the above I must add a request to you to send for us to Pittsburg persons proper to work the mortars and howitze[r]s, as colo. Clarke has none such, nor is there one in this state. they shall be in the pay of this State from the time they leave you. any money necessary for their journey shall be repaid at pittsburg on their arrival there, or shall be paid here on demand. they shou’d be at pittsburg without fail by the 1st of march.

At the desire of the General Assembly I take the liberty of transmitting to you the enclosed resolution,3 and have the honor to be with the most perfect esteem and regard, your Excellency’s most obedient and most humble servant.

Th: Jefferson


1See Jefferson to GW, 26 Sept., and GW to Jefferson, 10 October.

Jefferson had written Col. George Rogers Clark from Richmond on 29 Sept. to explain that he had posted GW “on the subject of an attempt against Detroit. … I have ventured to assure him that with the Regulars you will have; you can raise Volunteers enough to reduce the place, and that we can furnish every article, except Powder, if they will only leave us at liberty to apply our Money for that purpose” (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 , 3:670–71).

2Jefferson subsequently wrote Clark from Richmond on 25 Dec. to have him prepare for a “stroke in the western country” that would “throw the enemy under the embarrassments of a defensive war” and result in “the reduction of the British post at Detroit” (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 , 4:233–38, quotes on 234).

3Jefferson enclosed a resolution that the Virginia Senate agreed to on 6 Dec. after it had passed the House of Delegates on 2 Nov.: “Resolved that his Excellency the Commander in cheif be requested to settle the rank of the 1st and 2d Regiments of this State which have been attached to the Continental Army and if he shall be of Opinion that they are intitled to Continental Commissions to recommend them to Congress for that purpose ascertaining the time when such Commissions shall bear date and saying whether such Officers shall take promotion in the line of this State or be confined to the said two Regiments” (DLC:GW).

GW replied to Jefferson on 28 December.

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