George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 8 February 1781

From Thomas Jefferson

Richmond. Feby 8th 1781.


I have just received intelligence, which though from a private hand, I believe is to be relied on, that a fleet of the enemy’s ships have entered Cape Fear river, that eight of them had got over the bar and many others were laying off; that it was supposed to be a reinforcement to Lord Cornwallis under the command of Genl Prevost.1 This account which had come through another channel is confirmed by a letter from Genl Parsons at Halifax to the Gentlemen who forwards it to me.2 I thought it of sufficient importance to be communicated to your excellcy by the stationed expresses. The fatal want of arms puts it out of our power to bring a greater force into the field than will barely suffice to restrain the adventures of the pitiful body of men they have at Portsmouth, should any other be added to them, this country will be perfectly open to them by land as well as by water.3 I have the honor to be with all possible respect your Excellency’s most Obedt & most humble Servt

Th: Jefferson

Copy, enclosed in Samuel Huntington to GW, 20 Feb. (second letter), DLC:GW; LB, addressed to GW and Huntington, Vi. The copy was taken from Jefferson to Huntington, 8 Feb., presumably a nearly identical letter as that sent to GW (see DNA:PCC, item 71; see also McIlwaine, Letters of the Governors description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed. Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia. 3 vols. Richmond, 1926–29. description ends , 2:329).

1See David Ross to Jefferson, 7 Feb., 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 , 4:554–55.

The expedition under the command of British major James Henry Craig of the 82d Regiment of Foot, sent from Charleston by direction of Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis to capture a port for the better supply of his army operating in North Carolina, consisted of about 450 British regulars. Craig took Wilmington on 1 Feb. against little opposition. Wilmington then served as a base for British operations in eastern North Carolina until Craig and his troops evacuated the town in November 1781, following the British surrender at Yorktown the previous month.

2Thomas Person (1733–1800) was an early leader of the revolutionary movement in North Carolina. He served in the provincial conventions and congresses held from 1774 to 1776 and was named to the provincial council in September 1775. Person became a brigadier general of the state’s militia in April 1776. He owned extensive lands in both North Carolina and what became Tennessee, having amassed over 82,000 acres by 1788. In that year, he led the Antifederalist party in the state’s constitutional convention. Person served in the state’s general assembly for thirty years. For more biographical details, see Powell, Dictionary of North Carolina Biography description begins William S. Powell, ed. Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. 6 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1979–96. description ends , 5:74–75.

3GW replied to Jefferson on 21 March (Vi).

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