George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Sharpe, 27 February 1781

From William Sharpe

Philadelphia Feby 27th 1781


Your thanks to me expressed in a letter which was read in Congress yesterday, for a few notes on the geography of the back parts of South and North Carolina was very flattering.1

For your farther information I shall now take the liberty to add, That after Lord Cornwallis had destroy’d his waggons and heavy baggage near the crossroads at the head of fishing creek he advanced in a north west direction, passed the So. fork of Catawba river and Cowens ford on the main branch about twenty miles northwest of Charlotte, where Davidson unfortunately fell opposing him. Mrs Terrences is about eight miles from that ford, on the road leading to Salisbury [and] which is twenty eight miles from Terrences Trading ford on the Yadkin [which] is seven miles from Salisbury2 The shallow ford is thirty miles above, and fifteen miles from Salem, the lower Moravian town. Guilford Court house is near a place called New Garden on Hutchisons map and twenty six miles from Salem.3 Boyds ferry on Dan is not many miles above the confluence of that with Stanton river and about sixty miles from Guilford Ct House.

I suppose Lord Cornwallis’s first object was to rescue the prisoners and break up Morgans corps, in which he failed, The second was to disperse Genl Greenes army, but when his Lordship observes that Genl Greene has very judiciously retreated to Stanton, I am inclined to think he will file off to the right and endeavour to make his retreat to Wilmington on Cape Fear river, wh⟨ich⟩ he may do without much opposition as the inhabitants on the greater part of that river are disposed, at least, to neutral⟨ity⟩ In such case Genl Greenes army would not be in condition to pursue him with facility. If on the other hand he continues his pursuit of Genl Greene into the borders of Virginia, and the Militia fails to improve the advantages they may gain by concurring with Genl Greene, they will loose those laurels which they have obtained by their former exertions.

You Sir, know very well that when the enemy are advancing so rapidly, militia are not generally disposed to join a retreating army, and that country being very extensive and thinly settled it is therefore several days before any consid⟨er⟩able force can be collected to a point, but if his Lordship can be diverted five or six days in any one place in that back country I hope he will catch a Tartar.4

Your Excellency may apprehend that the Milit⟨ia in⟩ the vicinity of Salisbury and Charlotte, who have heretofore distinguished themselves by their firmness, will fly to arms and press on the enemys rear, but you may rely upon it, that the fall of Genl Davidson has left that people without an head in whom they have confidence as an officer, From my particular knowledge of that part of the country I can venture to say that in the fall of that officer we have lost more than 500 men in the common defence.

Davidson was a native of Rowan County of which Salisbury is the seat, he was Lieut. Colo. in the first N. Carolina Regt under Colo. Clarke, obtained leave of absence from Genl Hogan in Decr 1779 to visit his family and to join his regt in Charles Town the first of may, but was prevented by the blockade of the Town. On the capture of Genl Rutherford at Genl Gatess defeat he was appointed by our legislature to command the militia of that district in Rutherfords absence.5

I think I may venture to congratulate your Excellency on the news from the West Indias.6

Excuse the liberty I have taken in addressing you without any introduction, and be assured that the State which I have the honor to represent has the same esteem for and entire confidence in you, that is impressed on the heart of him, who has the honor to be Sir Your Most Obt Humble Servt

Wm Shar⟨pe⟩


GW replied to Sharpe on 23 March from headquarters at New Windsor: “I had the pleasure of receiving your favor of the 27th ulto while at Newport—Your communication of the positions and relative distances of the several places mentioned in the late letters from the southward has been both satisfactory and servicable to me, as I have not been able to find many of them upon the Maps—Should you in future find leisure to favor me with similar information you will confer an obligation” (Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW).

1See GW to Samuel Huntington, 17 Feb.; see also JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 19:194, and Huntington to GW, 9 Feb., n.3.

2Trading, or Island, Ford across the Yadkin River was seven miles north of Salisbury, N.C., and about twenty-eight miles northeast of Torrence’s tavern.

3Geographer and former British officer Thomas Hutchins (1730–1789), a native of New Jersey who supported the American cause, had resigned his commission as a captain in the British army’s 60th Regiment of Foot and been imprisoned in England for treason. After his escape and arrival in America, Congress appointed him geographer to the southern army on 4 May 1781, but his poor health kept him from active service (see Benjamin Franklin to Huntington, 16 March 1780, in Franklin Papers description begins William B. Willcox et al., eds. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. 42 vols. to date. New Haven, 1959–. description ends , 32:121–22, and JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 20:476, 738). For a full biographical sketch and a list of his maps, see Guthorn, British Maps of the Revolution description begins Peter J. Guthorn. British Maps of the American Revolution. Monmouth Beach, N.J., 1972. description ends , 30–31.

4The phrase “To catch a Tartar” means “to get hold of one who can neither be controlled nor got quit of; to tackle one who unexpectedly proves to be too formidable” (OED description begins James A. H. Murray et al., eds. The Oxford English Dictionary: Being a Corrected Re-Issue with an Introduction, Supplement, and Bibliography of A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles. 12 vols. 1933. Reprint. Oxford, England, 1970. description ends ).

5Sharpe refers to the defeat of Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates at the Battle of Camden, S.C., on 16 Aug. 1780.

6Sharpe is evidently referring to the false report of a French naval victory in European waters brought by ships from the West Indies (see Rochambeau to GW, 18 Feb., and n.1 to that document).

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