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Jefferson to His Excellency Gen Washington

Richmond, September 26, 1780.


The enclosed copy of a letter from Lord Cornwallis to Colonel Balfour, was sent me by Governor Rutledge: lest you should not have seen it, I do myself the pleasure of transmitting it, with a letter from General Harrington to General Gates giving information of some late movements of the enemy.

I was honored yesterday with your favor of the 5th instant, on the subject of prisoners, and particularly Lieutenant Governor Hamilton. You are not unapprized of the influence of this officer with the Indians, his activity and embittered zeal against us. You also, perhaps, know how precarious is our tenure of the Illinois country, and how critical is the situation of the new counties on the Ohio. These circumstances determined us to detain Governor Hamilton and Major Hay within our power, when we delivered up the other prisoners. On a late representation from the people of Kentucky, by a person sent here from that country, and expressions of what they had reason to apprehend from these two prisoners, in the event of their liberation, we assured them they would not be parted with, though we were giving up our other prisoners. Lieutenant Colonel Dabusson, aid to Baron de Kalb, lately came here on his parole, with an offer from Lord Rawdon, to exchange him for Hamilton. Colonel Towles is now here with a like proposition for himself, from General Phillips, very strongly urged by the General. These, and other overtures, do not lessen our opinion of the importance of retaining him; and they have been, and will be, uniformly rejected. Should the settlement, indeed, of a cartel become impracticable, without the consent of the States to submit their separate prisoners to its obligation, we will give up these two prisoners, as we would any thing, rather than be an obstacle to a general good. But no other circumstance would, I believe, extract them from us. These two gentlemen, with a Lieutenant Colonel Elligood, are the only separate prisoners we have retained, and the last, only on his own request, and not because we set any store by him. There is, indeed, a Lieutenant Governor Rocheblawe of Kaskaskia, who has broken his parole and gone to New York, whom we must shortly trouble your Excellency to demand for us, as soon as we can forward to you the proper documents. Since the forty prisoners sent to Winchester, as mentioned in my letter of the 9th ultimo, about one hundred and fifty more have been sent thither, some of them taken by us at sea, others sent on by General Gates.

The exposed and weak state of our western settlements, and the danger to which they are subject from the northern Indians, acting under the influence of the British post at Detroit, render it necessary for us to keep from five to eight hundred men on duty for their defence. This is a great and perpetual expense. Could that post be reduced and retained, it would cover all the States to the southeast of it. We have long meditated the attempt under the direction of Colonel Clarke, but the expense would be so great, that whenever we have wished to take it up, this circumstance has obliged us to decline it. Two different estimates make it amount to two millions of pounds, present money. We could furnish the men, provisions, and every necessary, except powder, had we the money, or could the demand from us be so far supplied from other quarters, as to leave it in our power to apply such a sum to that purpose; and, when once done, it would save annual expenditures to a great amount. When I speak of furnishing the men, I mean they should be militia; such being the popularity of Colonel Clarke, and the confidence of the western people in him, that he could raise the requisite number at any time. We, therefore, beg leave to refer this matter to yourself, to determine whether such an enterprise would not be for the general good, and if you think it would, to authorize it at the general expense. This is become the more reasonable, if, as I understand, the ratification of the Confederation has been rested on our cession of a part of our western claim; a cession which (speaking my private opinion) I verily believe will be agreed to, if the quantity demanded is not unreasonably great. Should this proposition be approved of, it should be immediately made known to us, as the season is now coming on, at which some of the preparations must be made. The time of execution, I think, should be at the time of the breaking up of the ice in the Wabash, and before the lakes open. The interval, I am told, is considerable.

I have the honor to be, &c.
your most obedient and humble servant,
Th: Jefferson.