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Jefferson to His Excellency Gen Washington

Richmond, November 3, 1780.


Since I had the honor of writing to your Excellency, on the 25th ultimo, the enemy have withdrawn their forces from the north side of James river, and have taken post at Portsmouth, which, we learn, they are fortifying. Their highest post is Suffolk, where there is a very narrow and defensible pass between Nansemond river and the Dismal Swamp, which covers the country below, from being entered by us. More accurate information of their force, than we at first had, gives us reason to suppose them to be from twenty-five hundred to three thousand strong, of which, between sixty and seventy are cavalry. They are commanded by General Leslie, and were convoyed by the Romulus, of forty guns, the Blonde, of thirty-two guns, the Delight sloop, of sixteen, a twenty-gun ship of John Goodwick’s, and two row-galleys, commanded by Commodore Grayton. We are not assured, as yet, that they have landed their whole force. Indeed, they give out themselves, that after drawing the force of this State to Suffolk, they mean, to go to Baltimore. Their movements had induced me to think they came with an expectation of meeting with Lord Cornwallis in this country, that his precipitate retreat has left them without a concerted object, and that they were waiting further orders. Information of this morning says, that being informed of Lord Cornwallis’s retreat, and a public paper having been procured by them, wherein were printed the several despatches which brought this intelligence from General Gates, they unladed a vessel and sent, her off to Charleston immediately. The fate of this army of theirs hangs on a very slender naval force, indeed.

The want of barracks at Fort Frederick, as represented by Colonel Wood, the difficulty of getting wagons sufficient to move the whole Convention troops, and the state of uneasiness in which the regiment of guards is, have induced me to think it would be better to move these troops in two divisions; and as the whole danger of desertion to the enemy, and correspondence with the disaffected in our southern counties, is from the British only (for from the Germans we have no apprehensions on either head), we have advised Colonel Wood to move on the British in the first division, and to leave the Germans in their present situation, to form a second division, when barracks may be erected at Fort Frederick. By these means, the British may march immediately under the guard of Colonel Crochet’s battalion, while Colonel Taylor’s regiment of guards remains with the Germans. I cannot suppose this will be deemed such a separation as is provided against by the Convention, nor that their officers will wish to have the whole troops crowded into barracks, probably not sufficient for half of them. Should they, however, insist on their being kept together, I suppose it would be the opinion that the second division should follow the first as soon as possible, and that their being exposed, in that case, to a want of covering, would be justly imputable to themselves only. The delay of the second division will lessen the distress for provisions, which may, perhaps, take place on their first going to the new post, before matters are properly arranged.

I have the honor to be, with great esteem and respect,

your Excellency’s most obedient
and most humble servant,
Th: Jefferson.