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Jefferson to His Excellency Gen Washington

Richmond, December 15, 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 the 10th. 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 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 either be within our country, or very nearly advanced to it; and that our principal dependence 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 two thousand men, is formed for the purpose of spreading destruction and dismay through the whole extent of our frontier, in the ensuing spring. Should this take place, we shall certainly lose in the South all aids of militia 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 Colonel Clarke already has, with a proper draft 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 Colonel Clarke; and he assigns the most probable reasons for that opinion. We have, therefore, determined to undertake it, and commit it to his direction. Whether the expense of the enterprise shall be defrayed by the Continent or State, we will leave to be decided hereafter by Congress, 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 expense of transportation. These articles shall either be identically or specifically returned; should we prove successful, it is not improbable they may be where Congress would choose to keep them. I am, therefore, to solicit your Excellency’s order to the commandant at Fort Pitt, for the articles contained on the annexed list, 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 would render the undertaking abortive, by postponing it to the breaking up of the ice in the lake. Independent of the favorable effects which a successful enterprise 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 liberty to aid those of the South, we think the like friendly offices performed by us to the Sates, 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, and, most of all, to the southern, are not altogether unknown to you. I am the more urgent for an immediate order, because Colonel Clarke awaits here your Excellency’s answer by the express, though his presence in the western country to make preparations for the expedition is so very necessary, if you enable him to undertake it. To the above, I must add a request to you to send for us to Pittsburg, persons proper to work the mortars, &c, as Colonel 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, without fail, by the first of March.

At the desire of the General Assembly, I take the liberty of transmitting to you the enclosed resolution; and have the honor to be, with the most perfect esteem and regard,

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