Affiliate Link

Jefferson to His Excellency Gen Washington

Richmond, January 10, 1781.


It may seem odd, considering the important events which have taken place in this State within the course of ten days, that I should not have transmitted an account of them to your Excellency; but such has been their extraordinary rapidity, and such the unremitted attention they have required from all concerned in government, that I do not recollect the portion of time which I could have taken to commit them to paper.

On the 31st of December, a letter from a private gentleman to General Nelson came to my hands, notifying, that in the morning of the preceding day, twenty-seven sail of vessels had entered the Capes; and from the tenor of the letter, we had reason to expect, within a few hours, further intelligence; whether they were friends or foes, their force, and other circumstances. We immediately despatched General Nelson to the lower country, with powers to call on the militia in that quarter, or act otherwise as exigencies should require; but waited further intelligence, before we would call for militia from the middle or upper country. No further intelligence came till the 2nd instant, when the former was confirmed; it was ascertained they had advanced up James river to Wanasqueak bay. All arrangements were immediately taken for calling in a sufficient body of militia for opposition. In the night of the 3rd, we received advice that they were at anchor opposite Jamestown; we then supposed Williamsburg to be their object. The wind, however, which had hitherto been unfavorable, shifted fair, and the tide being also in their favor, they ascended the river to Kennons’ that evening, and, with the next tide, came up to Westover, having, on their way, taken possession of some works we had at Hood’s, by which two or three of their vessels received some damage, but which were of necessity abandoned by the small garrison of fifty men placed there, on the enemy’s landing to invest the works. Intelligence of their having quitted the station at Jamestown, from which we supposed they meant to land for Williamsburg, and of their having got in the evening to Kennon’s, reached us the next morning at five o’clock, and was the first indication of their meaning to penetrate towards this place or Petersburg. As the order for drawing miliatia here had been given but two days, no opposition was in readiness. Every effort was therefore necessary, to withdraw the arms and other military stores, records, &c. from this place. Every effort was, accordingly, exerted to convey them to the foundery five miles, and to a laboratory six miles, above this place, till about sunset of that day, when we learned the enemy had come to an anchor at Westover that morning. We then knew that this, and not Petersburg was their object, and began to carry across the river every thing remaining here, and to remove what had been transported to the foundery and laboratory to Westham, the nearest crossing, seven miles above this place, which operation was continued till they had approached very near. They marched from Westover, at two o’clock in the afternoon of the 4th, and entered Richmond at one o’clock in the afternoon of the 5th. A regiment of infantry and about thirty horse continued on, without halting, to the foundery. They burnt that, the boring mill, the magazine, and two other houses, and proceeded to Westharn; but nothing being in their power there, they retired to Richmond. The next morning they burned some buildings of public and private property, with what stores remained in them, destroyed a great quantity of private stores, and about twelve o’clock, retired towards Westover, where they encamped within the Neck, the next day.

The loss sustained is not yet accurately known. As far as I have been able to discover, it consisted, at this place, of about three hundred muskets, some soldiers’ clothing to a small amount, some quarter-master’s stores, of which one hundred and twenty sides of leather was the principal article, part of the artificers’ tools, and three wagons. Besides which, five brass four-pounders, which we had sunk in the river, were discovered to them, raised and carried off. At the foundery, we lost the greater part of the papers belonging to the Auditor’s office, and of the books and papers of the Council office. About five or six tons of powder, as we conjecture, was thrown into the canal, of which there will be a considerable saving by re-manufacturing it. The roof of the foundery was burned, but the stacks of chimneys and furnaces not at all injured. The boring mill was consumed. Within less than forty-eight hours from the time of their landing, and nineteen from our knowing their destination, they had penetrated thirty-three miles, done the whole injury, and retired. Their numbers, from the best intelligence I have had, are about fifteen hundred infantry, and as to their cavalry, accounts vary from fifty to one hundred and twenty; and the whole commanded by the parricide Arnold. Our militia, dispersed over a large tract of country, can be called in but slowly. On the day the enemy advanced to this place, two hundred only were embodied. They were of this town and its neighborhood, and were too few to do any thing. At this time, they are assembled in pretty considerable numbers on the south side of James river, but are not yet brought to a point. On the north side are two or three small bodies, amounting in the whole to about nine hundred men. The enemy were, at four o’clock yesterday evening, still remaining in their encampment at Westover and Berkeley Neck. In the mean while, Baron Steuben, a zealous friend, has descended from the dignity of his proper command, to direct our smallest movements. His vigilance has in a great measure supplied the want of force in preventing the enemy from crossing the river, which might have been very fatal. He has been assiduously employed in preparing equipments for the militia, as they should assemble, in pointing them to a proper object, and in other offices of a good commander. Should they loiter a little longer, and he be able to have a sufficient force, I still flatter myself they will not escape with total impunity. To what place they will point their next exertions, we cannot even conjecture. The whole country on the tide waters and some distance from them, is equally open to similar insult.

I have the honor to be, with every sentiment of respect,

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