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Jefferson to His Excellency Gen Washington

Richmond, February 17, 1781.


By a letter from General Greene, dated Guilford Court House, February 10th, we are informed that Lord Cornwallis had burned his own wagons in order to enable himself to move with greater facility, and had pressed immediately on. The prisoners taken at the Cowpens, were happily saved by the accidental rise of a water-course, which gave so much time as to withdraw them from the reach of the enemy. Lord Cornwallis had advanced to the vicinities of the Moravian towns, and was still moving on rapidly. His object was supposed to be to compel General Greene to an action, which, under the difference of force they had, would probably be ruinous to the latter. General Greene meant to retire by the way of Boyd’s Ferry, on the Roanoke. As yet he had lost little or no stores or baggage, but they were far from being safe. In the instant of receiving this intelligence, we ordered a reinforcement of militia to him, from the most convenient counties in which there was a hope of finding any arms. Some great event must arise from the present situation of things, which, for a long time, will determine the condition of southern affairs.

Arnold lies close in his quarters. Two days ago, I received information of the arrival of a sixty-four gun ship and two frigates in our bay, being part of the fleet of our good ally at Rhode Island. Could they get at the British fleet here, they are sufficient to destroy them; but these being drawn up into Elizabeth river, into which the sixty-four cannot enter, I apprehend they could do nothing more than block up the river. This, indeed, would reduce the enemy, as we could cut off their supplies by land; but the operation being tedious, would probably be too dangerous for the auxiliary force. Not having yet had any particular information of the designs of the French Commander, I cannot pretend to say what measures this aid will lead to.

Our proposition to the Cherokee Chiefs, to visit Congress, for the purpose of preventing or delaying a rupture with that nation, was too late. Their distresses had too much ripened their alienation from us, and the storm had gathered to a head, when Major Martin got back. It was determined to carry the war into their country, rather than await it in ours, and thus disagreeably circumstanced, the issue has been successful.

The militia’ of this State and North Corolina penetrated into their country, burned almost every town they had, amounting to about one thousand houses in the whole, destroyed fifty thousand bushels of grain, killed twenty-nine, and took seventeen prisoners. The latter are mostly women and children.

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

P.S. Since writing the above, I have received information which, though not authentic, deserves attention: that Lord Cornwallis had got to Boyd’s Ferry on the 14th. I am issuing orders, in consequence, to other counties, to embody and march all the men they can arm. In this fatal situation, without arms, there will be no safety for the Convention troops but in their removal, which I shall accordingly order. The prisoners of the Cowpens were at New London (Bedford Court House) on the 14th. T. J.