To George Washington Charlottesville, May 28th, 1781

The Letters of Thomas Jefferson


-- I make no doubt you will have heard, before this shall have the honour of being presented to your Excellency, of the junction of Ld Cornwallis with the force at Petersburg under Arnold, who had succeeded to the command on the death of Majr. Genl Phillips. I am now advised that they have evacuated Petersburg, joined at Westover a reinforcement of 2000 men just arrived from New york, crossed James River, and on the 26th instant, were three miles advanced on their way towards Richmond; at which place Majr Genl the Marquis Fayette, lay with three thousand men Regulars and militia: these being the whole number we could arm, until the arrival of the 1100 arms from Rhode Island, which are about this time at the place where our Public stores are deposited. The whole force of the Enemy within this State, from the best intelligence I have been able to get, is I think about 7000 men, infantry and cavalry, including, also, the small garrison left at Portsmouth: a number of privateers, which are constantly ravaging the Shores of our rivers, prevent us from receiving any aid from the Counties lying on navigable waters; and powerful operations meditated against our Western frontier, by a joint force of British, and Indian Savages, have as your Excellency before knew, obliged us to embody, between two and three thousand men in that quarter. Your Excellency will judge from this State of things, and from what you know of our country, what it may probably suffer during the present campaign. Should the Enemy be able to produce no opportunity of annihilating the Marquis's army a small proportion of their force may yet restrain his movements effectually while the greater part employed in detachment to waste an unarmed country and lead the minds of the people to acquiesce under those events which they see no human power prepared to ward off. We are too far removed from the other scenes of war to say whether the main force of the Enemy be within this State. But I suppose they cannot anywhere spare so great an army for the operations of the field. Were it possible for this circumstance to justify in your Excellency a determination to lend us your personal aid, it is evident from the universal voice, that the presence of their beloved Countryman, whose talents have so long been successfully employed, in establishing the freedom of kindred States, to whose person they have still flattered themselves they retained some right and have ever looked up as their dernier resort in distress. That your appearance among them I say would restore full confidence of salvation, and would render them equal to whatever is not impossible. I cannot undertake to foresee and obviate the difficulties which lie in the way of such a resolution: The whole subject is before you of which I see only detached parts; and your judgment will be formed on a view of the whole. Should the danger of this State and its consequence to the Union be such as to render it best for the whole that you should repair to its assistance the difficulty would be how to keep men out of the field. I have undertaken to hint this matter to your Excellency not only on my own sense of its importance to us but at the solicitations of many members of weight in our Legislature which has not yet Assembled to speak their own desires.

A few days will bring to me that relief which the constitution has prepared for those oppressed with the labours of my office and a long declared resolution of relinquishing it to abler hands has prepared my way for retirement to a private station: still as an individual I should feel the comfortable effects of your presence, and have (what I thought could not have been) an additional motive for that gratitude, esteem, & respect with which I have the honour to be,

your Excellency's most obedient humble servant.