• The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia
  • The Lees of Virginia

The Lee Family Digital Archive is the largest online source for primary source materials concerning the Lee family of Virginia. It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online. We are always looking for new letters, diaries, and books to add to our website. Do you have a rare item that you would like to donate or share with us? If so, please contact our curator, Colin Woodward, about how you can contribute to this historic project.



                                                                                                                Chantilly May the 10th 1781

Dear General[1]

                                Permit me now to thank you for your favor by Mr. Price and for the newspapers inclosed. It is to be hoped that the pride of Great Britain will with her power be reduced e’er long within the bounds of moderation; and this will certainly be the case if the Dutch will exert themselves as they ought, and the Spaniards cease to knock their heads in vain against the rocks of Gibralter. In the mean time, it seems as if we should be left to struggle against the pride, the power, and the rancor of the british court. it is now a war of inveterate malice on her part against us, so that what they cannot carry off they destroy. Your letter of the 4th instant to Colo. J. A. Washington was by him transmitted to me on monday night last at 12 oclock—I did not then know that the Express had been below, and therefore I immediately dispatched a messenger to Colo. Gaskins with a copy of your letter, and a request that he would cause Lookouts to be placed on the most advantageous parts of the Bayshore for descrying vessels far down Chesapeake, and to give me the quickest notice of the coming up of the hostile fleet to the end that an Express might carry it on to you. We have held a council of field officers and captains upon the subject of your letter to Colo. Washington, and our opinion respecting the defence of the lower part of the Northern Neck you will see in the letter to the Governor which is left open for your perusal and that the business might pass thro your hands to government, as we conceive that your superior command should not be interrupted by that of a younger general Officer whom we solicit to be placed in these 5 lower counties. Our situation is singular, differing from that of any other part of the State—we are as it were empounded by the Bay on one side, Potomac & Rappahanock on two other sides, and only a narrow egress of a few miles, in some places I believe not more than 5 miles wide, from whence to the lowest part of the N. Neck, is 60 or 70 miles, containing very many slaves, much Tobacco public & private, with abundant stocks of all kinds. Thus affording to the enemy the double temptation of greatly profiting themselves and ruining a considerable tract of country whilst we are in a manner cut off from the aid of our fellow citizens by water enclosures possessed by the enemies vessels, and only accessible to our friends by a very narrow entrance. Every reason therefore calls for a special attention to such a situation. Whilst your mind may be engrossed by the greater objects up Potomac and about the Falls of Rappahanock, the immediate eye and presence of a skillful general officer to organize our militia with a small regular corps for them to resort to and form with if the enemy should come would at least stay the hand of ravage until you could bring upon their backs a superior force from above—but in our disjointed unskillful present state, and indeed almost unfurnished with ammunition, we may be swept from Fredericksburg to Fleets Bay, 80 or 90 miles, with infinite ease and great profit to the enemy. Your letter ought to have animated us all, yet I found yesterday in a neighboring county that all was quiet and unmoved as if peace with the whole world placed them in the greatest security—In truth Sir we want an active knowing officer upon the spot with power consistent to the compelling a due attention to those things which are requisite for our own salvation. Cannot Gen. Spotswood be placed here so long as the present storm threatens, during which alone it is that our idea extends to the having a regular Corps to countenance the Militia. Can you spare us any Cartridges if we were to send up to Fredericksburg for them. We have a person making for us as fast as possible, but we have not a sufficiency of materials for him. We have appointed a place of rendezvous and a Commissary to make conditional contracts for provision, and persons are employed in making Cartridge boxes & Canteens. We have done everything in our power in this country, and I wish the same activity prevailed in the other counties. We have no military experience, no artillery, little ammunitions, and no Cavalry at present. We are endeavoring for the latter, and hope soon to have about 50 light horse in this County. We hear that our friend Greene goes rapidly on in S. Carolina, hath any certain good news from that or any other quarter reached you? If Gen. Greene pushes the enemy well in the South it may disburthen us of this destructive band that are doing this country so much injury. They seem to destroy for the sake of destruction, and to mean that hostility shall for ever remain between the blood of this country & that of G. Britain. How far is Gen. Wayne off, and is he with our N. Neck Militia to be pushed southward whilst the opinion is that the enemy is coming to this northern river. You say that the Marquis [Lafayette] has directed you “to prepare for the worst.”

I think indeed that you may prepare to see the worst catastrophy take place in the northern parts of Virginia, if all the strength is sent into the south whilst the enemy are quitting that & coming here. But this will surely be rectified by the wisdom of the Marquis and his assistant general officers.

My compliments if you please to your family both civil & military—

                                                                                                I am dear general sincerely yours

                                                                                                                Richard Henry Lee



P.S. When you have read, be pleased to seal & send the Governors letter forward—if you approve, no doubt you will add your weight to our desires.



Richd Henry Lee

May 10 1781      




Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Box 2, M2012.008, Jessie Ball duPont Library, Stratford Hall


Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 March 21


[1] George Weedon (1734-1793) was a general from Fredericksburg, Virginia, who served in the American army during the Revolution. He resigned from the regular army in 1778, joined the Virginia militia, and later served in the Yorktown campaign.

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