<br /> Lee Letter: b169

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Thomas Jefferson

Dear Sir,

The Express that now waits on you from the field Officers of these exposed counties, furnishes me with an opportunity of thanking you for your favor of the 17th. ult. It is unnecessary for me to make assurances that it will give me pleasure to hear from you when your leisure permits, or that I shall rejoice at the reputation which your administration may derive from the combined application of ability, industry, and the truest affection for our country and its cause. Every good Whig will wish success to a governor whose principles of action are not the incentives of whim, or the suggestions of partiality; but who is influenced by motives of sound whiggism, which I take to be those of genuine philanthropy. Early and uniformly as we have been engaged in this great revolution, I shall not hesitate from time to time freely and without apology to give you my sentiments on such points as appear to me conducive to the security of what we have so far obtained. In Virginia we have properly two frontiers, one bordered by a wilderness, the other by a Sea. into both of these issue savages, and into the latter the most savage. Our people on the former, have by long experience acquired the means of securing themselves with a good degree of success against their human brutes. The eastern frontier has not yet been so successful – Nor will it be, until a wise and good administration like that of Alfred shall apply the proper remedy, and like him may acquire from a happy people the title of great – I suppose that the shores of virginia, washed by navigable waters, exceed a thousa<nd> miles. Almost the whole of this must be come at thro a passage of 20 miles which neglected, leaves us vulne<r>able thro so great an extent of coast. Reason points out the remedy, & as the historian says of Alfred so we must be “sensible that the proper method of opposing an enemy, who made incursions by sea, was to meet them on their own element, took care to provide himself with a naval power. He distributed his armed vessels <at> proper stations – and was sure to meet the Danish vessels either before <or> after they had landed their troops, and to pursue them in all their incursions. tho the Danes might suddenly, by surprize, disembark on the coast, which was generally become desolate by their frequent ravages, they were encountered by the english fleet in their retreat, and escaped not as formerly by abandoning their booty, but paid by their total destruction, the penalty of the disorders which they had committed.” Our situation is abundantly more favorable than was Alfreds for accomplishing the like purposes. Thro our capes they must come, and thro them they must return – the width but 20 miles. proper Spy boats at sea ma notify their approach, and like boats in the bay ma<y> give information of their entrance should they have escaped the vigilance of the former. Forts, and fixed batteries, if feeble will be taken by the enemy, if strong they will not be disturbed, and can only give protection to a mile or two of country round about them. Moveable batteries are therefore the only sure and adequate defence. But this, some say, cannot be obtained against the superior marine force of England – granted for the present. But the disturbance we are now to apprehend from the governmental sea force of britain is not much – our enemies are of the privateer, piratical kind, not formidable for force, but much so for their more than savage brutality – The ill success with which our water defence hath been hitherto conducted has, I fear, disgusted people in general with their only true security, and renders it a most important object to remove the prejudice by an attention so wise to this branch, and such a vigorous application of its power, as to convince of its utility by the security that will be derived from it. I understand that many of our vessels are unfit for use, if so, by laying them up, the few that are fitly made can be more easily manned and provided with necessaries. My engagement, as chairman of the marine committee for some time past, has given me an opportunity of gaining some knowledge in these matters. It is indispensable that seamen should be well provided with those things that are necessary for their situation and employment. Constant work is as necessary as grog, and grog to them is the sine qua non of action and existence – those officers therefore who have laid up their vessels in creeks and coves as some have done, have taken the most effectual way to ruin their men and unfit them for the sea service. It wd. seem to me that this might be prevented by ordering the three principal officers in each vessel to return their journals and logbook every month or six weeks for examination, by which it will appear how they have executed their orders, and what has been their employment. By visiting them at proper times to see that their Vessels are kept in order and that due attention is paid to the seamen, convinced that their conduct would be accurately inspected, that the good & brave would be encouraged and promoted; whilst disgrace and dismission followed the worthless, I suppose that our bay and rivers would not long be exposed to the insults and ravage of Gutridge and his associate plunderers. I know from good information, that these pirates express fear of the Maryland gallies, whilst they deride and scoff at our marine force – In these lower counties of the northern neck our situation is realy distressing – exposed by being on the water, at a distance from any marine protection, a dispersed militia without arms or amunition, puts it in the power of these buccaneers to infest and injure us without danger of punishment. The late destruction of Wiccomico warehouses will very much disable the people of Northumberland from paying their taxes, & has, I hear, much dispirited them. In other parts of the country I hope the taxes will be cheerfully paid, as vast abundance of money must I think enable the people easily to do it. We have in this county appointed two recruiting officers under the late act, who from their dilige<nce> and poularity will I believe succeed in getting men, but th<ey> are unfurnished with money, an absolutely necessary article for the execution of their business. the act has not pointed out how they are to possess themselves of the bounty to be offered the men, yet without some part of it I presume they will make but a poor progress. be pleased Sir to let me know what is to be done in this affair. Our last recruits, all but three that have deserted, and one who went with his brother to the grand army, are ready to be delivered when called for. I hope that our late successes on the western frontier will effectually secure us for this campaign against the favorite war our enemies have long meditated to carry on in that quarter – The reasons assigned for Hamiltons treatment are strongly and pointedly set forth – His fate is well merited – He has been long known as a cruel & <a>ctive partizan of the enemy in the back country – If we could but introduce oeconomy into our expenditures and more attention to business, I think that vigorous taxation would yet redeem us from our money distress – I own I do not like the issuing of a million ordered by our Assembly.

I am affectionately your friend.

Richard Henry Lee

P.S. Affairs seem to be working well in Holland notwithstanding the influence and industry of the Orange family – I hope the majority of those provinces will presently concur in resenting the British insults on their commerce – The most powerful have already done so, by giving convoy to their Trade – Amsterdam & Harlem have already given convoy – Rotterdam & Dort were on the point of joining them.


Thomas Jefferson PapersLibrary of Congress

Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 82 – 86.