I am well informed that a party of the Enemy, amounting in white & black people to an hundred armed men, landed last Friday at the plantation of Mr. Motram Ball on Potomac River in the adjoining County & having marched to the late Col. Presley Thorntons house about three or four miles into the Country robbed Mr. Ball (who now lives in that house, his own being lately burned) and the Stewart of Col. Thorntons estate of all their moveables with eight Negroes, declaring they shoud soon return to the same business as they well knew the Militia to be without arms – They set fire to Col. Thorntons house but extinguished it vain on being informd that it belonged to a person in England – I have thought it my duty to give your Excellency this intelligence, to the end that such measures as the wisdom of the executive may adopt, & the power of Government be equal to, may be applied for preventing the public & private injuries that shall, & otherwise certainly will flow from these piratical incursions; and that neither myself nor my brother Officers may be exposed to censure for not preventing what it is certainly not in our power to prevent.

The militia of these lower & exposed Counties are in effect disarmed, by their best arms being taken from them whilst in Gloucester by order of Government, & those that remain being of indifferent quality: & much dispersed by the dispersion of the people in whose hands they are placed – Some ammunition we have but not enough or an hours engagement & we are without flints.

In the course of this month I suppose there will be of public property arising from the late revenue Laws & from payments heretofore made under former Laws, not less than three hundred Hogsheads of Tobacco in the several Warehouses of this County, which by such a force as robbed Mr. Balls, may in one day be destroyed under our present disarmd, defenceless state – In the very same exposed situation will be the public revenue Tobacco of those water coast Counties above & below us – To this we may add the specifics collected & collecting under the act of last fall.

It is not to be presumed that the enemy are unacquainted with the collection & exposure of revenue property, & since they know already that the Militia are disarmed, it is of all things most probable that they will aim at disarming Government by destroying its revenue; and to injure Government in the sentiments of the people who while they feel the pressure of heavy taxes, find not the benefit of protection, & see the property which they have with difficulty spared destroyed without producing benefit to the Community.

Col. Davies informed me he had ordered Mr. Dick of Fredericksburg to furnish this County with an hundred stand of arms – this number tho much short of our wants, would help us considerably, but they are not arrived & our use for them may be the next hour-fixed ammunition woud for us be better than that which is not made up, as we have no Cartridge paper or person now here acquainted with the business of making Cartridges.

After all, supposing the Militia well armd, your Excellency’s perfect knowledge of this matter will instantly satis$ you how very inadequate to this kind of defence is the best armd Militia – their dispersion admits not the guarding against the sudden incursions of a quick moving enemy – It is by a water defence alone that aggression from the water is to be guarded against along an extensive & open coast – These pirates are daily growing more formidable by their new adopted plan of arming black men, & if effectual care be not taken to prevent them, whilst in a state of infancy, it requires no great penetration to discover that this beginning may end in very extensive consequences – It woud surely be of most important benefit if the Cormorant with that Barge lately taken at Richmond from the Eastern Shore could be immediately sent up the Bay to scour the Tangier Eastern shore, & some distance in the mouths of the wide Rivers.

By this time I suppose the trench troops are gone & of consequence the frigates they had in our Bay, which latter circumstance renders it of infinite consequence that those hordes of pirates shoud be broken up, dispersed & destroyed before a water protection may come superior to ours to cover their ruinous depredations.

Your Goodness will pardon me Sir for saying so much on a subject to which your own judgement is far more compitent, & I hope you will ascribe it to my anxiety for the interest & honor of our Country & its government – I have the honor to be, with the greatest respect, esteem & regard Sir

Your Excellencies most Obedient & humble Servant –

Richard Henry Lee

P.S. Indisposition obliged me to employ an Amanuensis thus far, and just now authentic intelligence has come that these pirates in attempting to take a flower loaded brig in St. Marys for Boston; were repulsed with the loss of ten men killed, several wounded, and some prisoners, the latter of whom declare that these pirates have contracted in N. York for the delivery of 500 Negro men in the course of this summer, and that they mean to effect their purpose by arming Negroes as they get such as are fit for their warfare – their whole crew was Americans and Negroes except two Scotch irish, & one frenchman – they were commanded by Whaling & Penny, two most notorious Pirates. Upon St. Georges Island they left some wounded Men who inform that these fellows parted with them determined to bring up a greater force to continue their operations. This Messenger is a hired Express who receives his Masters pay & whom I hope yr. Excellency will order to be paid. He can bring us a few flints.


Dreer Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 270 – 73.