<br /> Lee Letter: n320

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: John Page

Dear Sir,

I am much concerned to hear of your illness but I hope the bracing season
that is approaching will restore you to health and vigor.

I have not a doubt about the wisdom of your opinion that our military
should precede our civil arrangements. Unless we are sure of enjoying
them to what purpose do we plague ourselves about wise governments or
good laws? The worst of all governments and the greatest of all abuses
await us, unless we make the most timely and adequate provisions of
fortifications, armed vessels, Cannon, small arms, ammunition, and
Troops. Until these are in a proper way, all other provisions are vain
illusions. A similar mistake is at this moment doing immense injury to
the cause of America in this State, which is totally enervated and lost
in political controversy. The enemies of freedom see this, and
encourage it everywhere. I wish Portsmouth & Norfolk were speedily
made impregnable by re-moving Cannon thither from whereever it can be
got, and then our Ship building may be safely and quickly carried on.
Gen. Stephen says that those places may, on the plan he has laid down,
with a few more guns than are now there, be made secure. I pray you Sir
to recommend strenuously the most vigorous attention to the Cannon
Foundery on James river. Let nothing suffice but the most diligent and
faithful execution of that business. The various factories of small
arms deserve the encouragement and attention. The powder mills &
Salt petre works I hope are not neglected. Let every nerve be strained
this winter to procure Arms, ammunition, and Soldiers clothing from the
foreign Islands. Before the Spring I should suppose our armed Vessels
may make two or three trips apiece with produce out and Stores in. You
will want a great deal of Sail cloth for your Gallies and for Soldiers

The enemy still keep the borders of the Sound and seem not willing to quit
the protection of their Ships. In the 6 last skirmishes we have beaten
them 5 times, and the one they gained was with loss at least equal to
ours. One of their frigates that lately attempted fort Constitution was
towed away after having slipped her Cable under a severe mauling. She
was hulled 26 times by an 18 pounder. I verily believe we shall ketch
the three ships of war that some time ago went up the North river, as
their return seems now impracticable, and that river freezes in the
winter. Our army is in good spirits and do not wish to avoid a general

I am, with great regard, dear Sir your most affectionate and obedient

Richard Henry Lee


Receiver’s copy, (NjR, Elsie O. and Philip D. Sang deposit, 1972).