<br /> Lee Letter: n331

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Patrick Henry

The movements of the enemy’s army in the Jerseys, by which the neighborhood
of Philadelphia had become the seat of war, determined Congress to
adjourn from thence to this town, where publick business will be
entered on the 20 instant, unless a sufficient number of members should
be assembled to begin sooner. At this place the publick business can be
conducted with more deliberation and undisturbed attention, than could
be the case in a city subject to perpetual alarm, and that had
necessarily been made a place of arms.1 The
propriety of this measure was strongly enforced by the continental
Generals Putnam and Mifflin, who commanded in Philadelphia, and who
gave it as their opinion, that, although they did not consider the town
as liable to fall into the enemy’s hands but by surprise, yet that
possibility rendered it improper for Congress to continue there.

So long as the American Army kept together the enemy’s progress was
extremely limited, but they knew and seized the opportunity of coming
forward, which was occasioned by the greater part of the army
dispersing in consequence of short enlistments; and this indeed was a
plan early founded on hopes of accommodation, and for the greater ease
of the people.

When a new Army is assembled, the enemy must again narrow their bounds, and
this demonstrates the necessity of every State exerting every means to
bring the new levies into the field with all possible expedition. It is
the only sure means of placing America on the ground where every good
man would wish to see it.

The British army is at present stationed along the Delaware from above
Trenton, on the Jersey side, to Burlington, about 20 miles above
Philadelphia. General Washington, with near 6000 men, is on the river
side, opposite to Trenton; and the gondolas, with other armed vessels,
are stationed from Philadelphia to Trenton, to prevent the passage of
the Delaware. General Lee, with about 5000 men, remains on the enemy’s
rear, a little to the westward of their line of march through the
Jerseys.

In this State, if the country associators of Pennsylvania, and from this
neighborhood, reinforce the General with a few thousands, so as to
enable him to press the enemy’s front, it may turn out a happy
circumstance that they have been encouraged to leave their ships so far
behind.

We have good reason to expect a general war in Europe soon, and we have
such proof of the friendship of France, as to leave little doubt of the
willingness of that country to assist us.

The enclosed handbill will sufficiently instruct the Americans what
treatment they are to expect from the cruel disturbers of their peace,
and evince the necessity of the most speedy and manly exertions to
drive these foes of the human race from this
continent.2

I am, &c.,

Richard Henry Lee.

Notes:

Printed in William Wirt Henry, Patrick Henry, Life,
Correspondence and Speeches,
3 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner’s
Sons, 1891), 3:33 – 35.

Printed also in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 1, 1762 – 1778, pp. 229 – 30.

1 For further information on the meeting place and activities of Congress
while in Baltimore, see Edith R. Bevan, “The Continental Congress in
Baltimore, Dec. 20, 1776 to Feb. 27, 1777,” Md. Hist. Magazine 42
(March 1947): 21 – 28.

2 For the handbill from Buck’s County, N.J., describing “scenes of desolation
and outrage” resulting from the march of British and Hessian troops
through New Jersey, see W. W. Henry, Patrick Henry, 3:35 – 36; and
Evans, Am. Bibliography, no. 15037.