[Circ. April 9? 1781]1


My dear and much esteemed friend


A great variety of engagements have prevented me from writing to you lately, and I presume that the same cause has deprived me of the pleasure of hearing from you.

We neither of us mean to distress the other, or to interrupt attention to the public business. From the latter I have claimed some respite by withdrawing, for the present, from our Assembly—but I assure you that our hands are full upon this river with the frequent calls made upon our shores by the piratical vessels of the enemy. I am at present lamed by my horse falling with me in a late engagement we had with the enemy who landed under cover of a heavy cannonade from three vessels of war upon a small body of our militia well posted—After a small engagement we had the pleasure to see the enemy, tho superior in number, run to their boats and precipitately reembark having sustained a small loss of killed and wounded. It seems that Lord Cornwallis has finally reached Wilmington, after having smarted severely for his rash attempt—G. [General Nathanael] Greene says, “if the Militia of N. Carolina had done half their duty the victory would have been complete” meaning the termination of the battle of Guilford—Gen. Greene, like Scipio,2 has left Cornwallis in N. Carolina and pushed into S. Carolina—intending no doubt to compel the British general to relinquish his prospects this way, or find his southern conquests wrested from him, if he does not return, to defend them. It will be a misfortune if this worthy General is not well supported in his measures which are realy [sic] wise. He is certainly a Man of Talents. Hitherto the weight of the Southern war has fallen almost entirely upon Virginia—At present, with an Army of the enemy under Philips & Arnold pushing into our Country, and the hostile Vessels plundering along our extensive shores, being pierced by deep rivers in every part, we can execute but partially any law for recruiting the Army, and our Militia is constantly on foot, so that I fear the consequences resulting from neglected Agriculture. And to add to our misfortunes, we want arms, & ammunition. In this real state of things, an effectual marine aid from our Ally is indispensable, and much more assistance from the United States than has yet, so far as I know, been contemplated for the South—In perfect ease, the Northern States may have furnished their quotas of Troops to the Army, in which case I judge the number produced north of Pennsylvania will be near 16000 men exclusive of 5000 french Troops—Is it possible Sir that all these can be necessary in the North, when the enemy are making their last vigorous push in the South? It should be considered that Georgia & S. Carolina are not a help but an expence to us now, & that N. Carolina is rather an instrument in the hands of our enemies than of much utility to us. If I am not mistaken much in this way of reasoning, we should expect not only a marine aid from our Ally, but more assistance from Congress. If the enemy are baffled in their Southern prospects we may expect an honorable peace quickly after, for most assuredly this is the last hope of our wicked enemies.

My brother Dr. Lee3 will pay the money that you kindly procured for Mr. Wm Lee—it has been paid by Mr. Lees friend here in a manner that I hope will be satisfactory. I shall be ever happy to hear from you, because I shall not whilst I continue to be, be other than my dear Sir your faithful friend and affectionate hble servt.




1. The collected letters of Richard Henry Lee has the letter dated as “[April 1?]” But the skirmish at Stratford took place on April 9, so the letter must have been written on or after that day.

2. Scipio Africanus (ca. 236-187), a Roman general best known for defeating Hannibal.

3. Arthur Lee, the diplomat (1740-1792). He was born at Stratford and studied medicine at the University of Edinborough, graduating from there in 1764.



Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2021 August 4


Source: The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume II: 1779-1794, James Curtis Ballagh, ed., pp. 218-220.