Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 4

Author: Thomas Jefferson

To the Governor of Virginia.


DEAR SIR, A few days ago, I received certain intelligence of William Morris, my express to you, being killed near the falls of Ohio; news truly disagreeable to me, as I fear many of my letters will fall into the hands of the enemy, at Detroit, although some of them, as I learn, were found in the woods torn in pieces. I do not doubt but before the receipt of this, you will have heard of my late success against Governor Hamilton, at post St. Vincennes. That gentleman, with a body of men, possessed himself of that post on the 15th of December last, repaired the fortifications for a repository, and in the spring, meant to attack this place, which he made no doubt of carrying; where he was to be joined by two hundred Indians from Michilimackinac, and five hundred Cherokees, Chickasaws, and other nations. With this body, he was to penetrate up the Ohio to Fort Pitt, sweeping Kentucky on his way, having light brass cannon for the purpose, joined on his march by all the Indians that could be got to him. He made no doubt, that he could force all West Augusta. This expedition was ordered by the commander-in-chief of Canada. Destruction seemed to hover over us from every quarter; detached parties of the enemy were in the neighborhood every day, but afraid to attack. I ordered Major Bowman to evacuate the fort at the Cohas, and join me immediately, which he did. Having not received a scrape of a pen from you, for near twelve months, I could see but little probability of keeping possession of the country, as my number of men was too small to stand a siege, and my situation too remote to call for assistance. I made all the preparations I possibly could for the attack, and was necessitated to set fire to some of the houses in town, to clear them out of the way. But in the height of the hurry, a Spanish merchant, who had been at St. Vincennes, arrived, and gave the following intelligence: that Mr. Hamilton had weakened himself, by sending his Indians against the frontiers, and to block up the Ohio; that he had not more than eighty men in garrison, three pieces of cannon, and some swivels mounted; and that he intended to attack this place, as soon as the winter opened, and made no doubt of clearing the western waters by the fall. My situation and circumstances induced me to fail on the resolution of attacking him, before he could collect his Indians again. I was sensible the resolution was as desperate as my situation, but I saw no other probability of securing the country. I immediately despatched a small galley, which I had fitted up, mounting two four pounders and four swivels, with a company of men and necessary stores on board, with orders to force her way, if possible, and station herself a few miles below the enemy, suffer nothing to pass her, and wait for further orders. In the meantime, I marched across the country with one hundred and thirty men, being all I could raise, after leaving this place garrisoned by the militia. The inhabitants of the country behaved exceedingly well, numbers of young men turned out on the expedition, and every other one embodied to guard the different towns. I marched the 7th of February. Although so small a body, it took me sixteen days on the route. The inclemency of the season, high waters, &c., seemed to threaten the loss of the expedition. When within three leagues of the enemy, in a direct line, it took us five days to cross the drowned lands of the Wabash river, having to wade often, upwards of two leagues, to our breast in water. Had not the weather been warm, we must have perished. But on the evening of the 23d, we got on dry land, in sight of the enemy; and at seven o’clock, made the attack, before they knew anything of us. The town immediately surrendered with joy, and assisted in the siege. There was a continual fire on both sides, for eighteen hours. I had no expectation of gaining the fort until the arrival of my artillery. The moon setting about one o’clock, I had an entrenchment thrown up within rifle shot of their strongest battery, and poured such showers of well-directed balls into their ports, that we silenced two pieces of cannon in fifteen minutes, without getting a man hurt.

Governor Hamilton and myself had, on the following day, several conferences, but did not agree until the evening, when he agreed to surrender the garrison (seventy-nine in number) prisoners of war, with considerable stores. I got only one man wounded; not being able to lose many, I made them secure themselves well. Seven were badly wounded in the fort, through the ports. In the height of this action, an Indian party that had been to war, and taken two prisoners, came in, not knowing of us. Hearing of them, I despatched a party to give them battle in the commons, and got nine of them, with the two prisoners, who proved to be Frenchmen. Hearing of a convoy of goods from Detroit, I sent a party of sixty men, in armed boats well mounted with swivels, to meet them, before they could receive any intelligence. They met the convoy forty leagues up the river, and made a prize of the whole, taking forty prisoners and about ten thousand pounds worth of goods and provisions; also, the mail from Canada to Governor Hamilton, containing, however, no news of importance But what crowned the general joy, was the arrival of William Morris, my express to you, with your letters, which gave general satisfaction. The soldier),, being made sensible of the gratitude of their country for their services, were so much elated, that they would have attempted the reduction of Detroit, had I ordered them. Having more prisoners than I knew what to do with, I was obliged to discharge a greater part of them, on parole. Mr. Hamilton, his principal officers and a few soldiers, I have sent to Kentucky, under a convoy of Captain Williams, in order to be conducted to you. After despatching Morris with letters to you, treating with the neighboring Indians, &c., I returned to this place, leaving a sufficient garrison at St. Vincennes.

During my absence, Captain Robert George, who now commands the company formerly commanded by Captain Willing, had returned from New Orleans, which greatly added to our strength. It gave great satisfaction to the inhabitants, when acquainted with the protection which was given them the alliance with France, &c, I am impatient for the arrival of Colonel Montgomery, but have heard nothing of him lately. By your instructions to me, I find you put no confidence in General M’Intosh’s taking Detroit, as you encourage me to attempt it, if possible. It had been twice in my power. Had I been able to raise only five hundred men when I first arrived in the country, or when I was at St. Vincennes, could I have secured my prisoners, and only have had three hundred good men, I should have attempted it, and since learn there could have been no doubt of success, as by some gentlemen lately from that post, we are informed that the town and country kept three days in feasting and diversions, on hearing of my success against Mr. Hamilton, and were so certain of my embracing the fair opportunity of possessing myself of that post, that the merchants and others provided many necessaries for us on our arrival; the garrison, consisting of only eighty men, not daring to stop their diversions. They are now completing a new fort, and I fear too strong for any force I shall ever be able to raise in this country. We are proud to hear Congress intends putting their forces on the frontiers, under your direction. A small army from Pittsburg, conducted with spirit, may easily take Detroit, and put an end to the Indian war. Those Indians who are active against us, are the six nations, part of the Shawnese, the Megmonies, and about half the Chesaweys, Ottawas, Jowaas, and Pottawatimas nations, bordering on the lakes. Those nations who have treated with me, have behaved since very well; to wit, the Peankishaws, Kiccapoos, Orcaottenans of the Wabash river, the Kaskias, Perrians, Mechigamies, Foxes, Socks, Opays, Illinois and Pones, nations of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Part of the Chesaweys have also treated, and are peaceable. I continually keep agents among them, to watch their motions and keep them peaceably inclined. Many of the Cherokees, Chickasaws, and their confederates, are, I fear, ill disposed. It would be well if Colonel Montgomery should give them a dressing, as he comes down the Tennessee. There can be no peace expected from many nations, while the English are at Detroit. I strongly suspect they will turn their arms against the Illinois, as they will be encouraged. I shall always be on my guard, watching every opportunity to take the advantage of the enemy, and, if I am ever able to muster six or seven hundred men, I shall give them a shorter distance to come and fight me, than at this place.

There is one circumstance very distressing, that of our moneys being discredited, to all intents and purposes, by the great number of traders who come here in my absence, each outbidding the other, giving prices unknown in this country by five hundred per cent., by which the people conceived it to be of no value, and both French and Spaniards refused to take a farthing of it. Provision is three times the price it was two months past, and to be got by no other means than my own bonds, goods, or force. Several merchants are now advancing considerable sums of their own property, rather than the service should suffer, by which I am sensible they must lose greatly, unless some method is taken to raise the credit of our coin, or a fund be sent to Orleans, for the payment of the expenses of this place, which would at once reduce the price of every species of provision; money being of little service to them, unless it would pass at the ports they trade at. I mentioned to you, my drawing some bills on Mr. Pollock in New Orleans, as I had no money with me. He would accept the bills, but had not money to pay them off, though the sums were trifling; so that we have little credit to expect from that quarter. I shall take every step I possibly can, for laying up a sufficient quantity of provisions, and hope you will immediately send me an express with your instructions. Public expenses in this country, have hitherto been very low, and may still continue so, if a correspondence is fixed at New Orleans for payment of expenses in this country, or gold and silver sent. I am glad to hear of Colonel Todd’s appointment. I think government has taken the only step they could have done, to make this country flourish, and be of service to them. No other regulation would have suited the people. The last account I had of Colonel Rogers, was his being in New Orleans, with six of his men. The rest he left at the Spanish Ozack, above the Natches. I shall immediately send him some provisions, as I learn he is in great want. I doubt, he will not be able to get his goods up the river except in Spanish bottoms. One regiment would be able to clear the Mississippi, and do great damage to the British interests in Florida, and, by properly conducting themselves, might perhaps gain the affection of the people, so as to raise a sufficient force to give a shock to Pensacola. Our alliance with France has entirely devoted this people to our interest. I have sent several copies of the articles to Detroit, and do not doubt but they will produce the desired effect.

Your instructions I shall pay implicit regard to, and hope to conduct myself in such a manner as to do honor to my country.

I am, with the greatest respect, your humble servant,


P.S. I understand there is a considerable quantity of cannon ball at Pittsburg. We are much in want of four and six pound ball. I hope you will immediately order some down.


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Chicago: Thomas Jefferson, "To the Governor of Virginia.," Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 4 in Thomas Jefferson, the Writings of Jefferson: Monticello Edition, Vol. 4 (Washington, D.C.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904-1905), Pp.60-65 Original Sources, accessed March 25, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KT2SXLGXKNX6XL3.

MLA: Jefferson, Thomas. "To the Governor of Virginia." Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 4, in Thomas Jefferson, the Writings of Jefferson: Monticello Edition, Vol. 4 (Washington, D.C.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904-1905), Pp.60-65, Original Sources. 25 Mar. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KT2SXLGXKNX6XL3.

Harvard: Jefferson, T, 'To the Governor of Virginia.' in Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 4. cited in , Thomas Jefferson, the Writings of Jefferson: Monticello Edition, Vol. 4 (Washington, D.C.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904-1905), Pp.60-65. Original Sources, retrieved 25 March 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KT2SXLGXKNX6XL3.