Governor Thomas Jefferson to Richard Henry Lee, 17 June 1779

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Letter text, June 17, 1779

(From Life and Correspondence of Richard Henry Lee (1825), II, 189.)
Williamsburg, June 17, 1779.

Dear Sir,- I received your letter, and kind congratulations, for which I return you my thanks. In a virtuous government, and more especially in times like these, public offices are, what they should be, burthens [sic] to those appointed to them, which it would be wrong to decline, though foreseen to bring with them intense labour,[sic] and great private loss. I am, also, still to thank you for a former favour,[sic] enclosing a song and receipt. We have little new here. Colonel Clarke’s expedition against St Vincents[sic] you know of; his prisoners are arrived at Chesterfield, and three of them brought to this place to be severely dealt with; the enclosed paper will explain the matter. We have 300 men, under Colonel Bowman,9 in the Shawanee[sic] country, of whom we hope to receive good accounts: the destruction of the villages of the Cherokees, at Chuchamogga,[sic] and taking their goods, &c., has brought them to sue for peace; but the happiest stroke was the burning twenty-thousand bushels of corn, collected there for the use of the expeditions, which were to have been adopted at the great council.

Governor Hamilton had called at the mouth of the Tanissee,[sic] as mentioned in the within paper. It is a cruel thought, that, when we feel ourselves standing on the firmest ground, in every respect, the cursed arts of our secret enemies, combining with other causes, should effect by depreciating our money, what the open arms of a powerful enemy could not. What is to be done? Taxation is become of no account, for it is foreseen, that, notwithstanding its increased amount, there will still be a greater deficiency than ever. I own I see no assured hope, but in peace, or a plentiful loan of hard money. I shall be obliged by your letters, when convenient to you to write. I never was a punctual correspondent to any person, as I must own to my shame; perhaps my present office will put it more out of my power; however, as it may sometimes furnish me with matter which may induce me to hope my letters may be worth sending, I may venture to say, you shall hear from me whenever I can get over the two-fold difficulty of many letters of absolute necessity to write, and an innate aversion to that kind of business.

I am, dear sir,
Your friend and servant
Thomas Jefferson

Richard Henry Lee,10 Esquire,



9For names of soldiers in Capt. Bowman’s company see “Shenandoah Valley Pioneers,” by T. R. Cartmell [Winchester, Va., 1909], p. 104.

10For reply see Ballagh’s “Letters of Richard Henry Lee,” Vol. II, S2.

Letter text, June 18, 1779

(From Journal of Congress)

On Wed. June 30 was read a letter of Thomas Jefferson, dated 18, and sundry other papers relative to barracks proposed to be erected at Winchester.

Ordered, that the same be returned to the Board, and that they take order thereon. See “Journals of the Continental Congress,” XIV, 786.

Letter text, June 18, 1779

(From Journal of the House of Delegates.)
Friday, June 18.

Resolved, That the Governor be requested to direct the county lieutenant, or the commanding officer of the militia in every county of this Commonwealth, to make the strictest inquiry for all persons who may have so collusively or illegally procured such exemptions [from military duty], and to cause them again to be enrolled in the militia to which they respectively belong.


The Speaker laid before the House, a letter from the Governor, and George Wythe, Esq. on the subject of the revision of the laws, enclosing a list of the revised laws, and referring to manuscript copies of them accompanying it; and the said letter was read, and together with the said list and copies, ordered to be referred to the consideration of the next session of Assembly.

Letter text, June 18, 1779

(From “Memoir, Correspondence and Miscellanies from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson,” edited by Thomas Jefferson Randolph, 1, 455.)
In Council, June 18, 1779.

The board proceeded to the consideration of the letters of Colonel Clarke, and other papers relating to Henry Hamilton, Esq.11 who has acted for some years past, as Lieutenant Governor of the settlement at and about Detroit, and commandant of the British garrison there, under Sir Guy Carleton, as Governor in chief; Philip Dejean [sic], justice of the peace for Detroit, and William Lamothe [sic], captain of volunteers, prisoners of war, taken in the county of Illinois.

They find, that Governor Hamilton has executed the task of inciting the Indians to perpetrate their accustomed cruelties on the citizens of the United States, without distinction of age, sex, or condition, with an eagerness and avidity which evince, that the general nature of his charge harmonized with his particular disposition. They should have been satisfied, from the other testimony adduced that these enormities were committed by savages acting under his commission, but the number of proclamations, which, at different times, were left in houses, the inhabitants of which were killed or carried away by the Indians, one of which proclamations is in possession of the board, under the hand and seal of Governor Hamilton, puts this fact beyond a doubt. At the time of his captivity, it appears, he had sent considerable bodies of Indians against the frontier settlements of these States, and had actually appointed a great council of Indians, to meet him at Tennessee, to concert the operations of this present campaign. They find that his treatment of our citizens and soldiers, taken and carried within the limits of his command, has been cruel and inhuman; that in the case of John Dodge, a citizen of these States, which has been particularly stated to this board, he loaded him with irons, threw him into a dungeon, without bedding, without straw, without fire, in the dead of winter and severe climate of Detroit; that, in that state, he wasted him with incessant expectations of death: that when the rigours [sic] of his situation had brought him so low, that death seemed likely to withdraw him from their power, he was taken out and somewhat attended to, until a little mended, and before he had recovered ability to walk, was again returned to his dungeon, in which a hole was cut, seven inches square only, for the admission of air, and the same load of irons again put on him: that appearing, a second time in imminent danger of being lost to them, he was again taken from his dungeon, in which he had lain from January till June, with the intermission of a few weeks only, before mentioned. That Governor Hamilton gave standing rewards for scalps, but offered none for prisoners, which induced the Indians, after making their captives carry their baggage into the neighborhood of the fort, there put them to death, and carry in their scalps to the Governor, who welcomed their return and success by a discharge of cannon. That when a prisoner, brought

alive, and destined to death by the Indians, the fire already kindled, and himself bound to the stake, was dexterously withdrawn, and secreted from them by the humanity of a fellow prisoner, a large reward was offered for the discovery of the victim, which having tempted a servant to betray his concealment, the present prisoner Dejean,[sic] being sent with a party of soldiers, surrounded the house, took and threw into jail the unhappy victim and his deliverer, where the former soon expired under the perpetual assurances of Dejean, that he was to be again restored into the hands of the savages, and the latter when enlarged, was bitterly reprimanded by Governor Hamilton.

It appears to them, that the prisoner Dejean was on all occasions, the willing and cordial instrument of Governor Hamilton, acting both as judge and keeper of the jails, and instigating and urging him by malicious insinuations and untruths, to increase, rather than relax his severities, heightening the cruelty of his orders by his manner of executing them, offering at one time a reward to one man to be hangman for another, threatening his life on refusal, and taking from his prisoners the little property their opportunities enabled them to acquire.

It appears, that the prisoner Lamothe,[sic] was a captain of the volunteer scalping parties of Indians and whites, who went, from time to time, under general orders to spare neither men, women, nor children. From this detail of circumstances, which arose in a few cases only, coming accidentally to the knowledge of the board, they think themselves authorised [sic] by fair deductions to presume what would be the horrid story of the sufferings of the many, who have expired under their miseries, (which, therefore, will remain forever untold) or, who have escaped from them, and are yet too remote and too much dispersed, to bring together their well founded [sic] accusations against the prisoners.

They have seen that the conduct of the British officers, civil and military, has in the whole course of this war, been savage, and unprecedented among civilized nations; that our officers taken by them, have been confined in crowded jails, loathsome dungeons and prison ships, loaded with irons, supplied often with no food, generally with too little for the sustenance of nature, and that little sometimes unsound and unwholesome whereby such numbers have perished, that captivity and death have with them been almost synonymous; that they have been transported beyond seas, where their fate is out of the reach of our inquiry, have been compelled to take arms against their country, and by a refinement in cruelty, to become murderers of their own brethren.

Their prisoners with us have, on the other hand, been treated with humanity and moderation; they have been fed, on all occasions with wholesome and plentiful food, suffered to go at large within extensive tracts of country, treated with liberal hospitality, permitted to live in the families of our citizens, to labor for themselves to acquire and enjoy profits, and finally to participate of the principal benefits of society, privileged from all burdens.

Reviewing this contrast, which cannot be denied by our enemies themselves, in a single point, and which has now been kept up during

four years of unremitting war, a term long enough to produce well founded despair that our moderation may ever lead them to the practice of humanity; called on by that justice we owe to those who are fighting the battles of our country, to deal out, at length miseries to their enemies, measure for measure, and to distress the feelings of mankind by exhibiting to them spectacles of severe retaliation, where we had long and vainly endeavored to introduce an emulation in kindness; happily possessed, by the fortune of war, of some of those very individuals who, having distinguished themselves personally in this line of cruel conduct, are fit subjects to begin on, with the work of retaliation; this board has resolved to advise the Governor, that the said Henry Hamilton, Philip Dejean and William Lamothe, prisoners of war, be put into irons, confined in the dungeon of the public jail, debarred the use of pen, ink and paper, and excluded all converse, except with their keeper. And the Governor orders accordingly.

Arch: Blair, C. C.

11“Last Wednesday evening were brought to this city under a guard, Henry Hamilton Esq;” etc.—Virginia Gazette, June 19, 1779.