Papers of John Adams, volume 12

From Henry Knox, 21 October 1781 Knox, Henry JA From Henry Knox, 21 October 1781 Knox, Henry Adams, John
From Henry Knox
Camp before York in Virginia 21 October 1781 My dear Sir

I have had the honor of receiving several Letters from your Excellency, since your departure from america, which I have duly answerd, and hope you have received them. Your ideas of the necessity of some important blow to the british power in the southern states were extremely just.1 The reasons are too obvious to be mentioned. I am happy my dear Sir, in having it in my power to announce to you the joyful event of the reduction of Lord cornwallis and his whole force in Virginia. This important affair has been affected by the most harmonious concurrence of circumstances that could possibly have happened. A fleet and troops from the West Indies, under the orders of one of the best men in the World, an Army of Americans and French troops, marching from the N. River 500 miles, and a fleet of Count De Barras, from Rhode Island, all joining so exactly in point of time as to render What has happened almost certain. I shall not enter into a detail of circumstances previous to the collection of our force at Williamsburg 12 miles distance from this place which was made on the 27th ultimo. On the 28th we marched to this camp and on the 29th and 30th we completed our investiture of York, a body of American militia the Duke Lazuns Legion and some marines from the fleet of Count De Grasse at the same time formed in the vicinity of Glocester so as to prevent any incursions of the Enemy into the Country. From the 1 of October to the 6th was spent in preparing our materials for the seige in bringing forward our Cannon and stores and in reconnoitg the points of attack. On the evening of the 6th we broke ground and began our first parrellel within 600 Yards of the Enemies Works undiscoverd. The first parrallel, some redouts and all our batteries finished by the 9th at 2 oClock PM when we opened our batteries and kept them playing continualy. On the night of the 12 we began our second parrallel at 300 yds distance from the Enemy, and on the night of the 14th We stormed the two redoubts which the Enemy had advanced of their main works. The gallant troops of France under the orders of Baron 30 Verominil and the hardy soldiers of America under the Marquis de la Fayette attacked seperate works and carried them both in an instant. This brilliant stroke was effected without any great loss on our side, The Enemy lost between one and two hundred. This advantage was important and gave us an opportunity of perfecting our 2d parallel into which we took the two redoubts. On the 16th just before day the enemy made a sortie and spiked up some of our Cannon but were soon repulsed and driven back to their works. The Cannon were soon cleard and the same day our batteries in the 2d parrallel began to fire and continued on without intermission untill 9 oClock in the morning of the 17 october, ever memorable on account of the Saratoga affair when the Enemy sent a flage offering to treat of a surrender of the posts of York and Glouster. The firing continued untill two oClock when Commissioners on both sides met to adjust the capitulation which was not finished and signed, untill 12 oClock on the 19th. Our troops took possession of two redouts of the Enemy soon after, and about two oClock the Enemy marched out and surrendered their Army. The whole Garrison are prisoners of War and had the same honors only as were granted to our garrison at Charleston. Their Coulors were cased and they were prohibited playing a french or American tune. The Returns are not, yet collected but including Very sick and well they are more than 7000. exclusive of seamen who are supposd to amount to 1000. There are near forty five of topsail Vesells in the harbour, about one half of which the Enemy sunk upon different occasions. About two hundred peices of Cannon, nearly one half of which are brass, a great number of Arms Drums and Colours are among the trophies of this decisive stroke. The prisoners are to be sent into any part of this state, Maryland or Pennsylvania.

The consequences will be extensively beneficial, the Enemy will immediately be confind to Charleston and New York reduced to a defensive War of those two posts, for which they have not more troops in America than to form Island Garrisons.

The exalted talents of General Greene have been amply displayed in North and South Carolina—without an army without means, without any thing he has performed Wonders—he will now be reinforced with a large body of troops which will enable him to push the Enemy to the gates of Charlestown.

This Army is compos’d of French and American troops the former on a proportion of two to one, and Commanded by the good General Rochambeau 3000 of the former came from the West Indies, with 31 the whole Commanded in person by our beloved General Washington2 whose distinguished patriotism and worth rises every day, and demands the rude pen of this of some annimated republican to do him sufficient justice. The Harmony and good understanding between the American and french troops exceed all description—one soul actuates the whole mass, and all are fired with Zeal for the interests of America. The troops which came with Count De Grasse from the West Indies under the orders of Marquis St. Simon will return with him immediately. The Army which came from France under Count Rochambeau will be cantond for the present in this state. The American troops belonging to the states east of Pennsylvania will immediately depart for the north River. Those west from Pennsylvania inclusively will go to the southward. The Enemy have a post at Wilmington in North Carolina of which these troops will dispossess them and then join General Greene.

We have a very respectable and seasoned force on the Hudsons River amply sufficient to Garrison the important posts in the highlands and to form a small covering army.

If I can possibly procure copies of the capitulation and returns of the troops and stores taken I will do myself the honor to enclose them.

The unequivocal testimonies which America has already received of the friendship of France induces us to hope much from the future. If it shall be found possible to have a superior french fleet before New York by the 1st of Next June to stay certainly through the operation, I should not hesitate to pronounce with as much decision as military affairs will admit that in six Weeks we should wrest that important place from the hands of the English.

My Brother will soon go to Europe and will certainly have the honor to wait on you.3 I think it would be unnecessary for me to request the favor of your civilities to him.

I have the honor to be with great esteem and respect Your Excellencys Most obedient Servant H Knox

P.S. Since writing the foregoing his Excellency Gen Washington has informed me that he has enclosed to you authenticated copies of the capitulation and returns as far as can be collected.4

Dft (NHi:Gilder Lehrman Coll., on deposit). JA received the RC on or about 6 Dec. (to C. W. F. Dumas, 6 Dec., below), but it is not in the Adams Papers. On 13 Dec., JA wrote to Jean Luzac, below, and enclosed Knox’s letter for publication in the Gazette de Leyde. Luzac neither published the letter nor returned it to JA.

32 1.

The last letter that JA had received from Henry Knox was dated 10 Oct. 1779, and was a reply to JA’s of 19 Sept. 177 (vol. 8:194–195, 152–153). Since returning to Europe in 1779, JA had written to Knox on 28 Feb. (vol. 8:375) and 18 March 1780 (American Antiquarian Society, Proceedings, 56 [1946]:223; JA, Papers, 9:61–62). No replies by Knox to those letters nor any letter by JA commenting on the need for an “important blow” in the South have been found.


The remainder of this sentence was written in the left margin and marked for insertion at this point.


William Knox had first gone to Europe on business in 1779 and returned to America in 1780. By the date of this letter he presumably had embarked on his second business trip to Europe (Thomas Morgan Griffiths, Major General Henry Knox and the Last Heirs to Montpelier, Monmouth, Maine, 1965, p. 9). On 22 Nov. he wrote from Lorient (Adams Papers) to forward two unidentified letters to JA and congratulate him on the victory at Yorktown; no reply has been found.


See Washington’s letter of 22 Oct., below.

To Benjamin Franklin, 22 October 1781 JA Franklin, Benjamin To Benjamin Franklin, 22 October 1781 Adams, John Franklin, Benjamin
To Benjamin Franklin
Amsterdam October 22d. 17811 Sir

I have recieved your Excellency’s Letter of the 12th.

I should be much obliged to You for your sentiments, of what is to be understood by accepting the Mediation of a Power or Powers? Is a Mediator to be an Arbitrator, and is the Power that accepts the Mediation bound to submit to the Award? Is the great question of the War submitted to the discussion and final Judgment of the Mediator? For Example, if the United States should accept of a Mediation between them and Great Britain, would this be to submit to the Judgment of the Mediator, whether America should be independent, or come again under the dominion of England? I hope We should run no Risque of a Judgment against Us, but it seems to be too much to submit. I am glad the Communication is to be postponed.

It is said that the Prince de Gallitzin has demanded a categorical Answer from their High Mightinesses concerning the offer of Mediation of his Sovereign of opening Negotiations of Peace between Holland and Great Britain: adding, that upon this Answer might depend not only the Peace of the Republick, but also certain Measures, which his Court is determined to take relative to the present Conjuncture of affairs.2

Some Persons surmise, that the meaning of these mysterious words is, that if Holland persists in reckoning herself among the Number of the Enemies of G. Britain, the Empress will think herself under The Necessity of becoming her Friend, to prevent her from being crushed. But We may as well surmise that She intends to acknowledge the Independence of America, and invite Congress to send Ministers to Vienna.


I thank your Excellency for your Advice as a Physician, which I have ventured to follow, though I had taken very largely of the Bark in my illness by the Advice of Dr Osterdyke, a very able Physician at the head of his Profession in this Town.3

I thank You, Sir, for Major Jackson’s Letter.4

Pray what is to become of the Continental Goods which Gillon left here? Would it not be well for Jackson to come here and take Care of them? I suppose they are still on board Vessels chartered to transport them to America, and detained for the freight. Who is to pay this Freight?5

I had written thus far, when accidentally seeing Mr De Neufville Junr:, he mentioned to me his having recieved a Letter some time ago when I was sick, from your Excellency, referring them to me, about the affair of the Goods.6 This was the first hint I ever had of the Letter. Indeed at the time when he recieved it, I was insensible to even the Incision Knife.

I have never had, since I have been in Europe, the least Connection in business of any kind public or private with Gillon. He wrote me two very long Letters last Winter and Spring, using all the Arguments his Wit could devise to persuade me to lend him the Credit of the United States by furnishing him with some of my Obligations to answer his Necessities. I answered both Letters forthwith by a positive and final Refusal.7 These Letters both his and mine will speak for themselves. I knew nothing of his being gone to Paris, when he entered into the Contract with Collo Laurens, nor did I know of Mr De Neufvilles being there. When I recieved a Letter from your Excellency and another from Collo Laurens, requesting me to draw Bills upon your Excellency for payment for the Goods,8 I was willing to have taken trouble on myself from Respect to your Excellency and to Coll Laurens, but was relieved from this, by your Excellency’s accepting the Bills drawn, as I understand, by Major Jackson: so that never, from first to last, directly or indirectly, have I ever been consulted in this Business; I Shall Should9 therefore be justifiable I suppose, if I were to persevere in avoiding to give any Opinion about it. But here is at present a large Interest of the United States suffering, and Americanus sum et nil Americanium a me alienum puto.10

To all appearance, Coll Laurens has been imposed on, and Gillon has violated his Contract with him. The Goods are left here on board Vessels hired to carry them. The freight is not paid: the Goods will be held I suppose responsible. The Question is, what is to be done?


Money must be advanced I suppose for the freight of the Vessels. If your Excellency cannot advance it, I presume the Goods must in part be applied to the payment of this Expence: for there is nobody in Europe has any Money belonging to the States but your Excellency, nor Credit to procure any.

I would submit it to your Excellency, whether Jackson had not better come here and finish this Business, either by selling the Goods outright, at a loss no doubt, or by selling enough of them to pay the freight of the rest, or by agreeing for the freight and paying it at your Excellency’s Expense,11 as you shall advise.

For my own part, I have no Judgment in the Prices of Freight, the Goodness of Vessels, or Masters or Mariners, and therefore if I were to interfere, it could be only by employing some Merchants to do the Business; and no Merchant here, in my Opinion, would do it with more Care or success than Jackson. Moreover, I have certainly no Authority to order the Goods or any of them sold, and without this I have no Money to discharge the freight or pay for any Expenses.

That this affair has been miserably, or rather abominably managed by Gillon seems to be past a doubt. But the question is how shall We prevent it occasioning a greater loss and more mischief than necessary? I should not have omitted a Moment to write to your Excellency upon the subject, if I had had the least Suspicion that You had referred it to me; provided I could have held a Pen, which indeed I can very badly do now. I am still very far from being a Man in Health and capable of going through much Business. Yet nothing shall suffer for want of my doing what I have strength to do.

I have the honor to be, with great Respect, Sir, your most obedient and most humble Servant John Adams

RC in John Thaxter’s hand (PPAmP:Franklin Papers); endorsed: “J. Adams Octr 22. 1781.” LbC (Adams Papers).


This is JA’s second letter to Franklin of this date. In the first (LbC, Adams Papers), JA indicated that he had drawn a bill for 2,000 crowns in favor of Fizeaux, Grand & Co. to discharge bills that he had accepted.


For the Russian offer to mediate the Anglo-Dutch war, see JA’s letters to the president of Congress, 6 Aug., calendared, and to Benjamin Franklin, 25 Aug. (vol. 11:440, 467–471). The Dutch accepted Russia’s mediation on 4 March 1782 (De Madariaga, Armed Neutrality of 1780, p. 351).


At this point in the Letterbook is the following canceled passage: “Major Jacksons Letter I had a Letter, from Major Jackson, I had a Letter from Major Jackson, from Corunna, but not so particular as that to your Excellency. Gillon left this Place, in a manner that occasioned much Censure and Complaint. What his View can be I cant conceive. He cant return here, nor go to America, with any Prospect of a good Recep-35tion, and as to going, where Jackson Hints, his Hopes there, would not be very good.” For Jackson’s letter to JA, see Adams Family Correspondence , 4:219–220.


See Franklin’s letter of 12 Oct., note 2, above.


Following this paragraph in the Letterbook is the abbreviation “Mem.” and the canceled passage “Every day convinces me more and more of the Utility and absolute necessity, some where or other in the Universe, of a Deity. It is not possible to do without one.” Following this deletion is a canceled complementary closing.


Franklin to Jean de Neufville & Fils, 4 Sept. (Franklin, Papers , 35:437–438).


Gillon’s letters were dated 12 Nov. 1780 and 8 March 1781; JA’s replies were of 12 Nov. 1780 and 10 March 1781 (vol. 10:335–337; 11:186–191).


These were John Laurens’ letter of 28 April and Franklin’s of the 29th (vol. 11:293–296, 298–299).


The correction of John Thaxter’s copying error is in JA’s hand.


That is, I am an American and nothing American is foreign to me. This is a paraphrase of Terence, Heautontimorumenos, Act I, scene i, line 25. Dumas invoked the same passage on 1 Nov. 1780. For the complete Latin text, see vol. 10:318.


The following four words are in JA’s hand, and were entered in the Letterbook by John Thaxter.