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TO THE VIRGINIA DELEGATES IN CONGRESS.
In Council, May 10, 1781.
A small affair has taken place between the British commanding officer in this state, General Phillips, and the Executive, of which, as he may endeavor to get rid of it through the medium of Congress, I think it necessary previously to apprise you.
General Scott obtained permission from the Commandant at Charleston, for vessels with necessary supplies to go from hence to them, but instead of sending the original, sent only a copy of the permission taken by his brigade-major. I applied to General Phillips to supply this omission by furnishing a passport for the vessel. Having just before taken great offence at a threat of retaliation in the treatment of prisoners, he enclosed his answer to my letter under this address, 'To Thomas Jefferson Esq., American Governor of Virginia.' I paused on receiving the letter, and for some time would not open it; however, when the miserable condition of our brethren in Charleston occurred to me, I could not determine that they should be left without the necessaries of life, while a punctilio should be discussing between the British General and myself; and knowing that I had an opportunity of returning the compliment to Mr. Phillips in a case perfectly corresponding, I opened the letter.
Very shortly after, I received, as I expected, the permission of the board of war, for the British flag-vessel, then in Hampton Roads with clothing and refreshments, to proceed to Alexandria. I enclosed and addressed it, 'To William Phillips Esq., commanding the British forces in the Commonwealth of Virginia.' Personally knowing Phillips to be the proudest man of the proudest nation on earth, I well know he will not open this letter; but having occasion at the same time to write to Captain Gerlach, the flag-master, I informed him that the Convention troops in this state should perish-for want of necessaries, before any should be carried to them through this state, till General Phillips either swallowed this pill of retaliation, or made an apology for his rudeness. And in this, should the matter come ultimately to Congress, we hope for their support.
He has the less right to insist on the expedition of his flag, because his letter, instead of enclosing a passport to expedite ours, contained only an evasion of the application, by saying he had referred it to Sir Henry Clinton, and in the mean time, he has come up the river, and taken the vessel with her loading, which we had chartered and prepared to send to Charleston, and which wanted nothing but the passport to enable her to depart.
I would further observe to you, that this gentleman's letters to the Baron Steuben first, and afterwards to the Marquis Fayette, have been in a style so intolerably insolent and haughty, that both these gentlemen have, been obliged to inform him, that if he thinks proper to address them again in the same spirit, all intercourse shall be discontinued.
I am, with great respect and esteem,
Gentlemen, your most obedient servant,
- President Jefferson