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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Henry Clinton to Charles Cornwallis, Marquis Cornwallis
Clinton, Henry, Sir, 1738?-1795
March 02, 1781 - March 08, 1781
Volume 17, Pages 993-994


New York, 2d & 5th March, 1781.

My Lord:

March 2nd.

Your Lordship may probably hear that the Army and Navy in Chesapeake are blocked up by a superior French Naval Force to that under Capt. Symonds. The first account I had of it was from Gen. Arnold dated the 14th Feb., & I sent it immediately to the Admiral at Gardner's Bay. A day or two afterwards, I had it confirmed that they were part of the fleet from Rhode Island, which I have since heard sailed from there on the 9th Ultimo. Notwithstanding which I greatly fear he has not a Naval Force to relieve them. Washington has detached some New England Troops under La Fayette and Howe that way.

March 5th.

If so much time is given I cannot answer for consequences. Portsmouth is safe at this Season against any attack from the Suffolk side; but not so far from a landing in any of the Bays to the Southward of Elizabeth river. I have much to lament that the Admiral did not think it advisable to send there at first, as Brigadier General Arnold's projected move in favor of your Lordship's Operations will have been stopped. And if the Admiral Delays it too long, I shall dread still more the fatal consequences. I have Troops already embarked in a great proportion to that of the Enemy, but to send them under two Frigates only before the Chesapeake is our own, is to sacrifice the Troops and their Convoy.

I inclose your Lordship all the news I have been able to collect.

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Ethan Allen has, I think, quitted Congress, and put them at Defiance. Your Lordship will see his Plan by the Newspaper of the 28th February, said to be genuine. Discontent runs high in Connecticut. In short my Lord there seems to be nothing wanting to give a mortal Stab to Rebellion, but a proper Reinforcement and a permanent Superiority at Sea for the next Campaign, without which any Enterprize depending on Water Movements must certainly run great Risque. Should the Troops already embarked for Chesapeake proceed, & when there, be able to undertake any Operation in addition to what Brigadier Gen. Arnold proposes; I am confident it will be done. Major Gen. Philips will command this Expedition. Till Col. Bruce arrives, I am uncertain what Reinforcements are intended for this Army. The Minister has, however, assured me that every possible Exertion shall be made.

I shall fear for our Post at Portsmouth should the Enemy's Reinforcements arrive in that Neighborhood, before the Force which I now flatter myself the Admiral will order a sufficient Convoy for arrives.

8th March.

I have received a Letter from Gen. Arnold dated the 25th Ulto, wherein he tells me that the French left him on the 19th. And in another letter of the 27th, he says he has not the least doubt of defending his Post against the Force of the Country, and 2,000 French Troops, until a Reinforcement can arrive from New York. And that he proposed to send 500 Men under Colonel Dundas up the James River, to make a Diversion in favor of your Lordship. The Admiral informs me of the return of the French Ships to Rhode Island, and of their having taken the Romulus and carried her to that place. But the Admiral in his Letter of the 4th seems to think that the whole or a great part of the French Fleet sailed for Chesapeake on the 27th Ulto, and that he was at that time ready to sail. I flatter myself he is either gone there, or has sent a sufficient Force to clear the Chesapeake. The Troops under General Philips, have been embarked for some time, and are now at the Hook waiting for the Admiral or a Message from him. General Philips commands, and I am sure you know his inclinations are to co-operate with your Lordship, and you will therefore be pleased to take him under your orders until you hear further from me.

To Earl Cornwallis.