As News First Arrives of the Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, Governor Jonathan Trumbull Writes the Connecticut Congressional Delegation Exulting in the Great Triumph

Trumbull, who was the only Royal governor to switch sides, and risk everything to back the Revolution, is “rejoicing with thanksgiving to the Lord of Hosts and congratulations of each other”

A remarkable letter from a Governor to his delegation, written in real time as he learns of the surrender, he pledges the resources of his state to the continuing fight against the British

 

“Lord General Earl Cornwallis may now return to G. Britain and condole with Lord General Burgoyne under their...

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As News First Arrives of the Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, Governor Jonathan Trumbull Writes the Connecticut Congressional Delegation Exulting in the Great Triumph

Trumbull, who was the only Royal governor to switch sides, and risk everything to back the Revolution, is “rejoicing with thanksgiving to the Lord of Hosts and congratulations of each other”

A remarkable letter from a Governor to his delegation, written in real time as he learns of the surrender, he pledges the resources of his state to the continuing fight against the British

 

“Lord General Earl Cornwallis may now return to G. Britain and condole with Lord General Burgoyne under their similar circumstances.”

 

We have found no record that this letter was ever published; it has been in a private collection for 3 generations

On the night of October 14, 1781, after a five-day bombardment of British troops bottled up in Yorktown, Virginia, combined American and French forces attacked and overwhelmed British General Lord Cornwallis’s fortified position. The British commander was left with no choice but to surrender his 8,000-man force, which he did on October 19. General Cornwallis did not attend the surrender ceremony saying that he was not feeling well. His substitute, General Charles O’Hara, first tried to surrender to the Comte de Rochambeau, who directed the British officer to General George Washington, who in turn directed him to Washington’s subordinate General Benjamin Lincoln. During the ceremony a British band played the song, “The World Turned Upside Down.” Cornwallis’s army accounted for 1/3 of all active British army forces in America, with many of the rest stuck in New York. Loss of this army would prove to be a blow from which the British war effort could not recover, as support for the war in Britain evaporated when the news reached London.

As news of the surrender of Cornwallis’s surrender spread throughout the United States, victory celebrations were held. These were marked by speeches of notables, solemn sermons, and festivities of every kind. Despite the joyous celebrations however, most Americans at the time did not realize that the struggle for independence was won, and that the events of October 19 were decisive. Little indication can be found in the diary entries and letters written after Yorktown for example, even by the members of the Continental Congress, to suggest that people were convinced the surrender meant the war was soon coming to an end. Nathanael Greene, one of Washington’s most respected generals, believed that the British would continue to prosecute the war, focusing on the southern states. And American forces there, he told Washington, were “incompetent…to any great operation…Indeed, our prospects are really deplorable.” And, of course, the enemy still held New York, Wilmington, Savannah, and Charleston.

Jonathan Trumbull Sr. served as Royal Governor of Connecticut from 1769 until the Revolution. When the Revolution broke out, he was the only Royal governor to change sides and declare for the Revolution. He was a friend and advisor of General Washington throughout the Revolutionary period, dedicating the resources of Connecticut to the fight for independence. Washington declared him “the first of the patriots.” When Washington was desperate for men or food during the war, he could turn to “Brother Jonathan.” Trumbull served as Governor until 1784, thus through the entire Revolution.

On October 25, 1781, the Connecticut Delegates to the Continental Congress wrote their Governor, detailing the actions that led to the decisive victory. “We have the honor now to transmit to Your Excellency An official Account of the Surrender of Lord Cornwallis and the Army under his Command. The dispatches from General Washington were received yesterday morning, and at two O’Clock in the afternoon Congress went in a body to the Lutheran Church, where Divine Service (Suitable to the Occasion) was performed, by the Reverend Mr. Duffield one of the Chaplains of Congress. The Supreme Executive Council, Assembly of this State, The Minister of France, his Secretary and a great number of the Citizens attended. In the Evening the City was Illuminated. This great Event we hope will prove a happy presage of a Compleat Reduction of the British forces in these States, and prepare the way for the Establishment of an honorable Peace…” It was signed by delegates Roger Sherman and Richard Law.

On November 6, Trumbull referenced this letter from the Delegates in writing Washington, rejoicing in the victory. He also responded to the delegates with this very letter, evidently unpublished.

Autograph letter signed, Lebanon, November 8, 1781, to the “Delegates from Connecticut,” with free frank. “Gentlemen, The success of the Allied Arms at Chesepeak mentioned in Messrs Sherman and Law’s letter of the 23rd October received last evening, demand our rejoicing with thanksgiving to the Lord of Hosts and congratulations of each other.

“Lord General Earl Cornwallis may now return to G. Britain and condole with Lord General Burgoyne under their similar circumstances.

“An answer is sent to Robt. Morris Esq [in response to] his letter relative to the accounts of this state. Have mentioned to him that our Committee of Pay-Table are instructed to prepare them; and they ought with all accounts in this and every other state to be settled by Auditors here, or on the spot, they cannot be well done in any other way or place.

“The War Office are furnished with the Act of our Assembly, with a representation of the Prison of New Gate at Symsbury and its circumstances and site.

“The requisition for supplies of provisions ought to have come much earlier, the season to collection them is almost passed.

“It is ever my inclination to have a full representation in Congress and will move some other of our delegates to go on.” Silked.

The New Gate prison he references housed Tories and Loyalists during the Revolutionary War. It was the first State Prison in America.

This letter has been in a private for 3 generations. It is the first letter in which an important figure of the Revolution responds to the first news of Yorktown that we can ever recall carrying.

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