James Madison Papers

Session of Virginia Council of State, 23 December 1778

Session of Virginia Council of State

MS (Virginia State Library).

Wednesday December 23d 1778.

His Excellency;
Dudley Digges James Madison &
Thomas Walker Benjamin Waller1

The General Assembly having passed a Resolution empowering the Governor with the Advice of Council, to raise a Regiment of Voluntiers to consist of Six hundred Men rank & file, with proper officers to command them, for the particular purpose of guarding the British Prisoners which are now, or may hereafter be stationed in this Commonwealth, &, until such Regiment be raised, to call out Detachments of the Militia for the purpose aforesaid;2 and it being represented that upwards of 4000 prisoners are on their March to Charlottesville in Albemarle County—The Board advised his Excellency to give Orders to the County Lieutenants of Amherst, Buckingham, Louisa, Orange, Culpeper & Goochland to march one hundred of their respective Militias to guard the said Prisoners when Colonel Charles Lewis of Albemarle3 shall give them Notice, & to desire the said Lieutenants respectively in conjunction with two of their field officers immediately to appoint two Captains two Lieutenants & two Ensigns & to direct them forthwith to raise two Companies of Voluntiers to relieve the Militia in the Duty of guarding the said prisoners; And the Board also advised that Charles Lewis Esqr. be appointed the Colonel, Francis Taylor the Lieutenant Colonel,4 & William Fountaine the Major5 to command the said Regiment, when raised; And that a Letter be written to Colonel Lewis informing him of what has been done and desiring that he would represent to the Officer who commands the Escorte to the prisoners6 the necessity of his staying ’til a regular Guard is inlisted, by shewing the Danger of committing the Business to raw Militia ill armed, half Clad, ignorant of Discipline, & of every thing requisite to prevent the Mischiefs which may be done by the prisoners, many of whom as well Officers as privates may be ill disposed & watchful to take every Advantage which Ignorance or Inattention may give them.

Adjourned till tomorrow 10 oClock.

Signed  Dudley Digges
Thomas Walker
James Madison
Benja Waller

1Benjamin Waller (1710–1786) was elected to the Council of State on 19 December 1778 to replace Nathaniel Harrison, who had resigned. He took his seat on 22 December. He was a Williamsburg attorney who served also as clerk of the council, a burgess for James City County, admiralty judge, and a judge of the General Court (Lyon G. Tyler, ed., Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, I, 351; Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held At the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The Journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used, unless otherwise noted, is the one in which the journals for 1777–1781 are brought together in one volume, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , October 1778, p. 127).

2On 19 December 1778 the General Assembly declared:

“Whereas, it will be exceedingly burthensome and inconvenient to the inhabitants of this Commonwealth to keep so large a body of militia on constant duty, as will be necessary to guard the British prisoners which now are, or hereafter may be stationed in this Commonwealth:

Resolved, That the Governor, with the advice of the Council, shall be, and he is hereby empowered, to raise as soon as possible, by voluntary enlistments, a regiment of soldiers, to consist of six hundred men, rank and file, with proper officers to command them, for the particular purpose of guarding the British prisoners aforesaid; and that he is empowered to offer a bounty not exceeding thirty dollars to each man to be so enlisted; and this Assembly will make good the expense of raising, maintaining, clothing and paying the said regiment; and that until such regiment be raised, the Governor is hereby empowered, with the advice of the Council, to call out detachments of militia for the purpose of guarding the said prisoners” (Journal of the Senate, October 1778 [Richmond, 1828], pp. 81–82).

The “British prisoners” were, of course, the troops surrendered by General John Burgoyne by the Convention of Saratoga, 16 October 1777. They were held in Massachusetts until October 1778, when Congress “Resolved, That General Washington be directed … to take the necessary steps for removing, with all convenient speed, all the prisoners of the convention of Saratoga to the town of Charlotteville, in the county of Albemarle, in the State of Virginia.” The Board of War was directed to “apply to the governor and council of Virginia, for a sufficient force of militia to guard the said prisoners” (Journals of the Continental Congress, XII, 1016–17). The prisoners began their march to Virginia early in November 1778. They were kept in Albemarle County for nearly two years, when most of them were moved into Maryland to prevent their recapture by Major General Alexander Leslie. See Jones to JM, 10 November 1780, n. 4.

3Charles Lewis (ca. 1740–1779) of North Garden was a colonel of the 14th Virginia Regiment from 12 November 1776 to 28 March 1778. He had led a force against the Cherokee Indians in 1776 (Journals of the Council of State, I, 104, 339; Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1931–44). description ends , XIV, 57; Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, XVI [1908], 170–71; XX [1912], 279).

4Francis Taylor had recently become a supernumerary officer after serving in Virginia’s continental line since 1775. He was appointed colonel of the Convention Guards in January 1779, upon the death of Colonel Charles Lewis. He held this position until the force was disbanded in June 1781, when the prisoners were moved north from Winchester (Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine, II [1920–21], 335–37).

5William Fontaine (1754–1810) of Hanover County served as lieutenant colonel of the Convention Guards from June 1779 to June 1781. He had been a student at the College of William and Mary. From 1775 to 1778 he was an officer in the 2d Virginia Regiment (Journals of the Council of State, I, 475; John H. Gwathmey, Historical Register of Virginians in the Revolution, p. 280; Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, XX [1912], 368).

6Theodorick Bland (below, Session of Council of State, 29 March 1779).

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