James Madison Papers

Patrick Henry to Virginia Delegates in Congress, 23 May 1780

Patrick Henry to Virginia Delegates in Congress

RC (NA: PCC, No. 71, I, 339–40, 342).

Richmond May 23d. 1780


I take the Liberty of introducing to you the Bearer Mr. George Anderson.1 A Ratification of the French Alliance,2 together with some other State Papers were sent to me very early while I was in Office & I put them all into Mr. Andersons Hands to go to Paris, but he was unfortunately taken by the Enemy & cary’d into Lisbon where he became acquainted with Mr. Arnold Henry Dorman a Gentleman of the first Distinction & Importance in his profession viz. that of a Merchant, & of whose Attachment to America you will be informed.3 The great Numbers of Seamen & others our Friends who are carry’d to Lisbon in Captivity, & who must suffer extreme Misery if left unnoticed in that remote Country, seems to be an Object that calls for Attention. The Appointment of some proper Person as Agent at that Place, I am persuaded would have a very salutary Effect in the present State of Things. I will not trouble you with an Enumeration of the Reasons for such an appointment, but only just mention, that the generous Interposition of Mr. Dorman would have been more efficacious in relieving & emancipating our distressed Countrymen, If those in power had seen Credentials authorizing his Demands in their Behalf. This Gentleman requires no Salary & from his eagerness to be connected with our Country, his great Wealth & willingness to advance Money for the States, I have no Doubt Congress may find the Means of availing themselves for the public Good.

Mr. Anderson will lay before you some proposals for interesting Mr. Dorman in a Scheme of War & Comerce with our States, & I can only say in Mr. Andersons Behalf that I think he’s worthy of your Confidence & that the proposed Agency of Mr. Dorman will answer many valuable purposes.4

I beg your Excuse for giving you this Trouble & with the greatest Regard, I am,

Gentn. Your most obedient & very humble Servant

P. Henry

1Probably the George Anderson (1755–1816) of Henry’s home county of Hanover, who became a tavern keeper in Cumberland County after the Revolution and eventually the owner of Newington plantation there. He was a brother of Lieutenant Colonel Richard Clough Anderson, prominent in the military and political life of Kentucky after moving there about 1783 (Anonymous [Edward L. Andrews], The Andersons of Gold Mine, Hanover County, Virginia [Cincinnati, 1913], pp. 36–38). On 26 February 1796 Arnold Henry Dohrman, writing from New York City to JM, mentioned “a number of embarrassments into which George Anderson by dissapating my property has thrown me, & out of which I am now gradually emerging.” Also see n. 4 below.

2The legislature of Virginia in June 1779 ratified the treaties of alliance and commerce between the United States and France (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 , May 1779, p. 37).

3William Lee, commissioner of Congress for the courts of Vienna and Berlin and Virginia’s official agent in France, referred to “John Henry Dohrman” as his commercial representative in Lisbon (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , III, 92). No other reference to a “John” Dohrman has been found. Perhaps the “John” should have been either “Arnold Henry” or his brother “Jacob” (Frank Landon Humphreys, Life and Times of David Humphreys [2 vols.; New York, 1917], II, 91, 103, 143).

4This letter, upon being presented to Congress by the Virginia delegates on 12 June 1780, was referred to the Committee of Foreign Affairs. In accord with its report, Congress appointed Arnold Henry Dohrman (1749–1813) on 21 June to be the agent of the United States in Portugal “for the transaction of such affairs … as may be committed to his direction” (Journals of the Continental Congress, XVII, 504, 538, 541–42). On 11 July 1780 James Lovell and William C. Houston wrote to Dohrman, informing him of his appointment and of what he might do for the relief of captives, etc. (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1889). description ends , III, 845; IV, 106, 388). On 21 June, Congress referred Anderson’s “scheme of war” to the Board of Admiralty and his proposals about “Commerce with our States” to the Committee of Commerce. Anderson’s two undated statements about these matters are in NA: PCC, No. 71, I, 343–45, 347–48. In the statement entitled “Facts Relative to the behavior and Conduct of Arnold Henry Dohrman Esqr (Merchant in Lisbon) to which I have been an Eye Witness,” Anderson told of Dohrman’s kind treatment of him and many other Americans engaged in ocean trade who had been captured by the British and put ashore penniless on the Portuguese coast. Using these stranded seamen as crews, Dohrman had sought to send needed supplies, “of which I had the Consignments,” to the patriot army and had fitted out a schooner as a privateer to prey upon British ships in the Atlantic Ocean off Lisbon. In his second statement, after remarking that he had the consent of Dohrman to seek for him from Congress an appointment as U.S. consul general in Portugal, Anderson reported Dohrman’s belief that by his financial and other aid, eagerly offered because of his “Conviction of the Justice of their Cause,” the United States could develop a profitable trade, certainly with Lisbon and Cadiz, and even with France and Holland. Late in the 1780’s Dohrman was in serious straits, owing money to Philip Mazzei and others. Helped by Thomas Jefferson, Nathaniel Macon, and JM, Dohrman received from Congress a grant of money and a township of the public domain in Ohio. He and his numerous family moved in 1809 to Steubenville in that state (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , IX, 257; XI, 402, 601; XII, 104; Annals of the United States, 6th Cong., 2d sess., cols. 1050, 1052 [February 1801]; Dohrman to JM, 26 February 1796, New York Public Library, and 4 March 1809, LC: Madison Papers).

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