James Madison Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Virginia Delegates in Congress, 15 January 1781

Thomas Jefferson
to Virginia Delegates in Congress

FC (Virginia State Library).

Richmond Jany. 15. 1781.


I called on Mr. Anderson the Writer of the letter to Capt Trot which you were pleased to inclose to me and desired he would explain the foundation on which he had written that letter. His explanation I now inclose you,1 from which you will be able to collect only thus much that his application on behalf of Mr. Trot was utterly rejected and nothing said which could authorize him to suppose we should wink at his loading his Vessel with Corn. He has trimmed up an Answer for me of which I only wish to be acquitted till it can be understood.2

I must at the same time acknowledge to you with candor that considering the neutral light in which Congress have placed the Bermudians and the extreme want of Salt here we have at various times permitted them to bring in Salt and exchange it with Government at the [E]x. of one Bushel of Salt, for two at first and afterwards three of Corn: and sometimes for Tobacco. We have been rigorous in allowing no more to be carried out than was procured by exchange in this way.3 You cannot be made more sensible of the necessity which forces us to this Barter, than by being assured that no further back than the Counties adjoining the Blue-ridge Salt has sold lately for from 4 to 500£ the Bushell.

(Signed)    T. J.

1Neither this inclosure nor the earlier letter from the delegates has been found.

2For George Anderson, see Patrick Henry to Virginia Delegates, 23 May 1780, n. 1. Captain Perient Trott (ca. 1736–post-1793) was a member of a prominent Bermuda family with both marital and commercial ties with North America. Probably his ship was the “Truce,” which was reported to be in the Chesapeake in August 1780 (Bermuda Historical Quarterly, X [1953], 25; Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg, Clarkson and Davis], 19 August 1780). Although from early in the war the Continental Congress had forbidden trade with the British, it had always excepted commerce between Bermuda and the United States from its ban. Thus, even its rigidly prohibitive ordinance of 27 March 1781 forbade “the capture or condemnation of any vessel belonging to any inhabitant of Bermudas, which, being loaded with salt only, may arrive in any of these United States, on or before the first day of May next” (Journals of the Continental Congress, XIX, 316). To relieve the desperate shortage of salt in Virginia late in 1780, the General Assembly authorized the “agent” of the governor “to export to the island of Bermudas, any quantity of Indian corn not exceeding six thousand barrels, in payment for any quantity of salt that can or may be obtained for the same” (Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , X, 377). Apparently the Bermudians alone could engage in this trade (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 , IV, 466). The offense of Anderson and Trott evidently had been their determination to ship corn to Bermuda without importing salt or without a permit from the governor’s agent.

3On 19 February 1781, Benjamin Harrison informed Jefferson that the French minister seemed “extremely averse” to having “the Bermuda and Irish trades” opened because they would “prove injurious to the common cause.” “I shall leave,” Harrison continued, “these matters to our Delegates who I am confident will use their endeavors to have them put on a proper footing” (ibid., IV, 656).

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