James Madison Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Virginia Delegates, 26 March 1781

Thomas Jefferson to Virginia Delegates

FC (Virginia State Library). Written by a clerk.

In Council, Richmond March 26th. 1781


I beg leave to ask your Sollicitations with Congress for Permission to Colo. William Davies of the Virginia line to accept an Appointment to the War Office of this State without prejudice to his rank and right to half-pay for life, Lands, and Depreciation of pay. I am in Hopes it will be the more easily obtained as by the Discontinuance of appointing full Colonels in the Army[,] Officers of that rank seem not to be deemed essential.1 We are told too that instances of similar Indulgence do exist: particularly, that his Excellency Governor Clinton of New York retains his rank of Brigadier General.2 And the honble Mr McDowall a Delegate in Congress that of Major General in the Continental Army.3 A speedy answer to our Application is much desired. I have the Honor to be &c

T. J.

P. S. I will be much obliged to you for the Pensylvania Act either of Assembly or of the Executive for taking off the Embargo on flour &c by the first Conveyance.4

1After serving as an officer in the continental line throughout much of the war, Colonel William Davies (1749–1812) of Mecklenburg County was invited by Governor Jefferson in Council in March 1781 to succeed Colonel George Muter as commissioner of the Virginia State Board of War (Heitman, Historical Register Continental description begins F. B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution (Washington, 1893). description ends , p. 146; Journals of the Council of State description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (Richmond, 1931——). description ends , II, 316, 318). John Sullivan (N.H.), Meriwether Smith (Va.), and John Mathews (S.C.), who made up the committee to which Congress referred Jefferson’s letter, recommended on 16 April that, although the rules of Congress forbade an army officer to hold a civil office, Davies be “permitted in case it be his option to resign” his commission “without forfeiting any of the other provisions or emoluments reserved to officers of equal rank reduced by the late assignment.” Congress refused to agree (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 397–98). Thereupon the Virginia delegates suggested to Jefferson on 17 April (q.v.) that, if Davies would consent to give up his rank and be replaced by “one of the supernumerary Colonels,” Congress would not incur additional expense and hence would permit Davies to retire without losing the land bounty and financial benefits to which he would be entitled at the close of the war. Apparently this proposal was never laid before Congress. On the other hand, there is no doubt that Davies performed the duties of commissioner of the Virginia State Board of War until late in the autumn of 1782 (although perhaps as acting commissioner only), was not mustered out as colonel until January 1783, and did not forfeit the emoluments assured to an officer of that rank (Journals of the Council of State description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (Richmond, 1931——). description ends , II, 182, 189, 194; Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, March 1781 Session in Bulletin of the Virginia State Library, XVII, No. 1 (January 1928). description ends , December 1835, Doc. No. 6, p. 84). After the Revolution, Davies served successively, 1788 to 1799, as a commissioner to settle claims between Virginia and the United States and as a state agent for the collection of taxes (Calendar of Virginia State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , IV, 490; VI, 421, 517; VIII, 450–52; Harry Alexander Davis, comp., The Davis Family [Davies and David] in Wales and America: Genealogy of Morgan David of Pennsylvania [Washington, D.C., 1927], pp. 34, 76–77). On 10 December 1800 the United States Senate confirmed President John Adams’ nomination of Davies to be collector for the district of Norfolk and Portsmouth. How long he served is unknown, but on 12 November 1804 President Jefferson nominated Wilson Cary Nicholas for the position (Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America [Washington, D.C., 1928——], I, 356–57, 471).

2On 25 March 1777 George Clinton, who had been a brigadier general of the New York militia since 2 December 1775, was named to the same rank in the continental army and appointed to command the Highlands of the Hudson. Late in July 1777, upon hearing that the New York Convention had selected him to be governor, and hence commander-in-chief of all the state militia and admiral of the state navy, Clinton requested of Washington an indefinite leave of absence from his Highlands command (Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds., Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York … [10 vols.; Albany and New York, 1899–1914], I, 642–43, 808, 836; II, 133, 140–41; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , VII, 203). When, if ever, during the Revolution Clinton resigned his commission as brigadier general in the continental army has not been determined. After becoming governor, Clinton acceded to Washington’s request by directing the unsuccessful defense of Fort Montgomery in October 1777, but whether he served at that time in his capacity as head of the state militia or as a brigadier general of the continental army is not clear (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , VIII, 500 n.; IX, 56; X, 131; XI, 496).

3For Alexander McDougall, see Motion for Non-Intercourse, 16 March 1781, n. 12.

4On 21 and 27 February the Pennsylvania legislature repealed two embargo acts of 1780 and an act restricting the exportation of wheat and flour (Pennsylvania Packet, 24 February and 3 March 1781). Jefferson was probably particularly interested in this matter because the General Assembly of Virginia on 21 March had once again extended the act of 1778 empowering the Governor in Council “to lay an embargo for a limited time” (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 , IX, 530–32; X, 401; Journal of the House of Delegates, March 1781 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 , p. 50).

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