James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates to La Luzerne, 2 April 1781

Virginia Delegates to La Luzerne

Copy (Virginia State Library). Written by JM and enclosed in JM to Jefferson, 3 April 1781. Docketed, “April 2 Communications of Delegates from Va in relation to Refugees taken by Capt Tilly of the Ship.”

Philada. April 2d. 1781


The Underwritten Delegates from the State of Virginia1 have been informed that there are among the refugees taken by Capt: Tilly commanding his M. C: Majesty’s Ship lEveillè on his return to New Port from Chesapeak Bay, a considerable number who were formerly inhabitants of Virginia.2 As some of these persons according to the laws of that State fall under the description of Traiterous Citizens and consequently are not proper subjects of exchange,3 and others, although they do not fall under that description may if exchanged or released be very prejudicial to the State during the operations against it by giving information & counsel to the Enemy and by their seductions among the people, the Delegates abovementioned wish that no steps may be taken for exchanging or releasing them untill the fact shall have been communicated to his Excellency the Governor of Virginia. With this view they ask the favor of you, Sir, to intimate this circumstance to the Commander of his M. C. Majesty’s Squadron at New Port, and to obtain from him a list of the names of such of his Captives as were formerly inhabitants of Virginia.4

The paper inclosed5 herewith will inform you of the pretensions of three persons[,] Citizens of the State of Virginia[,] founded on their having been on board the Eveillè in the character of Pilots during her expedition into Chesapeak bay, in which a number of prizes were taken. We leave it with you Sir to determine on the justice of them, and to direct the mode in which they ought to be pursued[?]. We wish to be enabled to give the claimants a proper & satisfactory answer, as future operations may render their services again necessary to us, and the facility of commanding them may depend on the temper in which they are now dismissed.

1The copy is unsigned, but the names of JM, Theodorick Bland, and Meriwether Smith, delegates from Virginia in Congress, were probably affixed to the original letter.

2The squadron commanded by Captain Arnaud Le Gardeur de Tilly (1733–1812) captured nine or ten British prizes in or near Chesapeake Bay during his mid-February raid against Benedict Arnold’s ships. One was a large brig returning 159 Loyalist refugees from Charleston to Virginia, where they hoped to re-establish themselves (Jameson to JM, 3 March 1781, n. 6; Edwin M. Stone, Our French Allies, p. 358; Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 271).

3A law enacted by the Virginia General Assembly at its October 1776 session defined a traitor as a man who had been “legally convicted … by the evidence of two sufficient and lawful witnesses, or … voluntary confession” of levying war against the state or adhering to its enemies, “giving to them aid and comfort in the commonwealth or elsewhere” (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, 168). Nothing in the statute specifically barred a court from trying and convicting “Traiterous Citizens” in absentia.

4On 30 December 1777 Congress resolved that when inhabitants of the United States who had joined the British were captured, they would be held in jail pending their delivery to the states of which they were citizens. The continental commissary general of prisoners was directed “from time to time, to transmit to the respective states the names of such of their citizens who have been made prisoners” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , IX, 1069). Although at first refusing to furnish a list of Captain Tilly’s prisoners, La Luzerne eventually acquiesced (JM to Jefferson, 3 April 1781; Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 5 May 1781).

5Not found.

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