James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates to Thomas Jefferson, 1 May 1781

Virginia Delegates to Thomas Jefferson

RC (Virginia State Library). Written by JM and signed by JM, Theodorick Bland, and Meriwether Smith. Docketed, “Letter from Delegates 1 May 1781, Not answerd.”

Philada. May 1st. 1781


We enclose herewith a letter from Oliver Pollock Esqr: which will inform your Excellency of a very large claim which may soon be expected on the Treasury of Virginia.1

Mr. Nicholson2 Agent for Mr. Ross arrived here yesterday. We fear it will not be possible for him to get some of the most essential articles even if an exchange of his funds can be negociated, and that the difficulty of such an exchange will be a great obstacle to his getting such articles as are to be had.3 As far as our efforts can avail him they will not be spared. We had previous to his coming taken some measures which we flatter ourselves will yield about 2000 good Muskets in about two weeks. The transportation is not included otherwise than by a naked order of Congress and must now be referred to Mr. Nicholson.4

The 1100 Stand belonging to the State have at length gone forward, with most of the other Articles brought hither with them.5 The 8th. of this month is the day fixed we understand for the march of the Pennsylvania line from York Town.6

The report from N. York is that Clinton is disembarking his troops.7

We also inclose herewith an extract of a letter from Genl Washington which needs no comment.8

We have the honor to be with the highest respect & regard Yr. Excelly’s obt. & hmble servts.

J. Madison Junr.

Theok. Bland

M. Smith

1The enclosure must have been a copy of Pollock’s missing letter of 29 January 1781, which was read in Congress on 28 April (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 462). Oliver Pollock (1737–1823), trader, financier, and agent of the Continental Congress and of Virginia in New Orleans, spent large sums, chargeable against the state of Virginia, for supplying George Rogers Clark’s troops in Kentucky and the Northwest Territory. When the Virginia delegates wrote the present letter, Pollock’s agent, John Henderson, had already been in Philadelphia nearly six months, vainly seeking to have Congress pay in full what it owed his employer. Late in 1780, upon being told by the continental Committee of Commerce that some of Pollock’s expense items were owed by Virginia rather than by Congress, Henderson sent them to the Board of Trade of Virginia. According to a memorial of Henderson, read in Congress on 13 February 1781, Jefferson had informed the Virginia delegates that the Board of Trade considered the debits in question to have been incurred by Pollock for services rendered to the United States (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XVIII, 1106–7; XIX, 118–19, 312; NA: PCC, No. 41, IV, 169–70, 177; No. 50, fols. 257–58). If Jefferson did write on this subject to the delegates in December 1780 or early in 1781, his letter is now missing. Between February and May 1781 the further efforts of Henderson, and soon of Pollock’s attorney, Daniel Clark, to reach a complete settlement with Congress were largely unsuccessful, partly because of the government’s lack of funds, and partly because Henderson and Clark were unable to support with vouchers many of the items on Pollock’s lengthy bill. The matter was the more complicated by the difficulty in distinguishing between what Congress and Virginia were alleged to owe; by the varying values of the Spanish, continental, and Virginia currencies; and by the fact that some of Pollock’s bills of exchange, involved in his transactions for Virginia, had been purchased by Simon Nathan (Jefferson to Virginia Delegates, 15 March 1781, and n. 1). For JM’s later connection with Pollock’s claims, see Jameson to JM, 15 September 1781.

6General Wayne and his Pennsylvania troops did not leave York, Pa., until 26 May, and it was 10 June before they joined Lafayette’s army in Virginia (Pendleton to JM, 26 March, n. 11; JM to Jefferson, 3 April; Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 24 April 1781).

7This information was apparently accurate except that rumor predated the fact. General Clinton had embarked troops on transports to be convoyed by Admiral Arbuthnot to Virginia. Hearing that the French fleet in Narragansett Bay was about to sail, Arbuthnot decided that his first duty was to go out with his men-of-war to meet the enemy. Therefore, on 1 May the transports were at Staten Island, waiting “upon the Admiral’s pleasure.” Until then the fifteen hundred troops presumably camped ashore. They did not reach Virginia until late in May (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, I, 453, 462; Christopher Ward, War of the Revolution, II, 872).

8The extract (not found) must have been from Washington’s letter of 25 April 1781 to the president of Congress, read in Congress five days later. Washington reported on the provisioning of Fort Pitt and on the danger of Tories there consorting with the British (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 , XXI, 503–4; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 463).

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