James Madison Papers

David Ross to Virginia Delegates, 18 May 1781

David Ross to Virginia Delegates

RC (NA: PCC, No. 78, XIX, 371–76). Addressed to “The Honorable the Delegates for Virginia in Congress Philadelphia.” Docketed: “A letter from D Ross May 18. 1781 Read 29. Part referred to the board of treasury Part to board of war[,] to take order.”

Richmond 18 May 1781.


The vicinity of the Enemy to this place having determined the Assembly to adjourn to Charlottesvile where they are soon to meet The removal of the Executive from this town and not being yet assembled at any other place1 obliges us on many occaisions to dispense with the usual forms, and will I hope apologize for my troubling you with this letter.

Virginia having for some time past been the theatre of war—her ports intirely stopt by the enemy—many of her Stores destroy’d some time ago by the rapid March and unexpected arrival of Mr. Arnold at this place—’Tis with reluctance I am obliged to inform you that we are greatly distressed for many necessarys for the equipment of the Army

Some time ago I dispatched an agent2 to Philadelphia with Instructions to dispose of a Considerable quantity of Tobacco & some hemp in order to purchase the articles most wanted hoping that with your Countenance he would be able to procure such a supply as might enable our people to take the field with tolerable Comfort & respect

I am sorry to be informed by Mr Nicolson that the present Invasion of Virginia puts it out of his power to Negotiate the Sale of any Tobacco in Philadelphia, that he has no chance of procuring supplys there unless he is furnished with Specie or hemp—the former cannot be procured—of the latter I hope to send on 40 tons in Course of this summer.3 this will be far short of the supplys required besides the long time it will take to transport it. It would be presumption in me to mention to you who are so well informed, that almost the whole supplys for the Southern Army are drawn from Virginia. That she hath freely and with a liberal hand upon every occaision furnished whatever was in her power for the service of the other States. She may surely at this time expect Some returns when we are told the Northern States enjoy an extensive trade and are in affluent Circumstances. I have desired Mr. Geo: Nicolson to wait upon you & shew you a list of the articles wanted, perhaps some of them can be borrowed from the Continental Magazines & others procured on the Credit of the State, in that case I have directed him to remain in Philadelphia & attend to the immediate forwarding of such articles as can be got.4

I am happy in having it in my power to inform you that we have the prospect now of a plentyfull supply of Lead from the Mines, our stock of Powder is respectable & I hope in security5

I am with great regard Your most huml servant

David Ross    Coml. Agent

2George Nicolson.

3Ross informed Jefferson by letter on 16 May 1781 that Nicolson “has no encouragement from Congress … in money matters. Tobacco will not do there [Philadelphia] and we have nothing to depend upon but our hemp” (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 , V, 660). The muskets, which had been a part of the cargo of “Le Comité,” were hauled by teamsters from Philadelphia to Charlottesville. Ross expected the wagons to carry return loads of hemp (ibid., VI, 12–13; 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 , II, 111).

4Filed with this letter is an “Estimate of Arms &c. wanted immediately for the State of Virginia,” seemingly a copy by George Nicolson of Ross’s list, now missing. The estimate requested 100 pairs of horsemen’s pistols, 100 swords, 4 trumpets, 10 sheets of copper, 100 gunlocks, 100 reams of cannon cartridge paper, 150 reams of musket cartridge paper, 5 boxes of tin, 50 reams of writing paper, 30 dozen assorted files, and 400 pounds of blistered steel. An order was issued in favor of Nicolson for 50 pairs of pistols, 6 sheets of copper, and 100 gunlocks (NA: PCC, No. 78, XIX, 373). On the recommendation of the Board of War, Congress on 30 May ordered the Board of Treasury to issue a warrant for $11,266⅔, in continental money emitted under the act of 18 March 1780, “for the purpose of furnishing arms and other articles for the use of the State of Virginia” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 580). Of the items listed above, only the copper, gunlocks, writing paper, files, and steel could be furnished from the continental magazines. The estimated cost of purchasing the articles not available in those magazines determined the amount of the warrant. Its equivalent in specie was noted as one-fifth of that sum (NA: PCC, No. 147, V, 211–13). For further attention to supplying Virginia with military matériel, see Nicolson to Virginia Delegates, 28 May 1781.

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