James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates to Thomas Jefferson, 22 May 1781

Virginia Delegates to Thomas Jefferson

Tr (William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan). The complaints about the delegates’ financial condition and the spelling of words such as “opend” and “arrivd” indicate that the missing original was in Theodorick Bland’s hand. This transcript is endorsed, “May 22d 81 Copy of an intercepted letter from the Delegates to Congress from Virginia to the Governor.” Another transcript (Public Record Office, London) has the endorsement, “Copy of a Letter from The Delegates to Congress from Virginia to The Governor 22d. May 1781. (3) In Sr. Henry Clinton’s Letter of the 13th. July.” General Clinton’s letter, enclosing the delegates’ intercepted dispatch, was addressed to Lord George Germain (Benjamin F. Stevens, ed., Campaign in Virginia, II, 372, 378).

Phila: 22d. May 1781


Mr. Nicholson we presume will communicate to your Excellency or his principal the State of the business committed to his care. He has we believe been greatly embarrass’d for want of money, and it has not been in our power to afford him assistance, although our endeavours have been exerted for the purpose.1

The Chevr. Luzerne has receivd within a few days past Dispatches from his Court. The Contents of them have not yet transpired, but we expect they will in a day or two be communicated to Congress no doubt but from the present State of Affairs in Europe, they must be important and interesting to America.2 Mr. Carmichael writes the Com: of Correspondence, that Mr. Cumberland had left Spain, and returnd to England through France but notwithstanding his negociations are at an end in consequence of his departure, Mr. Carmichael conjectures conferences will be soon opend for the accommodation of the disputes between the belligerent powers, under the mediation of the Emperor. he gives this as his conjecture & not from Official authority.3

Ct. Rochambeau in consequence of advices receivd by his Son who arrivd in the Ship that brot. over the Admiral to take command of the French Fleet at Rhode Island, requested a Conference with General Washington. they are now together and the Operations of the ensuing Campaign will we expect be digested, and we hope the forces of our Ally be put in motion.4 We are really reducd to extremities for want of money. the State paper passes under great depreciation and not willingly receivd by the people. Specie appears to be the money chiefly in circulation. how the State will furnish us with that article we know not, unless the Assembly will authorize Mr. Ross their Agent to purchase flour for the Southern Department & exchange it for the Specific supply of Maryland, so far as to answer our exigencies. the Maryland flour may be deliverd at the Head of Elk, and we apprehend disposd of for gold and Silver. unless something is done to furnish us with money to bear our reasonable expences in this place we must sell what little property we possess here or return to Virginia.5 Your Excellency will pardon our giving you the trouble of representing to the Assembly any matter that particularly respects ourselves, but our present Situation will we hope apologize for Your Obt. Servts.

Jos: Jones

James Madison Junr.

Theok. Bland

M. Smith

1George Nicolson, the agent of David Ross. See Ross to Virginia Delegates, 18 May 1781, and n. 3. On 28 May, in a letter to Jefferson, Ross remarked: “Neither our Delegates in Congress, nor the Generosity of our Northern friends have as yet given any assistance to my agent. The repair of the Arms, the purchase of Bayonets and the advance of Specie to the Waggoners has been done by loans from private people” (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 , VI, 27).

2On 22 May Congress received a letter from Louis XVI expressing dismay because of the financial plight of the United States and promising further aid from France in the form of a subsidy and loans (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 526–27, 533, 543–44, 556–57). At the same time La Luzerne mentioned that he had other important dispatches which he would soon forward to Congress. For these dispatches, see JM, Notes from Secret Journal, 28 May 1781, n. 1.

3William Carmichael’s letter of 11 March from Madrid to the Committee of Foreign Affairs was read in Congress on 21 May. For Richard Cumberland, British agent at the Spanish court, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (2 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 223; 225, n. 2. Carmichael said that he mentioned the offer of mediation by the Holy Roman Emperor “with hesitation and not as certain,” since the news had reached him from sources other than “our friends [France]” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 519; Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 279–80).

4Recently landed at Rhode Island were Admiral Jacques Melchior, Comte de Barras-Saint-Laurent (d. ca. 1789), who took command of the French squadron at Newport, and Donatien Marie Joseph de Vimeur, Vicomte de Rochambeau (1755–1813), son of the Comte de Rochambeau. Young Rochambeau brought news that the French fleet, commanded by the Comte de Grasse, and then in West Indian waters, would be on the American coast during the summer of 1781 (Mason to Virginia Delegates, 3 April 1781, n. 9). Washington hastened to Wethersfield, Conn., to meet the Comte de Rochambeau and François Jean, Chevalier de Chastellux, on 22 May. Although Barras was unable to attend because of the appearance of British men-of-war off Block Island, a general plan of the campaign, which was to culminate in the triumph at Yorktown, Va., in October, was agreed upon at the conference (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 , XXII, 103–7, 119–20, 143).

5Naturally, no action was taken upon this plea in Virginia because the letter never reached its destination (above, headnote). For the financial straits of the delegates, and especially of Bland, see Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 8 May 1781, and n. 1.

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