James Madison Papers

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 9 February 1782

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates

FC (Virginia State Library). In the hand of Charles Hay.

Virginia In Council February 9th: 1782


You will find by the inclosed1 that the Executive have had under their Consideration the Situation of the Continental Troops and the Staff Departments now in this State, which is so truly distressing both to them and us, that I want Words to give you a just Idea of it. The State you will know from my former letters and your own Sufferings is altogether unable to assist them, not having the Command of a Shilling for the present, nor the least prospect of obtaining money for several Months to come, and what is still worse its Credit is so lost that little or no Support can be obtained from it.2 This Situation we have reduced ourselves to by blindly furnishing every Thing that has been demanded of us either by purchase or the oppressive mode of Impressment; fatal experience has taught us to act with more wisdom, and to endeavour by Prudence and Oeconomy to set about a Reformation before our Affairs get beyond redress. If we let slip the present opportunity, we are undone, we shall part with the Substance for the empty Boast of having deserved a better Fate.

What we have to ask of you is to call on Congress and to insist that they deal by us as they have done by other States, that is to feed their Troops and to support their Post by Contracts and to furnish their Quartermasters and Commissaries with money to support their several Departments and to fall on Means to give us Credit for whatever we have or may furnish out of the money Demands that are made on us. We wish not to exonerate the State from a single Farthing of its due Proportion of the American Burdens but we have a Right to share Benefits in common with the other States and can not support the Southern Army alone any longer3

I am in great Hopes this Business will be in a proper Train before this reaches you as I have written pretty fully to General Washington on the Subject by Colo. Carrington, and the Colo. himself is perfectly acquainted with our Situation and possessed of my Sentiments on the Subject.4 Should this be the Case we would leave you to your own Discretion either to make the demand or not as you shall think most adviseable, but by no Means to omit it if you find such Steps are not taken as will bring about the desired End.5

Since my last Irish’s Bill has been presented. At first Sight I thought as you did, that the Money was to come out of the four tenths of the new Continental Money, and gave orders to the Commissioner of the Continental Loan Office6 to pay it. He called on me yesterday and satisfied me I was under a Mistake, and that the Money was expected from our Treasurer, out of our Proportion of three Millions of that kind of Money demanded by Congress by a Resolution of the 22d: of May 1781, which Money we truly say has been long since expended for Continental Purposes, and therefore that we are not able to pay it again7

We are made extremely happy by your favor of the 24th: ulto. And much approve of what you have done. I do not remember exactly what I wrote to [the] Chevalier on the Subject from Charlottesville and have no Copy of the Letter to refresh my Memory having destroyed it when I betook myself to the Mountains,8 however I recollect that I accomodated my Letter to the then Situation of the Country as I did indeed when in Philadelphia; at both of these Periods the Enemy were in Possession of Portsmouth. York Town was therefore the only Place where the Stores could be landed or the Ship lay in any Kind of Safety. It was therefore my first Wish that she should get to that Port if it should be found practicable, but if not that they should be landed in the Delaware, but as the Face of Things is so happily changed, I now wish that they may be brought as high up James River as Hoods9 where the Ship may be in perfect Safety and be dispatched in a very short time; and I beg you to make this Alteration if it is in your Power. No Steps have hitherto been taken in this Business for a variety of Reasons, but one alone suffice[s], viz, we were able to take none, but as that is not altogether the Case at present and a Delay must not take Place, Youl please to inform us from what port the Stores will be shipped and what pro[s]pect you have of getting one of the King’s Ships to bring them over.10

I have called on Mr Ross11 tho’ with the worst grace in the World, he being already greatly in Advance from the State and has no prospect of being shortly paid[,] to know what Steps he was taking for your Support and received for Answer that he was taking up some of your Bills and would exert himself to serve you. This Gentleman has great merit I hope he will meet with suitable returns from the State. I am &c

Benjamin Harrison

1On 8 February the Council of State had advised the governor “that our Delegates be instructed to move in Congress for the supplying the Southern Army and the Continental posts in this State in the same mode as has been adopted in Pennsylvania and other Northern States.” According to the council’s journal of 9 February, this instruction was enclosed in the present letter (Journals of the Council of State description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (3 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , III, 41, 42).

3See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 15 February 1782. Soon after Robert Morris assumed the office of superintendent of finance in July 1781, he greatly improved the methods of procuring and forwarding supplies to the northern army by centralizing the administration of these operations and by engaging the services of private contractors (Louis Clinton Hatch, The Administration of the American Revolutionary Army [New York, 1904], pp. 113–21). See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 25 February 1782, and n. 3, for the delegates’ justification of Morris’ failure to extend the contract system to the southern department.

4Lieutenant Colonel Edward Carrington (1749–1810) of Cumberland County had been a member of the county Committee of Safety in 1775 and a lieutenant colonel of the continental artillery since November 1776. Following service under Washington, he was Virginia state supervisor and director for the repair of arms, 1780–1781. In the latter year he became Greene’s deputy quartermaster general and chief of artillery. As an artilleryman, he participated with distinction in the battles of Guilford Court House and Hobkirk’s Hill, and, being temporarily withdrawn from Greene’s command, he directed the Virginia artillery at Yorktown. While on his way in Greene’s behalf to consult with Robert Morris at Philadelphia, Carrington bore a letter of 4 January 1782 from Harrison to Washington. In this dispatch the governor portrayed the “embarras’d situation of the finances and other public matters” of Virginia and complained because the Commonwealth, although denied remunerative contracts for rationing the southern army, was being pressed by Morris to contribute more for its sustenance than her just share. Washington’s reply, dated 6 February, which had not come to hand at the time Harrison signed the present letter, disclaimed any jurisdiction over the allotment of quotas “of Men and Money” and reminded the governor that the war could only end speedily by “making early and vigorous preparations for the next Campaign.” Provision contracts, Washington added, could not be expected “unless the Financier is enabled by the States to pay the Contractor regularly” (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 , XXIII, 485–86).

Carrington served as a delegate for Cumberland County to the General Assembly, 1784–1786, as a congressman, 1786–1788, and as a delegate for Powhatan County, 1788–1789. Removing to Richmond, he was in 1789 appointed United States marshal for the District Court of Virginia, and in 1791 federal supervisor of the district of Virginia for the collection of the excise tax on liquors. Although an ardent Federalist, he declined the secretaryship of war in 1795. In 1806 and 1809 he was mayor of Richmond, and in 1807 foreman of the jury at the trial, presided over by his brother-in-law, Chief Justice John Marshall, of Aaron Burr for treason (Garland Evans Hopkins, “The Life of Edward Carrington, a Brief Sketch,” Americana, XXXIV [1940], 458–74, and “Colonel Carrington of Cumberland” [mimeographed, Winchester, Va., 1942]). See also Report of Delegates of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia on Carrington’s Memorial, 20 April 1782, editorial note.

5Although, as mentioned in n. 1, the Council of State had advised that “our Delegates be instructed,” the governor here entrusts the matter to their discretion. Judging from their letter of acknowledgment of 25 February (q.v.) and the printed journal of Congress, they decided against following the instruction of the Council of State.

6John Hopkins, Jr.

7See Jameson to JM, ca. 12 January, and n. 10; and Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 2 February 1782. Congress had resolved on 22 May 1781 that “the treasurer of the United States is directed immediately to draw orders on the treasurers of the several states, payable at thirty days’ sight, for their respective quotas of the three millions of dollars, called for on the 26 day of August, 1780, and which was to have been paid into the continental treasury on or before the last day of December last” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 525).

8Harrison’s dispatch of 29 May 1781, mentioned in the delegates’ letter of 24 January 1782 to La Luzerne (q.v.), was written at Charlottesville, because the Virginia General Assembly had moved there from Richmond to escape the British. At that time Harrison was speaker of the House of Delegates. Before the end of May, once again to avoid capture by the enemy, the government fled to Staunton (“the Mountains”). See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 121, n. 3.

9See map between pp. 212 and 213 of Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , I.

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