James Madison Papers

Timothy Pickering to Virginia Delegates, 23 November 1782

Timothy Pickering to Virginia Delegates

FC (NA: War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Vol. 85, fol. 295–96). Addressed to “The Delegates in Congress from Virginia.” The main part of the letter, including the address and signature, is in the hand of a clerk.

Philadelphia Nov. 23d: 1782


The Bearer1 with his family are just arrived from newburgh, to which place they came from Canada where they have been Prisoners about two years.2 Just before I left New Burgh,3 I received notice from the Comr. in Chief that about One hundred and seventy such prisoners, chiefly Women and Children, were on their way from Canada, and might shortly be expected at New Burgh, from whence he desired me to give them such aid in transporting them: and their baggage hither, as I should have in my power. Eleven persons, including the bearer and his family, have arived here this morning, and most of the others may be shortly expected. They were chiefly carried from Kentucky, and will probably wish to return thither, or at least to proceed to Virginia. I have therefore advised the Bearer to present himself to you for such assistance and direction as his distressed condition appears to demand.

The numbers alike distressed being so considerable, and as they chiefly belong to Virginia, I beg leave to suggest to you the expediency of proposing some order of Congress in the case, authorizing such assistance to be given these unhappy people as humanity requires & their necessaties render indispensable.4 Until some order be taken concerning them, I have thought it my duty (conforming to the views of the General) to have them lodged in the Barracks and supplied with fuel & provisions; & have given directions accordingly.5

I have the honor to be &c

Tim. Pickering Q.M.G.6

1Possibly Thomas Machan, a captain of Kentucky militia. He appears to have been the captain with that surname who arrived at Winchester, Va., in December 1782 or early in January 1783. See n. 2, below; 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 , III, 419; Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 26 November; Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 7 December 1782, and n. 4. Machan’s birth and death dates have not been found, but he was living at least as late as 1791 (Personal-Property Tax Book, 1791, Bourbon County, MS in Virginia State Library). For further mention of him, see Willard Rouse Jillson, comp., Old Kentucky Entries and Deeds: A Complete Index to all the Earliest Land Entries, Military Warrants, Deeds and Wills of the Commonwealth of Kentucky (Louisville, Ky., 1926), pp. 49, 123; James R. Robertson, Petitions of the Early Inhabitants of Kentucky to the General Assembly of Virginia, pp. 120, 212.

2In a letter of 13 November, written at his Newburgh, N.Y., headquarters to Governor Harrison, Washington remarked “that all the Prisoners taken and carried into Canada have been lately released upon what terms I do not know.” He added that “170 mostly Women and Children may be expected here every moment by way of the Lakes” and “about 400 more mostly Men are sent round to New York by Sea” (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 , XXV, 335–36). Of the total, “near 200” were “from Kentucky and other back settlements of Virginia.” See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 26 November 1782. Many of these settlers had been taken captive by a force of British and Shawnee in June 1780 and carried to Detroit. See McIlwaine, Official Letters description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia (3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29). description ends , III, 357–58; James Alton James, ed., George Rogers Clark papers, 1771–1781 (Springfield, Ill., 1912), pp. 398–401, 424, 452. Of these former prisoners, the first to reach Philadelphia was a group of eleven carried in “One Waggon,” which entered the city on 23 November (file copy of Pickering to Benjamin Lincoln, 25 November 1782, in NA: War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Vol. 85, fols. 297–98).

3Although the day when Colonel Timothy Pickering (1745–1829), continental quartermaster general, left Newburgh is uncertain, he arrived back in Philadelphia on the evening of 14 November (NA: War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Vol. 85, fol. 295).

4For the response of JM and Joseph Jones, the only Virginia delegates then attending Congress, to Pickering’s suggestion, see JM to Randolph, 26 November 1782; also n. 6, below.

5The “Barracks,” built by the British in 1758, occupied the block bounded by Second, Third, Tammany, and Green streets, on the northern edge of the city. For a picture and brief history of the barracks, see John F. Watson, Annals of Philadelphia, Being a Collection of Memoirs, Anecdotes, & Incidents of the City and its Inhabitants from the Days of the Pilgrim Founders (Philadelphia, 1830), pp. 361–62.

6Beneath Pickering’s signature, a clerk other than the one who had penned the letter wrote Pickering’s dictated comment: “N. B. Mr. Maddison, one of the Delegates from Virga: called on me, in consequence of the foregoing letter, and requested me to state the subject thereof to the Secy at War, thro’ whom he wished it to be introduced to Congress, rather than by the Delegates of Virginia.”

In his letter of 25 November 1782, cited in n. 2, Pickering invited the attention of the secretary at war to the “distressed condition” of the former prisoners and asked him, if his “business will permit,” to apply to Congress “immediately” for “effectual relief” to be extended to them. On the same day, upon receiving Lincoln’s letter on the subject, Congress referred the problem “to the Superintendent of Finance and Secretary at War to take order” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 753). See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 26 November 1782.

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