James Madison Papers

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 19 September 1783

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates

FC (Virginia State Library). Addressed to “The Honorable Virginia Delegates in Congress.” In the hand of Samuel Patteson.

Council Chamber September 19th. 1783.


Yesterday’s post brought me none of your favors.1

I have nothing to communicate to you but that my advices from our north western frontiers tell me that if the Pennsylvanians continue their settlements on the other side of Ohio a general indian war is to be apprehended which I am sure we are unable to engage in at present, and yet we must take part in it or suffer the depopulation of our Country. how this imprudent step is to be corrected I know not.2 is there no where a power lodged to prevent any State’s acting as they please notwithstanding they may injure their neighbors in ever so great a degree.3

The Ship Cormorant is much injured by the length of time that has elapsed since the Commissioners offered her to Congress. if no answer comes shortly she will be sold4

I am &.

B. H.

1In his letter of 26 September to the delegates (q.v.), Governor Harrison acknowledged the receipt of their letters of 8 (q.v.) and 13 September. The latter has not been found.

2Delegates to Harrison, 8 Sept., and nn. 2–4; Harrison to Delegates, 13 Sept., and n. 4; 26 Sept., and n. 4. On 3 October the Virginia delegates laid most of the second paragraph of the present letter before Congress (Delegates to Harrison, 4 Oct. 1783, and n. 1).

3On 20 September Congress rejected the report of a committee which had considered a request of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The rejected report declared that “Congress have no objection to a conference being held on behalf of the State of Pensylvania, with the Indians on their borders, respecting a purchase to be made by and at the expence of the said State, of lands within the limits thereof,” provided that Pennsylvania give Virginia and New York the option of sending commissioners to the conference, and also provided that Pennsylvania at the conference refrain from entrenching upon the power solely vested in Congress to make all “engagements relative to peace or war with the said Indians.” Having unanimously opposed three amendments unsuccessfully offered, the whole Virginia delegation (JM, Jones, and Mercer) joined to endorse the report as it stood (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 591–96). They thereby supported Harrison’s express desire that peace be maintained and at the same time yielded nothing in respect to Virginia’s claim to the lands north and west of the Ohio River, that claim not being a point at issue.

On 28 August Congress elected a grand committee to consider a committee’s draft of an “Ordinance prohibiting the settlement and purchase of certain lands,” submitted on 13 August. The grand committee’s report. in the form of a proclamation written by James McHenry, was laid before Congress on 1 September and adopted, apparently without debate, three weeks later (NA: PCC, No. 186, fol. 120; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 505–6, 506, n. 1, 528; XXV, 602, and n. 1). Citing the ninth article of the Articles of Confederation as its warrant, Congress barred “all persons from making settlements on lands inhabited or claimed by Indians, without the limits or jurisdiction of any particular State, and from purchasing or receiving any gift or cession of such lands or claims without the express authority” of Congress. The proclamation further declared that “every such purchase or settlement, gift or cession, not having the authority aforesaid, is null and void.” See also JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 680–95. Thus, not without a touch of irony, Congress adopted in part a policy set forth by Great Britain in the Proclamation of 1763, for which see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 8; 14, nn. 9–10. As Consul W. Butterfield remarked: “No attention whatever was paid to this proclamation. The consequence was that the settlements increased continually—so rapidly indeed that in less than two years the United States found it necessary to drive off the settlers by force” (Butterfield, ed., Washington-Irvine Correspondence, pp. 196–97, n. 2).

4Instruction to Delegates in re “Cormorant,” 26–27 June, and ed. n., nn. 2–3; Delegates to Harrison, 4 Oct. 1783, and n. 6. On the date of the present letter, Harrison wrote to the Virginia commissioners “for protecting the trade of Chesapeake Bay,” assuring them of their authority to dispose of the “british-built” ship to anyone offering a fair price. Along with the schooner “Harrison,” the “Cormorant” appears to have been sold at auction in Norfolk on 20 October. In a letter of 6 November Harrison directed the Bay commissioners to deliver to Commodore James Barron, Sr., the two state-owned slaves who had been aboard the “Cormorant” (Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, pp. 199, 228, MS in Va. State Library; Va. Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends , 11 and 18 Oct. 1783; Robert Armistead Stewart, The History of Virginia’s Navy of the Revolution [Richmond, 1934], p. 127).

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