Bill Prohibiting Further Confiscation
of British Property
[3 December 1784]
Whereas by the Definitive treaty of peace as now ratified Between the united States of America1 and his Britannick majesty it is agreed that there shall be no future Confiscation; to the end that the same may be carried into effect within this Commonwealth Be it enacted by the General Assembly that the future Operation of the Laws concerning Escheats and forfeitures from British Subjects shall henceforth cease and determine and that no process or order of Sale shall issue nor shall the property of any British Subject be sold by virtue of any of the said Laws from and after the passing of this Act—provided always that nothing herein contained shall be Construed in any manner to affect the right, tittle or Interest of any person holding or claiming any property heretofore sold under the said Laws or particularly appropriated by any act or resolution of the General assembly, but all such rights and tittles shall be as good and valid as if this Act had never been made.
Ms (Vi). The manuscript of this legislation is not in JM’s hand. His authorship is presumed by the circumstances explained below. The bill is titled: “A Bill to prevent the future operation of the Laws concerning Escheats and forfeitures from British Subjects.”
1. After the outbreak of war the property rights of British citizens were indeed cloudy until Jefferson introduced a resolution “concerning Money Due British Subjects” and the legislature passed a bill he drafted “concerning escheats and forfeitures from British subjects” (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (18 vols. to date; Princeton, N. J., 1950——). description ends , II, 168–72; Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , IX, 377–80; X, 66–71). The several laws provided for state-appointed custodians of sequestered British property, with all profits paid into the state treasury along with “all unpaid rents due to British subjects” (Harrell, Loyalism in Virginia, pp. 85–86). The escheat measure called for the legal confiscation of British property and its sale by a county escheator. The law provided that “the former owner might claim the money paid to the commonwealth for the estate,” and from 1779 onward large sales were made of personal property, lands, and slaves condemned by courts of inquest (ibid., pp. 89, 95–98). As Harrell points out, a bill calling for suspension of these acts failed to pass the House of Delegates shortly after Cornwallis’s defeat. Instead, an act passed late in 1781 diverted all receipts from sequestered estates to a sinking fund for military certificates, and at the May 1784 session a resolution passed which might have then led to a suspension of the “farther operation” of the escheat laws, but time ran out and nothing was done.
The matter was revived on 1 Dec. when the previous resolutions and other documents on escheats were brought before the Committee of the Whole. A drafting committee was appointed with JM as a member. This group produced the bill which was introduced on 3 Dec. and passed on 22 Dec. JM carried it to the Senate, but that body balked at approving the House version. Conferences were required before a revised bill was finally accepted by the House on 30 Dec. (JHDV description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used is the one in which the journals for 1777–1786 are brought together in two volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in either 1827 or 1828 and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , Oct. 1784, pp. 52, 79, 85, 92, 93, 95). The main part of the final version is in Ms (Vi), and the act is printed in Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , XI, 446.