James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Sarah W. Lapsley, 26 December 1809

From Sarah W. Lapsley

Paris1 Dec. 26th. 1809.

Hon. Sir

Pardon the presumption of a female, in troubling you, with this addres⟨s.⟩ I had the misfortune, when an infant to loose my father, Capt. Samuel Lapsley;2 and with him, the greater part of what, as his Child I had a right to inherit. Amongst the rest was, two Certificates for his faithful services, during the late revolutionary war, containing 2360 dollars. My Mother has repeatedly applied to Congress for relief; but owing to her helpless situation and not being able to make proper statements of our Claim, or for want of suitable persons, to advocate our Cause; we have hitherto not succeeded.3 But where can the helpless apply, but to those who have it in their power to redress them, the friends of liberty, the patrons of Justice. If Sir, you will be so condescending as to inquire into the merits of our Claim you will find the papers relative to the business, in the hands of the Hon. Benjamin Howard;4 and if upon investigation, you find our claim to be a Just, one; may I not hope for your Patronage, and assistance;5 your attention will lay me under infinite obligations, to an unknown friend and benefactor; and will be ever gratefully remembered by

Sarah W. Lapsley


1Paris, Kentucky.

2Samuel Lapsley was a captain in a Virginia regiment, 1777–79 (Heitman, Historical Register Continental, p. 340).

3Lapsley’s widow, Margaret, came close to settling the claim in 1800, when the Senate passed a private relief bill for her husband’s heirs, but the House of Representatives rejected it (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States ... (38 vols.; Washington, 1832-61). description ends , Claims, pp. 241–42).

4Benjamin Howard (1760–1814) served as a Kentucky congressman, 1807–10. JM appointed him governor of the Louisiana Territory in 1810.

5Margaret Lapsley had apparently submitted a petition for relief in November 1808 without success, but the House referred the matter again to the Committee of Claims on 9 Jan. 1810. The committee reported that the claim, though reasonable, was barred from further consideration by the statute of limitations, a judgment the House reversed on 9 Mar. A bill for the relief of Margaret Lapsley and five other petitioners was then duly passed by the House on 13 Apr., but Lapsley’s name was struck out by a Senate amendment on 1 May. The matter was finally settled in 1813 when Congress voted to pay the claim plus interest from 1783 (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States ... (42 vols.; Washington, 1834-56). description ends , 11th Cong., 2d sess., 655, 657, 663, 676, 678–79, 1531, 1559, 1560, 1761–62, 1794, 2053; Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States [9 vols.; Washington, 1826], 7:167, 176, 275, 283; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America ... (17 vols.; Boston, 1848-73). description ends , 6:119).

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