James Madison Papers

John Mercer to James Madison, 14 January 1834

Washington January 14th 1834

My dear Sir 

I will offer no other apology for troubling you with a letter exclusively concerning my own private affairs—than that it may afford you an occasion (which I am persuaded would give you pleasure) of rendering a service to the children of an old and sincerely attached friend, who although long since lost sight of by the public eye, may not have lost his place in your kind recollection

My sister & myself are making an effort to obtain from Congress the half pay of our Father the late John Francis Mercer, under an Act providing for the Officers &c of the State line & Legionary Corps raised by Virginia during the pressing exgencies of the Campaigns of 1780 & 81—Of the highly meritorious character of his services during that period we find ample testimony in the Memoirs of the Southern Campaign by Gen Henry Lee and the reminiscences of the few surviving cotemporaries that we have been able to discover. The Committtee on Revolutionary claims however, require us to prove some facts which although notoriously true and matters of traditionary history that no one disputes, are yet difficult to prove in the mode which they require—

In a manuscript narration which I have in my possession written by my father of his military services—he states that during the successive invasions of Mathews, Leslie & Philips. The Legislature of Virginia invested the Executive during their recess with plenary powers for the defence of the State, and among other measures authorized the raising of a Legionary Corps, consisting of two Regts of foot & one of Cavalry—to be commanded by General Robert Lawson—who had served with great distinction early in the War to the North, & subsequently in command of the Virginia malitia at the battle of Guildford in North Carolina, & who was empowered by the Executive to select the Officers. In one of the Regts of foot he was appointed a Lt Colonel and in the same regt & in the same manner your late mutual friend James Monroe was appointed Colonel. Now what I am required to prove (and what strange to tell) is not to be found on the Executive records is that such a corps was raised, and that it was a Legionary Corps within the meaning of the Act—and not a part of the malitia—whom they are very careful to exclude, and if my dear Sir your recollection of those long bye gone times will enable you to afford me any evidence with regard to the character of that Corps as well as the services of my father at that period you will render a very important act of kindness to one who feels at all times the most affectionate solicitude for your continued health & happiness

It has occurred to me as the strongest proof of the validity of this Commission from Genl Lawson that although his Corps was dispersed in consequence of the evacuation of the State by the enemy at the time—Yet early in the ensuing year when the Marquis of Cornwallis invaded the state I find that he is immediately called into service first at the head of a Corps of volunteer horse and subsequently throughout the whole Campaign untill after the surrender at York as a Lt Colonel Mercer & in that rank receives (after the surrender) the thanks of Genl Washington for himself and his Grenadiers—

As this matter is now before the Committee, you will confer a great favor on me by replying to my letter as promptly as your health & convenience will permit—In the mean time I pray you to accept for Mrs Madison and yourself the respectful compts of my Wife and Sister in addition to those of Yr obt Sert


John Mercer

P. S. Please direct yr letter to the Care of Thomas Swann Esq Washington


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