George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Bell, 26 May 1794

From James Bell

Philada May 26. 1794


Persuaded that your important time must be occupied with the weighty Care of the public affairs, I feel, on this account, great embarrassment for trespassing one moment on your attention. I regret, Sir, that it has become necessary. But, your exalted Character justifies me in hoping that, tho’ surrounded by great and important public business, you will condescend to hear my Representations, and, so far as in you lies, remedy the Grievances of which I complain.

When, in the Course of the war with Great Britain, an Expedition was undertaken by the United States against Canada, I rendered, what are allowed to be, great and important Services to the United States. I expended, Sir, my own Monies—I furnished Supplies, at my own expense, for the American Army; and, otherwise, assisted the expedition by all the means in my power: and, in the doing of this, I reduced my private fortune very considerably. I had hopes in the Justice of the United States, and entertained no doubt, but that my Demands for these services, supported as they are by just vouchers, would be allowed to me. Accordingly I lately petitioned the Congress; and, in the House of Representatives, my petition was referred to a Committee who, on a full investigation of my Claims & Vouchers made a favorable report, which was agreed to in the House and a Bill was brought in agreeably thereto which being referred to a Committee of the whole was lost on the principle that I am barred by the Act of Limitation. I enclose, for your perusal a Copy of the report of the Committee, and of my own statement to them when sitting for the purpose of examining my Claims.1

I have believed, Sir, that the Services I have rendered to the United States were meritorious—and that my demands for them are just is incontestible. I have also believed, Sir, that the Act of Limitation cannot bar my Claims, because, not dwelling within the limits of the United States, I ought to come within the provisory exceptions of that Act; for, my residence has all along been at Chambly in Canada.

But, Sir, just as my demands are I am excluded from all Chance of recompense; and I cannot help expressing to you that I deem this peculiarly hard.

I beg of you, Sir, if it lies in your power, to assist me in having my Business put into a train of just liquidation; and, I am sure, that your regard for those, who were the real friends of America in the time of her greatest Danger & Distress, will lead you to do every thing to this purpose that you consistently can.

For Brevity sake, I have avoided a more particular detail; hoping, that you will be pleased to favor me with an opportunity of personally explaining the peculiar Hardship of my Situation with regard to this business. Permit me therefore to wait your Answer. With the greatest respect & Esteem I am Sir Your most obedt humble Servant

Jas Bell

LS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters. James Bell (c.1739-1814) was a Chambly, Canada, merchant. During the American invasion of 1775-76 he acted as a supplier for American troops and assisted with the building of boats and the repair of Fort Chambly. After the American troops retreated, he offered similar services to the British army, accompanying the Burgoyne expedition as far as Fort George. In 1802 he petitioned the British government seeking lands in recognition of the services he had rendered the king during the Revolution (Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 5:63-64).

1The enclosed copy has not been identified. Bell’s petition was presented to the House of Representatives on 13 March, and the committee’s report on the petition was read on 23 April. A resolution authorizing the accounting officers of the treasury to settle Bell’s accounts "on equitable principles" was passed on 6 May, and a bill granting relief to Bell pursuant to that resolution was read on 13 May but rejected on 20 May. The same petition was considered and rejected in 1800. Bell offered a new petition in 1802, which was rejected in 1803, and he failed again with a petition in 1810. In 1833 his surviving children again petitioned Congress, and a bill was passed in 1834, authorizing the payment of up to $5,727.03 to settle Bell’s account. The treasury at that time found that Bell was due $6,056.34 plus interest, and his heirs continued to petition Congress seeking the remaining sum until 1860 (U.S. House Journal, Washington Administration, 6:190, 271-72, 292, 321, 344-45; U.S. House Journal, 6th Cong., 1st sess., 622, 643; U.S. House Journal, 7th Cong., 1st sess., 95; U.S. House Journal, 7th Cong., 2d sess., 247, 353-54; U.S. House Journal, 11th Cong., 2d sess., 206, 238; U.S. House Journal, 23d Cong., 1st sess., 70-71; Stat description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends . 6:598-99; H. Rep. 341, 36th Cong., 1st sess., serial 1069). For more details about Bell’s claim, see the various reports on the heirs’ petitions, notably H. Rep. 184, 23d Cong., 1st sess., serial 260.

The act of limitation that barred Bell’s claim was presumably the Continental Congress resolution of 23 July 1787, which directed that unliquidated claims against the commissary, quartermaster, clothier, hospital, and marine departments should be made within eight months and all other claims within one year, or "be precluded from settlement or allowance" (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 33:392).

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