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Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 19 April 1783

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates

FC (Virginia State Library). In the hand of Thomas Meriwether. Addressed to “Virginia Delegates in Congress.”

Richmond April 19th. 1783.

Gentlemen

I received your favor by the last Post.1 It appears to me astonishing that Nathan should give you so much trouble, when he must know his Debt can be paid no where but at this Place[;] this his Agent2 has been told, and that there are no funds as yet establish’d for that Purpose; I shall lay the Award of the Arbitrators before the next Assembly, who will no doubt provide for the Payments.3 You must consult your own Prudence in the Affair of Pollock,4 the Assembly have refer’d it to you to take proper Security,5 and it will probably behove you to be cautious, as I have additional reasons (lately received) to those I formerly had for thinking he has been at least the most imprudent Man in the World;6 great Part of his demand is for Bills taken up by him after the receipt of a Letter from Col: Todd from the Illinois a Copy of which I have for-biding him to Pay them and informing him they were drawn by Adventurers who had no right to draw and who were procuring Money in that way for their Private Purposes.7

I am waiting for a Public Express with official Accounts of the Confirmation of Peace. your Proclamation is arrived by a Private Hand but of that I can take no official Notice.8 I am with respect

Gentlemen Yrs: &c.

B. H.

1Delegates to Harrison, ca. 8 Apr. 1783, ed. n. See also Harrison to Delegates, 4 Mar. 1783, and the citations in n. 6.

2Thomas Smith (d. 1813) of Henrico County, who in 1779 had been the agent to settle the account of Virginia with the United States (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 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , Oct. 1781, pp. 47, 56–57). After his death an inventory disclosed that a number of clients were indebted to his estate while others were credited in full (Henrico County Court Records, Will Book 4, p. 335, MS in Va. State Library). See also McIlwaine, Official Letters description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia (3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29). description ends , II, 256–57; Cal. of Va. State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , III, 370; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 229, n. 6.

3In his message of 5 May to the Virginia General Assembly Harrison enclosed the “determination of an arbitration, had in Philadelphia, on the part of the State, with a Mr. Nathan.” The governor commented that Virginia probably was “now bound to pay” the award, although he thought it too large. On 21 June the House of Delegates rejected a committee’s recommendation that Nathan be paid all that he was still owed with 6 per cent interest since 8 June 1780 (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 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , May 1783, pp. 72–75). On 24 and 25 June 1783 the Virginia General Assembly, upon being informed that “some circumstances” relevant to the issue had been unknown to the arbitrators, resolved to submit the issue and the award for review by two new arbitrators—one of whom should be named by the governor of Maryland and the other by Nathan (ibid., May 1783, pp. 81–82, 84).

Among the “circumstances” was probably the belated arrival in Philadelphia of an important document adverse to Nathan’s claim (Delegates to Harrison, 4 Feb.; 4 Mar.; Harrison to Delegates, 15 Feb.; 21 Feb. 1783). Another of the “circumstances” may have been the papers enclosed with Harrison’s message of 25 June 1783 to the General Assembly, revealing “Abuses” connected with purchases made in the West by Virginia officials there. From some of these transactions, the claims of Nathan, as well as of Oliver Pollock, had arisen (Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, p. 162, MS in Va. State Library; 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 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , May 1783, p. 73). See also nn. 4–6, below; 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 , VI, 321–24 n.

4The state of Virginia owed Oliver Pollock much money for military supplies purchased from him by General George Rogers Clark and other military officers of the state in the district of Kentucky and the Illinois country. The exact amount due Pollock was controversial, not only because his invoices seemed sometimes to list prices in depreciated currency and sometimes in specie, but also because goods chargeable to Congress were not always differentiated from those bought for Virginia. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , I, 277, n. 7; III, 98; 99, n. 1; 256, and n. 6; 344, n. 2; IV, 349, and n. 5; 377–78; 378, n. 5; 402; V, 208, n. 5; 282; 287, n. 19; 455, n. 10. The report on 26 March of a committee of Congress, to which a memorial and statement of account from Pollock on 24 February 1783 had been submitted, illustrates the complications caused by these ambiguities and also by Virginia’s making use of three of his shipments, even though they were “for account of the United States” (NA: PCC, No. 50, fols. 297–304, 389–91; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 149, n. 1, 234–38, 237, n. 1, 266, 318, 323).

5On 27 December 1782 the Virginia House of Delegates agreed to reimburse Pollock with $30,000 in three annual installments, “and the balance in certificates, payable in four years from the date thereof: Provided, that the issuing of certificates for one half of the amount of the said accounts, be postponed until the said Oliver Pollock finds such sufficient security as may be approved of by the delegates representing this State in Congress, for the indemnification of the States from any demands for the bills drawn by him on Penette, De Costa, Freres and Company.” The Senate concurred the next day (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 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , Oct. 1782, pp. 83–84, 88). The governor may have enclosed a copy of this resolution to the delegates in his letter of 4 Jan. 1783 (q.v., and n. 5).

Harrison understood that Pollock would deposit as “sufficient security” with the Virginia delegates in Congress his written authorizations from Governor Thomas Jefferson in 1779 and 1780 to draw bills of exchange on Penet, d’Acosta Frères et Cie of Nantes (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 , III, 158–60, 274, 320). By means of these bills, Pollock had expected to procure funds for reimbursing Bernardo de Gálvez, the governor of Spanish Louisiana, who, with Jefferson’s endorsement, had advanced Pollock some of the money used by him to pay for Virginia’s military supplies (ibid., III, 167–69, 482–83; VI, 356; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , I, 218, n. 6; 277, n. 7). Being in dire financial straits, partly because of bills unpaid by Virginia for goods shipped to her from France, the Penet Company was unable to honor Pollock’s bills of exchange. Consequently, in the spring of 1783, although her treasury was almost empty, Virginia found herself pressed simultaneously for cash by Simon Nathan, by representatives of the bankrupt Penet Company, by the virtually bankrupt Pollock, and by Gálvez (McIlwaine, Official Letters description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia (3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29). description ends , III, 103, 105, 108, 110; JCSV description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (4 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , III, 427, 462, 484, 506; Cal. of Va. State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends I, 347; III, 153; Lynch to JM, 15 Feb., n. 4; Livingston to Delegates, 15 Mar., and n. 1; Harrison to Delegates, 29 Mar., and nn. 2–8, 10–12, 14; Delegates to Gálvez, 4 May 1783, MS in Archivo General de Indias, Seville).

Probably from information contained in the now missing letter of ca. 8 April from the delegates in Congress to him, Harrison stated in his message of 5 May 1783 to the Virginia General Assembly that Pollock was willing to deposit with the delegates enough of the certificates issued to him, in accordance with the Assembly’s resolution of 27–28 December 1782, to secure Virginia against the protested bills of exchange drawn by him on the Penet Company. See Delegates to Harrison, 8 Apr. 1783, ed. n. Shortly after sending this message, but before 12 May, when a quorum first assembled in the House of Delegates, Harrison received the delegates’ letter of 29 April 1783 (q.v.) stating that Pollock refused to give “any security for the present.”

6By the phrase “at least,” Harrison suggested his suspicion, expressed as early as January 1782, that Pollock’s business dealings with Virginia had been characterized by fraud as well as by extreme imprudence (McIlwaine, Official Letters description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia (3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29). description ends , III, 138, 139, 260–61, 320–22; and citations in n. 4, above). In a letter written in 1782 to George Rogers Clark, Pollock admitted that, from his “desire of serving a country I loved” and his overconfidence in her “Gratitude and Justice,” he had acted “Unprudently” (James Alton James, The Life of George Rogers Clark [Chicago, 1928], pp. 293–94).

Although the source of the “additional reasons” has not been definitely identified, it probably was a letter of 9 March 1783, “lately received” by Harrison from the Virginia commissioners to settle western accounts (James Alton James, ed., George Rogers Clark Papers, 1781–1784 [Springfield, Ill., 1924], pp. 215–17; Cal. of Va. State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , III, 433, 436, 441–44, 452–54; Harrison to Clark, 3 Mar.; 9 Apr.; to Mr. d’Acosta, 13 Mar.; to the commissioners to settle western accounts, 8 Apr. 1783, all in Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, pp. 60, 66–67, 91, 95–96, MS in Va. State Library). For the commissioners, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 378, n. 5; V, 229, nn. 4, 5.

7The letter at issue from Colonel John Todd to Oliver Pollock has not been found, although Harrison submitted a copy of it to the Virginia General Assembly on 5 May 1783. On the same day he also seems to have sent to the Assembly copies of Todd’s letters of 1 and 2 July 1779 to John Page, lieutenant governor of Virginia, telling what he (Todd) had written to Pollock in New Orleans (James A. James, ed., George Rogers Clark Papers, 1781–1784, p. 321; Cal of Va. State Papers, I, 326). Todd’s letter, to which Harrison referred, was written either between 12 May 1779, when he became head of the civil government of the country of Illinois, and 1 and 2 July, or between then and about 15 November of that year, when he returned from Kaskaskia to the district of Kentucky (Clarence Walworth Alvord, ed., Kaskaskia Records, 1778–1790 [Springfield, Ill., 1909], pp. 80–85, 131, n. 1, 133, and n. 1).

Since Pollock sent military supplies by batteaux up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to Illinois, Kentucky, and Ohio country ports without always knowing whether his consignee was the United States or Virginia, and without always making clear whether his invoices cited prices in specie or in depreciated paper currency, the following quotation from his letter of 30 September 1779 to the commercial committee of Congress may signify that by then he had received the letter in question from Todd: “I never meant or expected you would pay them in Silver, and if the Holders [of my bills of exchange] have made their Demands for that Specie, they know they have done wrong … [Hereafter] … I shall give prices in Paper Currency, you allowing me the Exchange customary at the time of presenting said Bills” (NA: PCC, No. 50, fols. 115–18). For Todd, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , I, 275; 277, n. 4; IV, 427, n. 3; 446.

Sharing Harrison’s opinion that Pollock’s accounts needed to be scrutinized more thoroughly, the Virginia General Assembly on 25 June resolved that, “until further orders,” no more warrants should be issued in favor of Pollock, and no further payments should be made on warrants already issued to him or to his agent, Daniel Clark (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 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , May 1783, pp. 83, 85). See also 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 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , Oct. 1783, pp. 40–41, 47.

Among the “Adventurers,” Harrison surely would have included Captain Philip Barbour (d. 1797), Daniel Clark (d. 1799), Captain Robert George (1756–1837), John Henderson (1737–1787), Lieutenant Colonel John Montgomery (ca. 1742–1794), Daniel Murray (d. 1784), and possibly Todd himself (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , I, 276; 277, nn. 3, 11; III, 99, n. 1; 106, n. 15; 256, and n. 6; 342–44; 344–47, nn.; IV, 18; 377; 378, nn. 5, 7; Cal. of Va. State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , I, 460; JCSV description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (4 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , II, 362–65; James Alton James, ed., George Rogers Clark Papers, 1771–1781 [Springfield, Ill., 1912], pp. 496–98; ibid., 1781–1784, passim; Clarence W. Alvord, Kaskaskia Records, pp. 130–32, 149–50, 197–98, 333–34; James Alton James, Oliver Pollock: The Life and Times of an Unknown Patriot [New York, 1937], pp. 350–54).

8Delegates to Harrison, 10 Apr., and n. 1; JM Notes, 11 Apr., and n. 1. Although an express bearing the official copy of Congress’ proclamation declaring the cessation of hostilities arrived in Richmond during the night of 18–19 April, Harrison evidently had not seen the proclamation before writing the present letter. On Monday, 21 April, the governor issued his own proclamation, enjoining Virginians “to pay due obedience to the said proclamation of Congress” (JCSV description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (4 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , III, 246–48; Va. Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends , 19, 26 Apr. 1783). On Thursday, by Harrison’s order, “the proclamation of Congress for a cessation of hostilities was read at the courthouse and several other publick places” in Richmond “by the city Serjeant, attended by the Constables” (Va. Gazette, and Weekly Advertiser, 26 Apr. 1783).

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