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Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 29 March 1783

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates

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

In Council March 29th. 1783.

Gentlemen,

Your favor of the 18th. of March came safe to hand, by which I find our Prospects of Peace are greatly lessen’d since the perusal of Mr. Lawrence’s Letter it is however some consolation to me to know that the reports spread abroad by the Enemies of the French Alliance are on this as they have been on all other occasions false and malitious and grounded on ill founded Prejudices, to say no worse of them.1 It is a Matter of serious concern and chagrin to me that the Affairs of Penet & Co. have taken the turn they have2 tho’ it was to be expected from the Conduct of the Assembly, whose interference with the Executive Department, by taking from them Vessels that were prepared to make remittances according to their most sacred Promises have brought it about, the intentions of some Gentlemen are fully answered in bringing me into Contempt for destroying the Public faith. I wish they had recollected that thro’ me they would deeply wound their Country.3 Mr. Barclay has been appointed Agent for the State ever since the 6th. of September last, and I am happy to find from his Letters by Capt. Barney that he has taken the trust upon him and has entered into the Discharge of it.4 the first Thing recommended to him was to use every Method in his Power to prevent Penets doing more Mischief to the State by advertizing the People of Europe that his Powers were recalled, which he has done; his next care was to inform us what Contracts he had entered into that were really on Account of the State, to settle such Accounts and give me a full State of them which I expect he will do by the first Opportunity,5 as soon as they arrive you shall have them in Order to your laying them before any Person or Persons who may have a Claim against us on his Account.6 The Goods ship’d by Penet & Co. in the Duke of Linster and Franklin amounted to 77502. Livers Tournois and no more as may be made appear by Letters and Invoices.7 they ship’d another Parcel of Goods in the Schooner Committee which were taken and retaken and carried into Rode Island.8 their amount I do not exactly know, but suppose from examining the commercial Agents9 Books when the Accounts of the whole transactions are settled there will be a Ballance of nearly the first Sum due to the Company, be it more or less it is at present attach’d by a mr. Bourdeaux of South Carolina and Coulignac & Co. of Nantes have demanded it alledging that the Money for the Purchase of the Goods was advanced by them.10 Mr. Auby says the same thing and therefore claims Payment. I leave you to determine whither both of them can be in the right.11 As far as I am able to jud[g]e these Gentlemen and perhaps some others have been taken in by Penet who was an adventurer and a very bad Man and may Perhaps have in some Measure imposed on them by shewing the Powers he had from this Government, but they never could have advanced the Money to the State or intended to look to it for Payment as will appear by Penets Letters who tells us he could obtain nothing on his Powers till Doctor Franklin should authenticate them which the Doctor Prudently declined,12 and the State never thought fit to ask the favor of him to do it, but rather rejoiced on his refusal. This is as full a State of the Transactions of Penet and his Demands against us as I can at present give you. when what is due will be paid I know not, or to whom it will be paid, if it should be left to me I shall give it to those who really furnish’d the Goods and to no other Person. The Account was given in to the Assembly by the commercial Agent in his List of Debts, and by them ordered to be paid when the Treasurer should be in Cash and I suppose will be so if the Gentlemen can settle the Matter amongst themselves who is to receive it.13 I am altogether disappointed in my Expectations of Arms and Ammunition from France Mr. Barclay informs me the Count De Vergen[nes] has revoked his Powers and will not furnish them. is not this refusal to be attributed to our Breach of Faith?14 if we have an Invasion and our Country is once more overrun by the Enemy for want of them what ought to be the Portion of those who occasioned it? I dare say you will join with me in saying a Rope. With respect I am Gentlemen Yrs: &c.

B. H.

1Delegates to Harrison, 18 Mar. 1783, and nn. 2 and 3. Harrison’s comment must have been galling to Arthur Lee, if he read this letter after his return to Philadelphia on 24 April. See JM Notes, 13 Feb., and n. 6; Randolph to JM, 15 Mar., and n. 4; JM to Randolph, 1 Apr. 1783, and n. 9.

2For the bankruptcy of Penet d’Acosta Frères et Cie of Nantes, 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, 108, 1st n. 2; 175, n. 4; V, 185; 186, n. 3; 195, n. 1.

3By “most sacred Promises,” Harrison probably referred to the resolutions of the Virginia General Assembly in May 1782 (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, 238–39). The Assembly in its session of May 1779, when Harrison was speaker of the House of Delegates, had empowered Governor Jefferson to contract with the Penet company for “the most speedy importation of arms and military stores” from France (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 1779, p. 66; 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, 23–28, and esp. 25–26; 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 , X, 15). Thereafter until January 1782 the company served as Virginia’s foreign agent for the purchase of similar articles (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, 34). The “Gentlemen” who influenced the Assembly in its May 1782 session to thwart Governor Harrison’s plan to use state-owned vessels for transporting war matériel from France are unknown, but probably included Arthur and Richard Henry Lee (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, 42, and n. 1; 43, nn. 2, 4; 44, n. 5; 307, n. 11; 356–57; 361, nn. 33, 34, 36; V, 195, n. 1; 355; Harrison to JM, 4 Jan. 1783, and nn. 3, 6; 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, 241, 350–51).

4For Thomas Barclay, whose appointment by Virginia preceded by over two months his appointment by Congress to settle the accounts of the United States in Europe, see 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, 142; 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, 113, n. 6; 280, n. 4; 291, n. 20; 325, n. 3; V, 195, n. 1; 290, n. 4. For Captain Joshua Barney, see Delegates to Harrison, 18 Feb. 1783, n. 3.

5Harrison was summarizing what he had written about the Penet affair to Barclay in letters of 6 September and 11 November, and especially to George Mason, Jr., in Nantes on 30 September 1782 (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, 318–19, 335–36, 374). See also ibid., III, 328–29, 378–80.

6JM’s term as delegate from Virginia had terminated before Harrison on 26 December 1783 acknowledged to Barclay receipt of his letter concerning the Penet company’s “Accounts” with Virginia (Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, p. 254, MS in Va. State Library).

7For the ship “Franklin,” which docked at Philadelphia on 21 June 1781 with a cargo including “Merchandise” for Virginia bought by Penet and Company with money borrowed from Coulignac and Company, 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 , III, 184–85; 185, nn. 4, 5; 186, nn. 7–10; 191, n. 3; 231, and n. 1. The ship “Duke of Leinster,” while carrying some of the same consignment of goods, was captured at sea by the British. The bankruptcy of Penet accounts for the appeal to Virginia by Coulignac and Company in August 1782 for £85 14s. 6d. as reimbursement to that firm for the wares which it had purchased on Penet’s account for shipment in the two vessels (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, 260). In a letter on 29 March 1783 to Barclay, Harrison stated that the “books” of the commercial agent of Virginia showed that the state owed Penet a balance of 77,502 livres tournois for the cargoes of those ships and of “Le Comité” (Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, p. 83, MS in Va. State Library).

8For the complicated and long-extended issue of the goods aboard “Le Comité,” 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, 295, n. 2; II, 228, and n. 4; 247, n. 2; 313, and nn. 4, 6, 8; III, 47, n. 10; 109, n. 6.

9David Ross, commercial agent of Virginia from 27 December 1780 to 2 April 1782, and William Hay, from 24 May to 21 October 1782 (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, 278; III, 97; 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, 317; III, 234, n. 56; 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, 218, n. 6).

10Daniel Bordeaux (d. 1815) was a prominent merchant and slave trader of Charleston (South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, XL [1939], 67; LXV [1964], 211).

11For Louis Auly, alias Lewis Abraham Pauly, see Livingston to Delegates, 15 Mar., and n. 1; Delegates to Harrison, 18 Mar. 1783, and hdn. In his memorial, Auly claimed that by loaning money to Penet, endorsing his defaulted notes, and paying other charges—all connected with Penet’s activities as agent of Virginia—he was owed by Penet a total of about 92,352 livres tournois. Of this sum, “Judgement has been obtained at the Consulate of Nantz against Penet” for 46,535 livres, expended by Auly for the “divers Articles” shipped in the “Franklin” and “Duke of Leinster.” The exports had also cost Auly, on Penet’s behalf, over 2,624 livres for “duties, expences, & commission.” To enable Penet to render other services for Virginia, Auly claimed that he had endorsed Penet’s “Bills drawn on Pauly of Paris” for a loan of 36,400 livres (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, 175, n. 4).

12In his letter of 6 December 1782 to Harrison, Barclay enclosed the copy of an “advertisement” intended to be placed in “the Paris Gazette and some other General Papers,” as a warning that Barclay alone was authorized to act as Virginia’s agent abroad (MS in Va. State Library). Besides the advertisement, Barclay’s letter originally enclosed a copy of a letter of 11 November 1782 to “Penet De Costa freres & Co,” to which he had “never received any answer”; a copy of a letter to Vergennes respecting the provision of French military matériel for Virginia; and a copy of Vergennes’ reply. See also 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, 42, and n. 1; 227; 230, n. 21; 233, n. 1; 285, nn. 11, 13; 308–9; 313; 316, n. 14; 325, n. 3; V, 278; 279, nn. 3, 4; 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, 210–11.

13Cal. 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, 328, 340, 344, 403, 447–48; 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, 234, 348; 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. 40, 90. Virginia’s debt to David Ross for advances of money and goods during his tenure as commercial agent was still unpaid in the autumn of 1787 (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 , XII, 428).

14McIlwaine, 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, 378. In his letter of 29 March 1783 to Barclay (n. 12), Harrison expressed regret because the Comte de Vergennes had refused “to furnish the Arms and Ammunition that are so much wanted for the Defence of the State,” and asked Barclay to seek a “Loan of one half of” the munitions “formerly required.” Harrison also directed Barclay to secure vouchers from the creditors of Penet, insofar as his transactions for Virginia were concerned, and to forward them as soon as possible (Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, MS in Va. State Library, pp. 83–86). Over two months elapsed before Harrison again mentioned the Penet issue in a letter to the delegates (Harrison to Delegates, 31 May 1783, MS in Va. State Library).

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