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Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 16 November 1782

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates

FC (Virginia State Library). In the hand of Thomas L. Savage and addressed to “Virginia Delegates in Congress.”

In Council 16th. Novem: 1782.

Gentlemen

I have your favor by the last post, and think with you that it is problematical whether the British quit Charles Town or not,1 tho’ on the 25th. of last Month they had made such advances towards it that hopes are to be entertain’d of their being embarked before the countermanding orders arrive.2 If this should be the case, & they still entertain hopes of conquest in America may they not call on us, if they should, we were never less prepared, some demon or other certainly possessed us when we disposed of the ships that were prepared to bring over the arms & ammunition from France,3 both which are now so much wanted that if you do not think it improper you will do your Country a great Service by again pressing the Chevilier to use his Interest to have them brought over in a Frigate.4 The Scarcity of musket powder is so great in the State owing to our losses by the Enemy, and the necessary consumption of it during the Invasion that an immediate supply is absolutely necessary, and as we have no means of obtaining it but thro’ Congress I request that you use your Endeavours to procure from them three or four Tuns, that they owe us so much is beyond a doubt, but if you can not obtain it in return for what we have expended, rather than be disappointed I would take it on account till our demands can be adjusted.5 If you succeed please to send it on immediately in Waggons to Westham, which you know is not above six Miles from hence and is not much out of the way,6 the waggonage shall be certainly paid on their arrival. If you can’t procure it this way, perhaps it may be bought in the Town for Tobacco on Rappahannock or Powtamac rivers, to be paid on the delivery of the Powder, in which case you’l please to contract for it, and inform me immediately. the price we have fixed you have below,7 but if that can not be obtained, I know of no other Mode of doing Justice to the State & the Seller but by having it fixed by the agent for commutables here & a Merchant of reputation on either of those rivers chosen by the Seller.8 No business of consequence is yet done by the Assembly.9

I am &c.

B. H.

2See Pendleton to JM, 8 November 1782, n. 2. Colonel George Baylor, the bearer of the letter of 24 October from Nathanael Greene, may have left Greene’s headquarters on 25 October and told Harrison of British activities in Charleston up to that date. See 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, 390, and n. 144. For the rumored “countermanding orders,” see Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 29 October 1782, and nn. 5, 6.

3Harrison’s plan early in 1782 to have the military matériel brought from France in the “Cormorant” and “Oliver Cromwell” had been thwarted by an act of the Virginia General Assembly on 23 May. This statute removed the “Cormorant” and other state ships from the governor’s control, assigned them to protect the “commerce of Chesapeake bay and its dependencies,” and forbade their employment upon the high seas (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 44, n. 5; 341, n. 5; 361, n. 33; Calendar of Virginia 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, 176, 184; 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 , XI, 42–44). This policy, which Harrison sharply criticized in his message to the House of Delegates on 22 October, was reaffirmed by the autumn session of the legislature, which also directed the sale of the “Cormorant” (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, 252, 323, 350–51; Journal of the House of Delegates 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 , October 1782, pp. 68, 70, 82, 85, 90; 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 , XI, 161–62). The “Cormorant” was still owned by the state in September 1783 (Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, p. 199, MS in Virginia State Library; Journal of the House of Delegates 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. 86; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 444, n. 1, 486).

4In a letter of 24 January 1782, the Virginia delegates had recommended to the Chevalier de La Luzerne that he arrange for the bringing of the supplies across the Atlantic in “French bottoms.” Failure to agree upon the terms of paying for these goods largely explains why they were still overseas (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 45; 60; 227; 230, n. 21; 233, n. 1; 283; 308–9; 316, n. 14; 325, and n. 3). The bill of about 700,000 livres which Virginia owed for the articles was considerably reduced in October, when Robert Morris, at Governor Harrison’s request, agreed to have Congress assume the cost and ownership of all the clothing in the consignment. Morris also promised to help expedite the coming from France to Virginia of the “Arms Ammunition & Military Stores.”

On 16 November Harrison gratefully acknowledged Morris’ willingness to aid but reminded him that “the Situation we are in will not admit of a Moments delay” (ibid., IV, 285, n. 11; 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, 328, 350–51, 374, 380; Calendar of Virginia 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, 353). See also ibid., III, 382–83. Probably knowing of Morris’ revived interest in the matter, the Virginia delegates decided, upon receiving the present letter, to confer with him rather than to “annoy” La Luzerne. See Virginia Delegates to Harrison, 3 December 1782.

5Ibid. The governor’s worry about the possibility of an invasion by the British troops which soon would evacuate Charleston was only an intensification of his long-standing concern because of the scarcity of muskets and ammunition in Virginia. See 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, 117–18, 187 n., 232, 378–79; Calendar of Virginia 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 , II, 684; III, 86–87, 114, 152, 159–60, 168.

6A public depository or magazine for the storage of munitions was at Westham.

7Not found. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 376.

8The “agent for commutables” was Benjamin Harrison, Jr. (Journals of the Council of State description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (3 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , III, 158, 195). See also Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 30, n. 4.

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