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Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 20 June 1783

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates

RC (NA: PCC, No. 71, II, 365–67). In Harrison’s hand. Addressed to “The Honble: Virginia Delegates in Congress.” Docketed, “Letter 20 June 1783 Govr. B. Harrison of Virginia to Honble. delegates of that state on a claim of Edward Cowper July 3 1783 Referred to the Agent of marine to report.” The FC in the Virginia State Library varies from the original only in a few instances of punctuation and capitalization.

Richmond, June 20th: 1783.

Gentlemen:

I enclose you a Letter from mr. Cowper who with a Mr. Ballard were employ’d by me at the repeated request of Col. Richard H: Lee and the other Members of the Navy board at Philedelphia as Pilots to carry Hopkins’s fleet round to this Country to attack Lord Dunmore1   they empower’d me to make the most liberal promisses of reward if they would undertake the Business, which they did do and arrived in Philedelphia in three Day[s] after they were apply’d to, where they remain’d six Weeks and were at last sent Home with no more Money than would bear their expences, but were promis’d their reward if they would keep a look out and be ready to go on Board the Fleet as soon as it should arrive here, this Service they also perform’d as far as it related to them being constantly on the look out till they were inform’d the Fleet had stear’d another Course.2 They have made several applications for their Money but without Success, and have now called on me to use my Endeavours to obtain them that Justice they are so well entitled to; indeed they look to me for it declaring that my Promises alone induced them to undertake the Business, which I verily believe to be true. You will readily determine what a Man of Sensibility must feel when he is call’d on to make Satisfaction for Services render’d the public at his request that he is not able to comply with, and I dare say will use your endeavours to have them paid they expect a Hundred pounds each tho’ I think they ought to be satisfied with Sixty.3 You have also two resolutions of the Assembly which were sent to me to be forwarded.4

I am with respect Gentlemen Your most Obedient Servant

Benj Harrison

1The enclosure was a letter from Edward Cowper (Couper) (1736–1810) of Elizabeth City County, dated 27 May 1783, sent in the care of Commodore James Barron, Sr., to Governor Harrison (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 84, n. 7; NA: PCC, No. 71, II, 369–70; Lineage Book of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, CVIII [1914], 183). Cowper, a Chesapeake Bay pilot, requested “at least £100” as compensation for his “Fatiguing Journey to and From Philadelphia” in December 1775 and January 1776, made as a result of an urgent appeal from Harrison to Archibald Cary of Chesterfield County, Va. For Cary, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 162, n. 3.

At that time Harrison and Richard Henry Lee were among the Virginia delegates attending the Second Continental Congress. By November and early December 1775, although the effective rule of Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, had been reduced on land to Portsmouth and Norfolk at the mouth of the James River, British sea power enabled him to control Chesapeake Bay and the navigable rivers flowing into it. The Virginia Committee of Safety, in a letter of 11 November 1775, informed the Virginia delegates in Congress that the patriots did not “have a single Armed Vessell to give the exports & imports even the Shadow of Protection” (David J. Mays, Edmund Pendleton, II, 50).

About five weeks before the delegates received this letter, Richard Henry Lee had urged Congress to “advise Virginia and Maryland to raise a force by sea to destroy Lord Dunmore’s power” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , III, 482, 483). In December 1775 Lee became the member for Virginia on the newly created standing committee on the navy and Esek Hopkins was appointed “commander in chief of the fleet.” On 2 December Congress resolved to dispatch two vessels to take or destroy Lord Dunmore’s ships in Chesapeake Bay and to have Harrison go at once to Maryland to procure, “in conjunction with the delegates of that colony,” additional ships for the same purpose (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , III, 311–12, 395–96, 420, 443). Probably while on this mission, Harrison wrote to Cary, asking him to send posthaste to Philadelphia two pilots to serve on the vessels which were expected to sail from that port to Chesapeake Bay. Without mentioning William Ballard (d. 1784), also of Elizabeth City County, Cowper stated in his letter to Harrison that he began his trip to Philadelphia on 14 December 1775 and did not reach home again until “38 Days” later.

2If Cowper and Ballard reached Philadelphia “in three Day[s],” they obviously did so by sea. In his letter of 27 May 1783 to Harrison, Cowper complained that he had “never as Yet Rec’d One Shilling,” even though Harrison had promised pay “to my Hearts Content.” Instead of proceeding to Chesapeake Bay, the “Fleet” of Commodore Hopkins sailed to New Providence in the Bahama Islands (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , IV, 285, 333; 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 , XV, 578–82; Jefferson to JM, 1 June 1783, and n. 6).

3In his report to Congress on 9 July 1783, accepted a week later, Robert Morris stated that the Ballard-Cowper claim was not within his immediate jurisdiction, for their alleged services had been rendered prior to 1782. He suggested that they should be told to apply to “the Commissioner appointed to settle the Accounts of the United States in Virginia” (NA: PCC, No. 137, II, 611–14). The claims were finally settled under provision of a federal statute of 27 March 1792 whereby Cowper and Ballard’s estates on 27 April 1792 were each awarded $172.95, including interest from 21 January 1776 (American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … Class IX. Claims [Washington, 1834], pp. 387, 388). On 28 June 1783 the Virginia General Assembly appointed both Cowper and Ballard among the examiners of Chesapeake Bay pilots. Cowper served long in this capacity, but Ballard was murdered in 1784, allegedly by a French seaman (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , May 1783, p. 98; 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, 185–89, 299–303; 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, 390).

4These resolutions were the instruction of 17 June 1783 in re fortifications (q.v.), and that of 4 June 1783 in re contracts. On 3 July Congress referred the latter “to the Superintendant of Finance to take Order” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 425; Delegates to Harrison, 5 July 1783). In a letter of 21 July to Harrison, Morris returned the resolution to Harrison and asked him to specify “what particular papers” the General Assembly had in mind. Morris added that many clerks would be required to work a year to make copies of “all the accounts and vouchers.” By letter on 9 August Harrison assured Morris that the resolution and a request for a definition of its scope had been sent to John Tyler, speaker of the House of Delegates (Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, pp. 181, 183, 218, MS in Va. State Library). In a letter of 15 August to Morris, enclosing a copy of Tyler’s explanation, Harrison urged compliance with the resolution, for he was convinced that “some discoveries” of “great misconduct in the officers” would be uncovered (ibid., p. 187). See also Delegates to Harrison, 14 Aug.; 23 Aug. 1783, and n. 9.

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