James Madison Papers
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Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 9 August 1783

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates

FC (Virginia State Library). Unsigned. Addressed to “The Honorable Virginia Delegates in Congress.” In the hand of Samuel Patteson, appointed temporarily “an Assistant Clerk” by Governor Harrison on 11 August and subsequently “approvd” for regular employment by the Council of State on an unspecified date (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, 284). The missing RC probably was penned by Archibald Blair, clerk of the Council of State, and the FC entered in the Executive Letter Book by Patteson on or after the date of his temporary appointment.

Council Chamber August 9th: 1783.

Gentlemen,

I received your favor of the 26th. of last month with the papers which were very acceptable tho’ they contained but little news.1 I hope the report of Carleton’s having received the definitive treaty is true, tho’ it seems a little strange that he should have it and you not,2 as the passage from the ports of France is shorter than from those in England; its arrival would be perfectly agreeable as I earnestly wish to see a free intercourse established with the subjects of all the European powers a very few of our apostate friends excepted which can never take place in this State ’till that event happens and the English shew a disposition to evacuate New York.3 The british debts I expect will be a subject of much altercation in the next assembly; my own opinion is that the treaty should be strictly adhered to but not unless such of our negroes as are in being are returned and those paid for that were spirited away even tho’ they should be dead, as their deaths in a great measure proceeded from a camp fever got in the british army and their being totally neglected when ill.4 If any thing has lately passed betwixt Congress and Carelton on this subject you’l please to inform me of it.5 Report says Congress will shortly return to Philadelphia, if they do will they not be blameable after the affronts they have received, or will they ever after remove from thence? I fear not; and therefore most earnestly wish the removal may not take place.6

I am &.

1Q.v., and n. 3.

3By “a very few of our apostate friends,” Harrison meant Virginia Loyalists who had borne arms against the state or the United States. See Instruction to Delegates, 23–24 May, and n. 1; JM Notes, 30 May, n. 1; Jones to JM, 31 May, and nn. 11, 14; 21 June, and n. 21; 28 June. For the evacuation of New York City, see Pendleton to JM, 4 May 1783, n. 5.

4Harrison to Delegates, 9 May, and n. 6; Jones to JM, 31 May, and citations in n. 15; 21 June, and n. 3; Pendleton to JM, 16 June 1783. On 5 December 1783, the speaker of the House of Delegates signed into law “An act, for further continuing an act, entitled ‘an act, to ascertain the losses and injuries sustained from the depredations of the enemy within this Commonwealth’” (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , Oct. 1782, p. 50; May 1783, p. 45; Oct. 1783, p. 49; 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, 27, 109, 193, 317). The session of October 1783 also extended for about six months the duration of several laws previously enacted “for suspending the issuing of executions on certain judgments” against delinquent debtors (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, 349). Although “camp fever” usually meant typhus or typhoid fever, the term was often employed generically.

5Papers 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 , VI, 479; 480, n. 7; JM to Jefferson, 13 May, and n. 10; Delegates to Harrison, 20 May, and n. 3; 27 May; JM Notes, 26 May 1783, and n. 1. The three commissioners, appointed by Washington in May to proceed to New York City and, as warranted by the seventh article of the preliminary treaty of peace, “take delivery” of the Negroes and other American property in the possession of British “armies, garrisons and Fleets,” quickly found after their arrival that they were reduced to making ineffective remonstrances to General Sir Guy Carleton. He occasionally, through his deputy secretary, replied to their protests about Negroes’ overtly leaving the city aboard merchant vessels or ships conveying Loyalists to Nova Scotia, that these departures did not violate the treaty, for it applied only to slaves in the custody of the armed forces. Being apprised of the frustration of the commissioners, Washington on 23 June sent copies of their correspondence with him and with the British authorities to President Elias Boudinot and suggested that they be recalled.

A congressional committee, composed of Hugh Williamson, chairman, JM, and Jacob Read, to which these documents were referred on 2 July, rendered two weeks later an acceptable recommendation, instructing Washington to withdraw the commissioners “unless some change of circumstances shall have occurred, from which he may conclude that further continuance in New York may be productive of some advantage to the citizens of the United States.” This instruction probably did not reach Washington until 5 August, when he was again at his headquarters at Newburgh after an absence of eighteen days in northeastern New York and the Mohawk valley. See NA: PCC, No. 152, XI, 345, 349–80; Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXVII, 27–28, and nn. 42 and 44, 71, and n. 8, 83; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 422, 436; JM to Randolph, 8 July; to Jefferson, 11 Aug., n. 12; Delegates to Harrison, 23 Aug. 1783; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 166, 279.

On reflection, Washington decided that “some advantage” might accrue from maintaining liaison with British headquarters and thereby even contrived to supply Fort Herkimer on the New York frontier with beef purchased from British and Loyalist merchants in New York City (JM to Jefferson, 11 Aug. 1783, and n. 11). Insofar as the commissioners’ prime mission was concerned, he later characterized its discharge as “little more than a farce,” for they had “inspected no more property than the British chose they should be witness to the embarkation of” (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXVII, 27 n., 42, 72, 122–23; XXVIII, 121, 283).

6Jones to JM, 28 July, and citations in n. 7; JM to Randolph, 28 July, and nn. 3, 5; 5 Aug. 1783, and n. 4.

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