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To James Madison from Edmund Pendleton, 3 December 1781

From Edmund Pendleton

Tr (LC: Force Transcripts). Addressed to “The Honble James Madison jr Esqr Philadelphia.” Another copy of the letter, also made from the missing original, is printed in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2d ser., XIX (1905), 143.

Virginia, Decr 3d 1781

Dear Sir

I thank you for your favr. of the 13th past. of the territorial Cession offer’d by Virginia I have perhaps already said too much & shall only add that if there were twenty claimers of my land, and each offer’d a Cession of their title without any consideration, I should think it common prudence to accept them all and thereby avoid the disagreeable necessity of deciding which of them was intitled to a preference; nor can I conceive what harm the Virginia Cession would have done the United States, upon the Supposition that New York had a better title.1 Whether our Assembly have taken up this subject, or what they are doing, I dont hear, except that I am told they have a great defaulter in a little Officer under examination who is accused of having pocketed £200,000, by shifting certificates & taking to himself the depreciation on them. It is Hopkins, who is the Commr of the Continental loan office & has something to do in our Treasury. Conjectures are Various upon the probability of his being acquitted or condemned.2 The Governor has resigned, probably vex’d to se[e] his great Popularity so suddenly changed into general execration for having by his imprudent seisures, intercepted the Specie that was about to flow amongst the people.3 That measure has proved in other respects most mischievous, a great quantity of Beeves being carried below more than were immediately wanted—took the distemper which raged there many years agoe & begin4 to die fast; instead of killing & salting them up which remained, as would have been obviously right, they were driven off for Winchester to feed the Prisoners, & I am told they are dying daily and spreading the infection on the road.5 I hear but not certainly that Mr Harrison, speaker of the Delegates, is elected Govr. in Genl. Nelson’s stead.6 I have no doubt but they will pay some handsome complts to the Marquis, so justly due to him, for the important services Virginia experienced from him.7 And as she was so immediately interested in the great event at York, perhaps the Assembly ought to extend their gratitude in thanks to the General & the army of our great allies, who effected it.8

I have long given up Deane as an unworthy man, whom I thought much otherwise when I served with him in Congress. I thought he was taking some Steps injurious to America, in an improper commerce & thought avarice his greatest crime, not suspecting him of Appostacy from our cause, there is one circumstance rather against the authenticity of these letters, that in case of a bargain with them, they would not have exposed his Lres. however there is no reasoning from their blunders.9

I do not hear who is Governor of Pennsylvania; does Mr Reed retire or is he in any active department?10 is Mr Blair got to Phila.11 my Compts to him & the others.

I am Dr Sir Yr very Affe

Edmd Pendleton

1Pendleton’s comment mainly echoes the remarks of JM in the second paragraph of his letter of 13 November 1781 (q.v.).

2John Hopkins, Jr. (ca. 1757–1827), of Richmond, a son-in-law of Judge Peter Lyons, had been a clerk in the state treasurer’s office and, since 7 June 1780, the commissioner of the continental loan office for Virginia. In the House of Delegates on 19 November 1781 he was charged with using “most unjustifiable means to get possession of certain certificates on the auditors, intending thereby, to defraud both the country and individuals.” The next day, upon the recommendation of a committee of inquiry and pending a further investigation, the House released Hopkins from the custody of the “serjeant at arms,” suspended him from his office as commissioner, and directed that he be kept out of the treasurer’s office. Three weeks later, after concluding that it had exceeded its authority, the House permitted the accused to resume his work but appointed a new committee to determine whether he had been guilty of malfeasance in the position of commissioner. On 27 December the House accepted the report of this committee “that the said Hopkins’s books appear to be fairly and regularly kept, as far as your committee have had an opportunity of examining” them and that he was guiltless (Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, March 1781 Session in Bulletin of the Virginia State Library, XVII, No. 1 (January 1928). description ends , October 1781, pp. 6–7, 8, 36, 38, 58). Hopkins continued until 1794 or later to serve as a commissioner of loans, an office extended by federal legislation in 1790 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XVIII, 986; 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, 95; Journals of the Council of State description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (Richmond, 1931——). description ends , III, 476; Gaillard Hunt, ed., Calendar of Applications and Recommendations for Office during the Presidency of George Washington [Washington, 1901], p. 62; Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States, I, 57). Hopkins also prospered as a merchant and was one of the founding directors of the state-chartered Bank of Richmond in 1792 (W. Asbury Christian, Richmond, Her Past and Present [Richmond, Va., 1912], p. 46). About 1805 he moved to Alexandria and shortly thereafter to Hill and Dale, his estate in Frederick County (Walter Lee Hopkins, Hopkins of Virginia and Related Families [Richmond, 1931], pp. 211–14).

3See Motion of Virginia Delegates on Western Lands, 14 November 1781, n. 1. Thomas Nelson’s ill health and his need to rehabilitate his Yorktown properties, which had been extensively damaged during the recent siege, may better explain his retirement as governor than his “imprudent seisures” of food and other articles essential for the support of the patriot forces in Virginia. There is no doubt, however, that his impressment of these goods, thus preventing the owners from selling to the French for hard cash, had aroused much opposition, especially from residents of Berkeley and Prince William counties. In response to these well-justified protests, charging him with arbitrarily “assuming a dispensing power over the laws” and with performing “many acts of government without the advice of the council of state,” Nelson stated his “desire to be heard in such manner as the House shall be pleased to direct.” Thereupon, the General Assembly passed a law, introduced by Arthur Lee, which “indemnified and exonerated” him from “all penalties which might have accrued” as the result of unconstitutional or extralegal acts. Before adjourning on 5 January 1782 the legislature also enacted the two statutes, already mentioned, designed to regulate future impresses and to remedy injustices caused by them in the past (Pendleton to JM, 8 October 1781, n. 3; 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, 478; Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, March 1781 Session in Bulletin of the Virginia State Library, XVII, No. 1 (January 1928). description ends , October 1781, pp. 20, 27, 33, 34, 39, 53, 57, 58, 61–62, 63, 65, 69, 70, 74; 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, 99–100).

4This word is “began” in the copy of this letter printed in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

5Lack of salt rather than lack of foresight may better account for the effort to drive the cattle to Fredericksburg or to Winchester, where they could be used, instead of killing them in or near Yorktown, where most of the meat would have spoiled before it could be eaten (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, 606, 623, 633).

8For the resolutions of the General Assembly thanking Washington, Rochambeau, Grasse, and their soldiers or sailors, see Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, March 1781 Session in Bulletin of the Virginia State Library, XVII, No. 1 (January 1928). description ends , October 1781, pp. 42–43.

10On 14 November 1781 Joseph Reed had retired as president of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania and was succeeded by William Moore, formerly the vice-president (Pennsylvania Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser., 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 1st ser., IX, 447 n.; Colonial Records of Pennsylvania, XIII, 111–13; JM to Pendleton, 11 December 1781, n. 7).

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