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Thomas Jefferson to Virginia Delegates, 6 April 1781

Thomas Jefferson to Virginia Delegates

FC (Virginia State Library). Written by a clerk. A copy of the second paragraph in JM’s hand is in NA: PCC, No. 71, II, 95. It is docketed, “Extract of a letter from Gov of Virginia April 6, 1781 Read 23 Referred to the board of treasy Letter filed April 24 & Reported.”

In Council Richmond April 6th. 1781

Gentlemen,

I have received your letter1 informing us of the Arrival of our Arms &c from Rhode Island at Philadelphia, and must pray you immediately to send forward the packages whithin mentioned containing Arms &c, engaging Waggons for that Purpose who shall be paid on their arrival here the price you contract to give them, and be protected from Impresses while in this State.2 Tho’ we do not know the force of the Enemy now at Portsmouth yet the lowest Accounts make them 4,000. This will satisfy you how urgent is our want of those Arms. It is impossible to give you an Idea of the Distress we are in for want of Lead.3 Should this Army from Portsmouth come forth and become active (and as we have no reason to believe they came here to Sleep) our Affairs will assume a very disagreable Aspect.4 The want of Arms and military Stores cannot be compensated by Numbers of Militia as that of regular Souldiers may.

Very5 considerable Debts of a year or two’s standing are due from Colo Finnie and his former Deputies. The present Quarter Master refuses to pay them. Colo Finnie gives himself no trouble about them. His former Deputies are anxious to pay them, and we willing to advance Monies to those Deputies for this Purpose if Congress will give us their Sanction. You will observe nothing was ever done by our legislature in Consequence of the resolution of Congress of 26th. May 1780.6 Will you be so good as to obtain the Sanction of Congress for our paying these very clamorous & injured Creditors through the former Deputy Quarter Master and this to be done immediately.7

Mr Ross our Commercial Agent since the shutting up our bay finds it necessary to establish funds as far as possible in Philadelphia from which place all our Clothing and necessaries for the Army must come.

We ask the favour of you to be attentive to aid him wherever any remittances of Money shall be intended to the Southward to have them paid to Mr Ross[‘]s Agent there and draw on him for the Amount which shall be paid here and to give them every other possible Assistance in that way. He is furnished so largely with Tobacco and State Money as to leave no doubt of a want of punctuality.8

To what a deplorable State shall we be reduced if the Bay continues blocked up. Commerce both Public and private is already taking it’s Turn to Philadelphia, our Continental Money is all gone or going off in that Channel and no other resources for remittances to that place. I am &c

T. J.

2See JM to Jefferson, 3 April 1781, n. 10. Without an assurance against “Impresses,” the drivers might justly fear that their wagons would be conscripted for army use.

3On 10 April Colonel William Davies, state commissioner of war, wrote General Steuben that “we have no lead on hand, nor do I know where to get any” (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , V, 368).

4On 18 April, the day after JM acknowledged this letter, General Benedict Arnold and some twenty-five hundred British troops left Portsmouth on the marauding expedition which Jefferson feared. They sailed up the James River to City Point, where they disembarked, and marched on Petersburg. There they destroyed four thousand hogsheads of tobacco and several small vessels. With Petersburg as a base, Arnold and General William Phillips then led plundering raids, burning or seizing property in several other communities (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , V, 518, 538–39, 623; Christopher Ward, War of the Revolution, II, 871–72).

5In copying this paragraph (see headnote) JM varied in capitalizations and abbreviations from the text reproduced here, but he left the sense unaltered. It was this extract which was referred to the Board of Treasury by Congress on 23 April (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 435–36; and n. 7, below).

6On 18 January 1776 the Virginia Convention elected William Finnie (1739–1804) to be deputy quartermaster general (The Proceedings of the Convention of Delegates Held at the Town of Richmond, in the Colony of Virginia, on Friday, the 1st of December, 1775. And Afterwards by Adjournment in the City of Williamsburg [Richmond, 1816], p. 101). On 8 March 1776 the Continental Congress added to his duties by naming him “a deputy quartermaster in the southern department” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , IV, 239). In January 1781 he was succeeded in the Virginia position by Major Richard Claiborne (1755–1818). In the Territory of Orleans he would be the secretary of the governor, 1805–1807, and a parish judge, 1808–1812 (Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States [26 vols. to date; Washington, 1934——], VI, passim). Virginia could not disburse money for continental purposes unless it was paid to a quartermaster or paymaster or some other person authorized by Congress to receive the money. Governor Jefferson refused to pay for continental debts on vouchers which might afterward be disallowed by Congress. For six months he had been telling Finnie to obtain from Congress warrants which would allow the state treasury to disburse sufficient funds to honor the obligations incurred in gathering provisions for the army. Jefferson suspected that Congress’ neglect for so long a time to send any warrants indicated a desire that Virginia should not meddle with Finnie’s contracts in the southern department (ibid., V, 300). The resolution of 26 May 1780 recommended to the state legislatures that they empower collectors of the continental taxes to accept as payment for taxes due prior to 1 March 1780 the unpaid notes or certificates which were granted in exchange for provisions, forage, or other articles supplied to the army (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XVII, 463–64). Because Virginia had never enacted such legislation, Congress had to have the Board of Treasury issue a special warrant before the individuals could be repaid.

7Jefferson’s request for authority to settle the long-standing debts was referred to the Board of Treasury. On its recommendation, Congress ordered the Board on 26 April to issue a warrant on the Virginia treasury for $5,346,438 15/90 to pay “part of the money due from the said State prior to the first day of March, 1780” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XIX, 331, 435–36; XX, 449).

8David Ross (ca. 1736–1817) was a prominent Petersburg merchant, shipowner, and proprietor of an iron mine and of plantations in Bedford and Goochland counties (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 , II, 184). It was June 1777 before the government of Virginia became convinced that Ross’s loyalty to the patriot cause was above suspicion (ibid., I, 136, 332–33, 426). On 23 January 1781 Governor Jefferson in Council named Ross the commercial agent of the state and made his commission retroactive to 27 December 1780, when he first assumed the duties of that office. He held the position until 24 May 1782 (ibid., II, 278; III, 70, 97). In 1786 he was one of the delegates of Virginia at the Annapolis Convention (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VIII, 390 n.). Even as late as 1787 Virginia still owed money to Ross for materials which he had supplied to the southern army five or six years before (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, 537; 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, 420). Two weeks before Jefferson wrote the present letter, Ross complained that “I find Tobacco is in no demand” in Philadelphia and that “our State money cannot be Negotiated there on any terms.” In May 1781 William Grayson commented, “as to the credit of the state, I don’t believe anybody would trust her for half a crown” (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , V, 209 and n., 266).

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