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Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison, 12 March 1783

Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison

RC (Virginia State Library). In the hand of John Francis Mercer, who signed his own name. Arthur Lee signed for the other delegates. Cover missing, but the delegates were undoubtedly addressing Harrison, even though his name is not shown either at the beginning or the close of the letter. Docketed, “Lr. from the Delegates in Congress—March 12th. 1783.” The words italicized in the present copy are those underlined by Mercer.

Phila. March 12th. 1783.

Sir

We have judged it most advisable to communicate to your Excelly. by Express1 the purport of the dispat[c]hes from our Ministers at Paris, which have this day arrived by Capt. Barney, who left l’Orient the 17th of Jany. protected by a passport under the signature of his Brittanick Majesty, after having been long detained for the purpose of forwarding advices relative to the negociations for Peace.2

These will be found important, altho’ not decisive, & we consequently think it our duty, to furnish yr Excelly. with the information requisite to form your own judgement respecting the prospect we have of a speedy Peace, not doubting that you will so far diffuse communications (as may appear necessary) on a subject that must influence the measures of the Public & of individuals.3

The preliminary Articles of Peace were signed by Mr. Ozwald, Minister Plenipotentiary of Great Britain, & Messrs. Adams, Franklin, Jay & Adams, our Ministers—provisionally, that is to say, to be effective [p. 334] when the definitive treaty may be concluded between France & Great Britain. they are forwarded to us & contain 8 Articles, substantially of the following import4

an ample recognition of the independence of the United States & relinquishment on the part of his Brittanick Majesty, for himself[,] heirs & successors, of all claim to right of sovereignty, property or jurisdiction within the limits of the territory of the States, which are fully settled & described in the second Article.5

They are affixed much on the principle of the treaty of Paris,6 but to give you a more accurate idea without a minute detail, the line established, is from the mouth of the River St. Croix to the source, thence north along those mountains which divide the waters that fall7 on each side into the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Ocean, thence to the head of Connecticut River, thence down the middle of that River to the 45th. degree of Latitude, thence west to the River Iroquois or Cataroquy,8 thence along the middle of the said River to the Lake Ontario, thence thro’ the middle of that Lake & the Lakes Erie, Huron, Superior & the lake of the woods, pursuing the middle of their water communications, thence due west to the Mississippi,9 thence along the middle of that River to the 31. degree of North latitude, and thence from that intersection nearly an East course to the source of St. Mary’s River, thence down the middle of that River to the Atlantic Ocean, together with all Islands in sd. Ocean within 20 Leagues of the Continent.10

The great Fisheries to remain free to both nations, with liberty, to cure on the shores subject to either power, & we are also admitted to fish & cure on the shores of Labrador untill they may become settled.11 Debts due on both sides are to be recovered—no farther confiscations to take place & Congress are earnestly to recommend to the different States to revise those Laws, w[hi]ch forfeit the property of British subjects who have never born Arms against the United States, and all those refugees who have born Arms are to be permitted to make personal application to the different Legislatures to be reinvested, in their Estates on repaying any Sums w[hi]ch may have been bona fide paid by the present possessors.12

The subjects of either Power are reciprocally to enjoy in every commercial intercourse all advantages that the subjects of each respective Power enjoy within their own dominions, saving the exclusive rights of the chartered Companies of Brittain, from an interference with which all other British subjects are precluded.13

All posts within the territorial limits of the United States at present [p. 335] held by the British troops, are to be evacuated, without carrying any property which may have been seized from the Americans. All Posts taken since the signing of these Preliminaries to be immediately relinquished. These together with a general amnesty on both sides for all offences, & a ceasing of all criminal prosecutions arising on such offences, constitute the ground work of the agreement w[hi]ch has been thus reciprocally signed.14

On the 24th. Doctr. Franklin writes that difficulties had intervened between that date & the 15th. of Decr. when his last was dated accompanying the above, in the prosecution of the Negociations between France & Great Britain.15

It appears from the Journals of these negociations & the Letters of our Ministers previous to that date that the chief difficulty arose from Gibraltar. France had offered to give G. B. the Island of Guadaloupe for that post & to receive in return from Spain the half of St. Domingo, which belongs now to Spain but Britain obstinately contended for Porto Rico.16 However to give your Excellency a just idea of the present information of Congress on this subject We transcribe to you quotations from a Letter from the C[o]mte de Vergennes to Doctor Franklin, dated the 24th. transmitted by him to Us. “Our Negociations (i.e. between France & G. B.) are at the same point with yours; but yet far from an end[”], then again “Our facility has occasioned difficulty[”] and again, “I do not despair; I rather hope, yet every thing is uncertain[”]17 On the whole I believe the preliminaries between France & Britain are agreed on tho’ not signed (an account of them such as we have will be communicated in our next) & that Spain & Holland have made but little progress in their business.18

Thus far go the dispatches w[hi]ch we have already perused. matters of importance may yet be behind, & communications of very consequential import are expected from the Minister of France.19 if from these sources any intelligence may spring, yet unknown, Yr. Excellency may expect it in our next,20 which will follow this by an Opportunity that will give it a speedy & safe conveyance.

A Copy of the Commission of his Swedish Majesty, to his Minister in France, empowering him to conclude a treaty with the United States, is now transmitted us. the terms in w[hi]ch it is conceived are not only ample but honorary & flattering &c we are happy to assure Yr. Excellency that some progress has been made in a treaty with that Power.21

We are assured that a deputation from the refugees at N York are [p. 336] sent to the legislature of that State requesting to know what terms they are to expect & every thing there portends a very speedy evacuation.22

With high respect We have the honor to be Yr. Excellency’s most ob: & very humble Servants.

Jos. Jones

James Maddison

Theodorick Bland

Arthur Lee

John F. Mercer

P. S. I find that the Article respecting Commerce altho’ adjusted as above, yet was excluded by Mr. O. when about to sign, as several Acts of Parliament stand in the way.23 The Express who brings you this will apply to yr. Excellency for 24 £ which was the price stipulated. one third however will be repaid us by the Maryland Delegates.24

1See postscript.

2Delegates to Harrison, 18 Feb. 1783, n. 3. The “Washington” had reached Lorient about 1 November 1782 (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., V, 854).

4JM Notes, 12–15 Mar. 1783, and nn. 1, 6. Mercer’s “8” should have been 9, and his second “Adams,” Laurens.

5JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 245–47.

6That is, the Treaty of Paris of 1763, concluding the Seven Years’ War between Great Britain on the one side and France and Spain on the other, insofar as territories in North America had been at issue in the conflict. See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 51, n. 5; 153; 158–59; 161, nn. 6, 9.

7Article II reads: “From the north-west angle of Nova Scotia, viz. that angle which is formed by a line drawn due north from the source of St. Croix river to the highlands, along the said highlands, which divide those rivers that empty” etc. (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 246). This passage, owing to a lack of accurate maps or even of maps which agreed as to the meaning of “St. Croix river,” resulted in a boundary dispute between the United States and Canada which the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 finally adjusted (Richard B. Morris, The Peacemakers, pp. 363–67). For a detailed, factual analysis of the geographical ambiguities of the boundaries delineated in Article II and of their solution in a series of treaties between 1794 and 1910, concluded by the United States with Spain or Great Britain, see Charles O. Paullin, Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, ed. John K. Wright (Washington and New York, 1932) pp. 52–62 and plates 89, 90, 91A, B, and C, 92A and B, 93A, B, D, and E.

8The adjective “northwesternmost” immediately before “head” in the “text” of Article II would be difficult to define because, unknown to the peace commissioners, the Connecticut River originated from the confluence of a number of large streams, several of which were joined by lesser watercourses flowing from the northwest. See plate 93A in Charles O. Paullin, Atlas. The “Iroquois or Cataroquy” was the St. Lawrence River.

9From “Superior” through “Mississippi,” the text of Article II reads: “Superiour northward of the isles Royal and Philipeaux to the Long lake; thence through the middle of said Long lake, and the water communication between it and the lake of [p. 337] the Woods, to the said lake of the Woods; thence through the said lake to the most north-western point thereof, and from thence in a due west course to the river Mississippi” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 246). This boundary could not be made effective, partly because of the difficulty in identifying “the Long lake” but mainly because the “highest source” of the Mississippi is south and somewhat east of the most northwestern point of the Lake of the Woods. See Charles O. Paullin, Atlas, pp. 57–58, 60–61, and plates 91B, 93B.

10This is a much simplified summary of the latter half of the text of Article II, and, as would be expected, omits mention of the “separate article” concerning the southern boundary of the United States (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 246–47; JM Notes, 12–15 Mar. 1783, and nn. 6, 12, 13).

11Article III of the preliminary articles acknowledges “the right” of “the people of the United States” to fish “on the Grand bank, and on all the other banks of Newfoundland, also in the gulf of St. Lawrence, and at all other places in the sea, where the inhabitants of both countries used at any time heretofore to fish.” In the same article Great Britain conceded to the people of the United States the “liberty” to fish on all coasts, including that of Newfoundland, and in all “bays and creeks” of “his Britannick Majesty’s dominions in America,” but they could “dry and cure fish” only on “the unsettled” shores of “Nova Scotia, Magdelen islands and Labrador” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 247–48). Mercer was incorrect in writing “subject to either power,” for the extension of a “liberty” in Article III was unilateral by Great Britain only, and related solely to coastal lands and waters within her jurisdiction.

12In this long sentence Mercer summarized the fourth and fifth articles and the first clause of the sixth article of the preliminary peace treaty. Governor Harrison probably would also have been interested in the stipulation of Article V providing that former combatants should have “free liberty” to go anywhere in the United States and remain there “unmolested” for a year while they endeavored to recover their confiscated “estates, rights and properties” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 248–49). See also JM to Randolph, 12 Mar. 1783, n. 4.

13Not conforming with any part of the provisional treaty of peace, this paragraph summarizes the fourth article of an agreement, concluded by the American and British commissioners at Paris on 8 October 1782, concerning the possible terms of such a treaty. The document was to be submitted to King George III for “his majesty’s consideration” (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., V, 805–7).

In his covering letter of 5 December 1782 to Robert R. Livingston, enclosing a copy of the tentative agreement of 8 October as well as copies of other documents, Franklin explained the British refusal to mention commerce in the provisional treaty: “The reason given us for dropping the article relating to commerce was that some statutes were in the way which must be repealed before a treaty of that kind could be well formed, and that this was a matter to be considered in Parliament” (ibid., VI, 113). Before concluding the present dispatch, Mercer was told by his colleagues, or he otherwise ascertained, that the article on commerce was not included in the provisional treaty. See his postscript. An example of a chartered company with “exclusive rights” was the British East India Company.

14Although the word “amnesty” does not occur in the preliminary articles, it reflects the intent of the signatories respecting the part any person “may have taken in the present war.” Except that Mercer’s mention of “offences” and “prosecutions” refers to Article VI, his paragraph summarizes Articles VII and IX. Article VII explicitly included, among the items of American “property” which the British must not destroy or carry away, “negroes,” “archives, records, deeds and papers belonging to any of said states, or their citizens,” and the “American artillery that may be” in the “fortifications” to be evacuated. The same article also stipulated that “all prisoners on both sides shall be set at liberty” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 249–50).

In view of Virginia’s special concern about her western territory, it is surprising [p. 338] that the delegates did not quote Article VIII, reading: “The navigation of the river Mississippi, from its source to the ocean, shall forever remain free and open to the subjects of Great Britain, and the citizens of the United States” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 250).

15The reference is to Franklin’s dispatch of 24–25 December to Livingston, enclosing a copy of Vergennes’ note of 25 (not 24) December to Franklin (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 163, 168). For quotations from that note, see the next paragraph of the present letter and n. 17, below.

16Mercer derived this information principally from the 14 December portion of Franklin’s dispatch of 5 and 14 December 1782 to Livingston (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 113). For the stubborn problem caused by Great Britain’s refusal to relinquish Gibraltar despite the determination of Spain to regain it and the obligation of France to endorse her ally’s demand, see Richard B. Morris, The Peacemakers, pp. 386–410.

17Except for the last of the three alleged quotations, Mercer distorted what Vergennes had written to Franklin on 25, not 24, December 1782, viz., “I should have been happy could I have informed him [La Luzerne] that our negotiation is advanced as far as yours, but it is far distant as yet. I cannot even foretell what will be the issue of it, for even difficulties proceed from the facility with which we have listened to their proposals.… I do not despair, I rather hope; but everything is as yet uncertain” (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 168). The tenor of this passage contrasts with that of the portion of an earlier dispatch from Vergennes quoted in n. 18. See also JM to Randolph, 12 Mar. 1783, and n. 10.

18Delegates to Harrison, 18 Mar. 1783, of which only an abstract has been found by the present editors. The contents of the dispatches and other papers submitted to Congress on 12 March do not justify Mercer’s sanguine view about the state of the negotiations between France and Great Britain by 25 December 1782. Mercer, however, may have seen the extracts from John Adams’ journal, even though they were not laid before Congress until 14 or 15 March (JM Notes, 12–15 Mar. 1783, n. 1).

In his entry for 5 December 1782 Adams recorded that he was told by La Vauguyon (JM Notes, 29 Jan. 1783, n. 3) that “France and England are agreed, and that there is but one point between England and Spain. England and Holland are not yet so near” (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 109). This information is supported by the following passage in Vergennes’ dispatch of 19 December 1782 to La Luzerne—the purport of which the latter may have revealed on 12 March 1783 to one or more of his friends in Congress or to Livingston: “There is no essential difficulty at present between France and England, but the King [Louis XVI] has been resolved that all his allies should be satisfied.” Vergennes then added that the “fundamental points” with regard to “the interests of Spain” had already been “established and little remains but to settle the forms” (ibid., VI, 152). The negotiations with Holland, being protracted, were not finished by 20 January 1783, when peace commissioners representing Great Britain, France, and Spain signed a “Declaration” stipulating a “cessation of hostilities” as soon as the preliminary peace terms among them had been ratified, and Franklin and Adams signed a separate “Declaration” to the same effect (ibid., VI, 152, 215, 219, 223–25, 226; Jefferson to JM, 7–8 Feb. 1783, n. 13; Richard B. Morris, The Peacemakers, pp. 428–29).

19JM Notes, 12–15 Mar. 1783, nn. 9, 12.

21The information in this paragraph is based upon the dispatches to Livingston from Adams on 14 December and from Franklin on 24 December 1782. Franklin enclosed a copy of the commission from King Gustavus III (1746–1792) of Sweden to the eminent poet, Gustav Filip, Count Creutz (1731–1785), then ambassador at the court of France and later chancellor of Sweden, to conclude with the United States a treaty of amity and commerce. The commission stated that the independence of [p. 339] the thirteen United States had been “duly and solidly acknowledged and established.” By the date of the present letter, the first draft of the treaty had already been agreed upon by Creutz and Franklin (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 133–34, 163–64, 276). See also Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 167–68; 168, nn. 2, 3; 186; 188, n. 7; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 263, and n. 2.

22William Shattuck, who had recently arrived in Philadelphia as an emissary from Governor George Clinton to reinforce with oral testimony Clinton’s dispatch with many enclosures concerning the continuing outrages to which patriotic New Yorkers were being subjected in the New Hampshire Grants (Vermont), may have been the source of the delegates’ information about the “deputation from the refugees.” Arthur Lee was a member of the committee to which Clinton’s letter had been referred on 4 March 1783 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 164, n. 1; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 66–67; Syrett and Cooke, Papers of Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (15 vols. to date; New York, 1961——). description ends , III, 282–83, n. 4; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 353, n. 15). Although no reference is made to this “deputation,” the Pennsylvania Packet of 11 March and the Pennsylvania Journal of 8 and 12 March 1783 emphasized the odium and detestation with which the Loyalists of New York City regarded King George III for deserting them and being “the author of their ruin.” For Governor Clinton’s implacably hostile attitude toward Loyalists, see E[rnest] Wilder Spaulding, New York in the Critical Period, 1783–1789 (New York, 1932), pp. 122–28; also Thomas J. Wertenbaker, Father Knickerbocker Rebels, pp. 256–59. The last contingent of British troops did not leave New York City until 25 November 1783 (ibid., pp. 263–67).

23See n. 13; Mr. “O” was Richard Oswald.

24The “Express” was William Blake. He was probably the former continental infantryman, William Blake (1730–1798) of Chesterfield County (Lineage Book of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, CXXXI [1933], 237; Gwathmey, Historical Register of Virginians description begins John H. Gwathmey, Historical Register of Virginians in the Revolution: Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, 1775–1783 (Richmond, 1938). description ends , p. 68). Blake traveled to Richmond by way of Baltimore, where he left the Maryland delegates’ dispatches that were forwarded to Annapolis on 15 March. He arrived in Richmond during the evening of 19 March. The following day the Council of State directed that he be issued a warrant for $49.00 on the contingent fund (Harrison to Delegates, 20 Mar. 1783; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 74, and n. 4, 88; 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, 232).

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