James Madison Papers
Documents filtered by: Recipient="Madison, James" AND Period="Confederation Period"
sorted by: author
Permanent link for this document:

To James Madison from Mary Bristow, 19 September 1786

From Mary Bristow

Spring Gardens.
London 19th. Septr: 1786


Tho’ I have not the honor of personaly knowing You, the benevolence of Your Character emboldens me to trouble You with a few lines to solicit Your power, and Influence with the Assembly of the States, in behalf of my Infant Son, whoes case is so truely hard! I will not trouble You with a long detail: but refer You to the Petition and Memorial presented by me, and the Two Gentlemen who are Guardians to my Children: and which (Through the humanity and goodness of General Washington) was laid before the Assembly of the States in 1784.1 From the tender Age of My Son, it was impossible for him to do Any act inimical to the Country, and surely the property of an Infant shou’d always be held sacred! and strongly protected by the Laws, and all good people. My Son has likewise an additional Claim (if any other cou’d be wanting) by being descended from a Native of Virginia, as his Great Grandfather was actualy born there.2 I am sure it will be quite unnecessary for me to say any more to a person of Your feelings, to induce You to support our just Claims, and to pleade my excuse for troubling You with this Letter. I have the honor to be Sir Your most obedient Humble Servant

Mary Bristow

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM at a later time, “Briston Mary.”

1Mrs. Bristow, mother of Robert Bristow, first sought Washington’s aid in presenting a petition to the Virginia General Assembly, seeking the return of her son’s property confiscated during the war (Mary Bristow to Washington, 27 Nov. 1783 [DLC: Washington Papers]). Washington forwarded the petition to Governor Harrison, who on 11 June 1784 relayed it to Speaker John Tyler (Executive Letter Book description begins Executive Letter Book, 1786–1788, manuscript in Virginia State Library. description ends , 1784). The General Assembly apparently ignored the petition, but Washington told Mrs. Bristow that failure to return the escheated property “was not to be attributed as a fault in the justice of this Country, since it was difficult, if not impracticable to draw a line between the promoters, and actors, and innocent Victims, of the War, in a national point of view” (Washington to Mary Briston [Bristow], 2 June 1786. 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 , XXVIII, 448–49). Mrs. Bristow’s letter to JM was identical to one sent Governor Henry on 14 Sept. 1786. This letter was not received until 7 May 1787 and was not forwarded to the Assembly until the following October (Edmund Randolph to Speaker of the House of Delegates, 15 Oct. 1787 [Vi: Executive Communications]). Mrs. Bristow’s petition evidently continued to be ignored, for she entreated Washington for more aid as late as November 1791 (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 , XXXI, 416). Harrell noted that the loyalist property of Robert Bristow in Prince William County was escheated in 1779. “wastefully administered … for fifty years,” and finally sold to aid the state schools in the 1830s (Harrell, Loyalism in Virginia, p. 100).

2Robert Bristow (1643–1707) was granted a tract of 7,500 acres in 1687. This was the property owned by his descendant, Robert Bristow, who emigrated to England and died there in 1776 leaving Mary Bristow as relict. The town of Brentsville, Virginia, is located on the original Bristow tract, which was auctioned in 100-acre parcels around 1834 ([Fairfax Harrison], Landmarks of Old Prince William: A Study of Origins in Northern Virginia [Richmond, 1924], pp. 187, 191, 194).

Index Entries