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Virginia Delegates to Thomas Nelson, 24 July 1781

Virginia Delegates to Thomas Nelson

Copy (Virginia State Library). Written by Joseph Jones and enclosed in the delegates’ letter of 31 July to Nelson (q.v.). Probably the recipient’s copy, which was intercepted by the British, was also written by Jones. The information in the letter and also much of the wording are identical with Jones’s letter of the same day, probably to Edmund Pendleton (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 153–54). A copy of the delegates’ letter is also in the William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan. The text, as printed in the Royal Gazette (New York) of 15 September 1781, is identified there as a “Copy of a letter from the Virginia Delegates in Congress to Thomas Nelson, Esq; the Rebel Governor, without a date, but supposed to be the 24th of July, 1781. N. B. It is printed verbatim et literatim.”

Phila: 24th. July 1781

Sr.

Although your appointment to the office of chief Majestrate of the state1 has not been officially announced private communications will not allow us to doubt the fact or any longer to delay presenting your Excellency our congratulations on the occasion and to assure you we shall be happy in contributing what lies in our power towards rendering your administration agreeable to yourself and beneficial to the public. with this view and that you may be fully and regularly informed of pub[l]ic transactions and occurrences, we have determined to make a weekly communication as well of the proceedings of Congress necessary for your information as of such foreign and domestic intelligence as may deserve attention and we shall be at liberty to divulge. In return we request a similar correspondence on the part of the Executive not merely for our private gratification but principally to inable us more effectually to Execute the Duties of our appointmt.

The offer of the Empress of Russia to settle the dispute between the States of Holland and Great Britain has been rejected on the part of the Court of London and referred over to a general pacification.2

No doubt you have heard of the extraordinary capitulation agreed to by the Spanish Commander on the reduction of Pensacola, whereby the Prisoners captured there were allowed to be sent to any British Port Jamaica and St. Augustine excepted, and that General Campbell has made choice of New York, at which place a part of them we are informed have already arrived and will no doubt be employed in defence of that Port.3 Mr. Boudinot a member from the State of N. Jersey4 read us a Letter yesterday received from a Friend in Elizabeth Town dated the 20th. instant informing him that Adml. Digby had arrived at the Hook with five Ships of the line and it was said had captured a fifty Gun ship and frigate of the French. In this Squadron it is said the 3d. Son of George the 3d. is arrived in the Character of Midshipman and that a House was taken5 for him in New York and preparing for his reception. we give you this as private intelligence to Mr. Boudinot not yet authenticated6

Some intercepted Letters transmitted us by our Minister at the Court of Versailles are ordered to be published—some of them are interesting and others shew the continued delusion and folly of the British Ministry—the inclosed papers contain part of them and may serve to amuse you.7

We request to be informed of the important transactions of the last Session of assembly as soon as possible and in particular what sum of the new emission of the 18th. of March 1780 has been issued and on what terms or proportion of value to the old Bills.8

we are respectfully Sr. Yr. obedt Servts.

J. Jones

J. Madison

T. Bland

E Randolph

1See JM to Jefferson, 3 April 1781, n. 6. Late in life JM commented that, although his personal association with Nelson had been “limited to a few opportunities at an early stage of the Revolution,” the soldier-governor had been of “distinguished worth” and his services “meritorious” (Letter to Francis Page, 7 November 1833, in Madison, Letters [Cong. ed.] description begins [William C. Rives and Philip R. Fendall, eds.], Letters and Other Writings of James Madison (published by order of Congress; 4 vols.; Philadelphia, 1865). description ends , IV, 323–24).

2The offer of Tsarina Catherine II to mediate between Great Britain and the Netherlands was conveyed to the States-General at The Hague on 1 March and to the Court of London four days later. Great Britain rejected the invitation on 11 March 1781 (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 312–13, 322–23; Isabel de Madariaga, Britain, Russia, and the Armed Neutrality of 1780: Sir James Harris’s Mission to St. Petersburg during the American Revolution [New Haven, Conn., 1962], pp. 303–4, 312).

3The “Articles of Capitulation” of Pensacola, signed on 9 May 1781 and the subject of disturbing rumors in Philadelphia at least as early as 2 July, were printed in the Pennsylvania Packet of 21 July. See also Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 132, 150, and 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 , XXIII, 211–12. Major General John Campbell (ca. 1730–1806) had fought in the Seven Years’ War and returned to America at the outbreak of the Revolution. He was commander of British forces in Florida. Reaching New York about mid-July, he soon was sharing in Clinton’s councils of war (William B. Willcox, ed., The American Rebellion: Sir Henry Clinton’s Narrative of His Campaigns, 1775–1782 [New Haven, Conn., 1954], pp. 569, 571–73).

4Elias Boudinot (1740–1821), who had served in Congress in 1777–1778, returned there on 23 July 1781 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 777).

5From this point to the end of the sentence, the copy in the William L. Clements Library reads, “and preparing for his reception in the City.”

6Several of the Virginia delegates may have been shown the letter by Boudinot privately, since no mention of it appears in JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends . Perhaps his unknown informant had seen Rear Admiral Thomas Graves’s six men-of-war off Sandy Hook between 19 and 21 July and erroneously concluded that they were arriving from overseas. In fact, they were preparing to sail in search of a large French convoy which had left France about a month before (W. M. James, British Navy in Adversity, pp. 283–84). At this time Rear Admiral Robert Digby (1732–1814) was commanding a squadron in the English Channel. When, with three ships of the line, he arrived in New York harbor on 24 September to take command of the North American station (ibid., p. 298), he was accompanied by Prince William Henry (1765–1837), Duke of Clarence and later King William IV. The copy of the present letter in William L. Clements Library reads, “the third Son of the King of Great Britain is arrived.” The printed copy in the Royal Gazette states, “the third Son of (our late most gracious Sovereign) the King of Great Britain is arrived.…” With the parenthetical phrase is the following note in italics: “The words ‘of our late most gracious Sovereign’ were first wrote and are still plain to be seen though blotted. The truth seems inadvertently to have made its escape; its light was too glaringly strong for their eyes; and, though adepts in the blackening arts, they have in vain endeavoured to hide its lustre” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 152 n.). See Virginia Delegates to Nelson, 31 July 1781.

7The papers forwarded to Nelson must have been the Pennsylvania Packet of 21 and 24 July. The intercepted letters, apparently enclosed in Benjamin Franklin’s dispatch of 12 March 1781 to the president of Congress, were laid before Congress on 16 July (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 750–51). Jones was a member of the committee to which the letters were referred, but its report, if any, and the order to publish the letters do not appear in JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends . They were printed in nearly every issue of the Pennsylvania Packet from 21 July to 30 August 1781 and also in the Pennsylvania Gazette beginning 25 July. The letters, dating between 19 December 1780 and 7 March 1781, are mostly from Lord Germain to General Clinton and other military or civil officials of Great Britain in North America.

8David Jameson, in his letter to JM of 15 August 1781 (q.v.), stated that £35,000,000 in currency had been emitted by Virginia since 1 October 1780. According to the resolutions of Congress of 18 March 1780, each dollar of the new paper money to be issued by a state was supposed to be of the same value as one dollar in specie and to be equal in exchange to forty dollars of the old continental currency (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (2 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 49–50, n. 2). The current ratio of Virginia currency to specie was completely in flux (Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 27 April, nn. 4, 6; 5 May, n. 6; Motion on Currency, 30 May, and nn. 2. 4; Expense Account, 20 June, nn. 2, 4; JM to Mazzei, 7 July 1781, and n. 20). After reminding Governor Nelson by letter on 22 July 1781 that public faith rather than government fiat determined the specie value of paper currency, David Ross, commercial agent of Virginia, suggested a ratio of 350 to 1 as “just & reasonable” in view of the rapidly waning faith in the worth of Virginia paper (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, 235–38). Only twenty-four days later, when Jameson wrote to JM, the ratio had risen to “5 or 600 for one and daily increasing.”

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