James Madison Papers
Documents filtered by: Recipient="Nelson, Thomas" AND Recipient="Nelson, Thomas"
sorted by: editorial placement

Virginia Delegates to Thomas Nelson, 4 September 1781

Virginia Delegates to Thomas Nelson

RC (Virginia State Library). Entirely in JM’s hand, except for Jones’s and Bland’s signatures. Docketed: “Delegates Sept. 4. recd 13th.” and “Genl Washington with a part of the American Army and the Count de Rochambeau with the whole of the French thus far on their way to Virginia.” “No. 8.” is written at the top of the letter.

Philadelphia Sepr. 4th: 1781

Sir,

Yesterday’s post brought us no letter from your Excellency.

We have the pleasure to inform you that General Washington with a part of the American army, and the Count de Rochambeau with the whole of the French are thus far on their way to Virginia. The American troops passed through the Town on sunday, the first division of the French yesterday & the second will follow them tomorrow. The fine appearance they make as men, the perfection of their discipline as soldiers, and the zealous attachment they manifest to the Allies of their Soverign1 authorize the highest expectations from their services in the field.

Since our last we have been informed that Admiral Hood with 13 Sail of the line from the W. Indies has been at New York and after annexing to them the 8 Ships which were commanded by Greaves, immediately put again to sea. As the squadron under Admiral de Barras had previously sailed from N. Port2 & Hood could not be ignorant of the expected arrival of the Count de Grasse on our Coast there is little doubt that his activity is directed against the meditated junction.3

Yesterday returned to this place Col. John Laurens from his special Mission to the Court of France.4 Although his success has not fully corresponded with our wishes, he has brought with him very substantial proofs of the friendship & generosity of our Ally of which we shall at present mention only a considerable quantity of Cloathing, powder, & upwards of 13,000 Stand of arms exclusive of about 3000 arrived in the Vessel mentioned in our last.5 It has unluckily happened that these supplies have all been carried into Boston. Prudential considerations would not admit of their attempting this port from whence the distribution of them would have been so much more convenient[.]6

We shall be obliged to your Excellency to have a copy of The Treaty between Col. Christia[n] & the Cherokees in 1775, made out & sent us by the Clerk of the House of Delegates.7

We have the honor to be with the highest respect & esteem Yr. Excellency’s obt. & hble servants

Jos: Jones.

J. Madison Junr.

Theok: Bland

1See JM to Pendleton, 3 September 1781, n. 1. “The orders of his Most Christian Majesty are, to pay the same honours to the President of Congress as to the Field-Marshal of France and a Prince of the Blood, and to the Congress the same as to himself” (Pennsylvania Packet, 8 September 1781). “All the gilded contingent,” wrote one of Rochambeau’s young aides concerning the French staff, “was drawn up between the lancers and the hussars of [the Duc de] Lauzun’s legion to salute with all the grace possible the Congress, which was stationed, with the President at its head, on the balcony of the hall of Congress” (Evelyn M. Acomb, trans. and ed., The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Closen, 1780–1783 [Chapel Hill, N.C., 1958], p. 120). For the gratification expressed by Congress after receiving this evidence of respect, see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 932 n.; and Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 205.

2Newport, R.I.

4Actually Laurens reached Philadelphia on 2 September, as JM correctly reported in his letter of 3 September to Pendleton. JM may have been using that letter for reference and neglected to change “yesterday” to “two days ago.”

7Whether John Beckley, clerk of the House of Delegates, prepared a copy of the treaty of 20 July 1777 (not 1775) cannot be stated. Governor Nelson being absent from Richmond, Lieutenant Governor Jameson opened the present letter and responded on 15 September 1781 (q.v.) by assuring the delegates that he would ask Beckley to make the transcription as soon as the clerk returned to the capital. On the other hand, the copy of the treaty in NA: PCC, No. 71, II, 221–22 was probably sent by Jefferson on 20 December at President Samuel Huntington’s request of 27 April 1781. Jefferson had received the treaty from Colonel Arthur Campbell, who had taken it and many other documents from the Cherokee Indians during a raid by a Virginia force early in 1781 (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 , VI, 141, and n.).

By the terms of the treaty, made at the Long Island of the Holston River (present-day Kingsport, Tenn.), a group of “Over-Hill” Cherokees ceded to Virginia lands in what is now Sullivan County, Tenn., and also embracing Cumberland Gap and adjacent territory (J[ames] G. M. Ramsey, The Annals of Tennessee to the End of the Eighteenth Century [Charleston, S.C., 1853], pp. 172–74). The final paragraph of the treaty recorded the contention of two of the Cherokee chiefs that they could not alienate title to the Long Island, because it belonged to them and Colonel Nathaniel Gist as a place where they and he “might sit down … to hold good talks” (Thomas W. Preston, Historical Sketches of the Holston Valleys [Kingsport, Tenn., 1926], p. 58). Otherwise the treaty was largely dictated, on behalf of the government of Virginia, by Lieutenant Colonel William Christian (ca. 1743–1786) of Montgomery County, a brother-in-law of Patrick Henry, a speculator in western lands, a burgess (1773–1775), a state senator (1776, 1780–1783), and a veteran fighter of Indians, by whose hands he would fall after moving to Kentucky in 1785 (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 , I, 93–95, 156–57, 202; 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 , I, 317, 416–19, 422–23; Thomas Perkins Abernethy, Western Lands and the American Revolution [New York, 1937], pp. 190, 250; Swem and Williams, Register description begins Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1776–1918, and of the Constitutional Conventions (Richmond, 1918). description ends , pp. 3–19, passim).

Why the delegates requested a copy of the Treaty of Long Island can only be conjectured. Late in August and in September 1781, Gist was pressing Congress to reimburse him for expenses incurred during an expedition to the Cherokee country in 1777 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 600; XXI, 903). Perhaps the delegates wished, in view of Gist’s claim, to familiarize themselves with the terms of the treaty. More likely, however, they sought this information because they had heard of the renewed negotiations with the Cherokees. The delegates were certainly aware that in March 1781, following a British-inspired outbreak by these Indians, Governor Jefferson had invited Governor Abner Nash of North Carolina to appoint commissioners to join others authorized by Virginia to treat with the Cherokees (Journal of the House of Delegates, March 1781 description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used, unless otherwise noted, is the one in which the journals for 1777–1781 are brought together in one volume, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , pp. 44, 48; 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, 318; McIlwaine, Official Letters, II, 430–31). But upon being told that General Nathanael Greene, as commander of the southern department, had included the Virginia commissioners among those named by him to bring the Indians to terms, Jefferson revoked the state appointments in order to have the negotiations “performed on General Greene’s plan” and a treaty made that would “bind the United States generally” (ibid., II, 482; 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, 336).

Colonel Christian, the leader of the Virginia members of Greene’s commission, at first strongly doubted whether the Cherokees, “illtreated on the one Hand, and caressed on the other,” would consent to negotiate. Early in July, when he noticed hundreds of them moving toward the council site at the Long Island, he told Nelson that, because war-ravaged North Carolina could make “no Provision for the Treaty,” Virginia must speedily provide “not less than £200,000” for food and other gifts lest Indian hostility be deepened rather than allayed by the meeting (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, 24, 199–200). In response, Nelson on 16 July directed the Virginia auditors “to issue eight Warrants for twenty five thousand pounds each” in favor of Christian “for the use of the United States” (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, 357).

The day before the present dispatch was written, Congress had appointed a committee to confer with Major Lewis Morris, who recently had arrived from General Greene’s headquarters. Morris may have told the Virginia delegates that the general’s commissioners to the Cherokees had succeeded in concluding a peace treaty—a document which soon would come before Congress. If the delegates had been so informed, they naturally would wish to examine a copy of the pact which Virginia had made with the Cherokees in 1777 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 930, 969, 1055, 1088; NA: PCC, No. 155, II, 245, 255).

Finally, the close connection between Indian cessions, Kentucky separatists, land speculators, and the territorial claims of Virginia in the West may have prompted the delegates’ request, because they feared lest the terms of the treaty would reflect the influence of individuals whose selfish interests were adverse to those of the Commonwealth. On 26 March 1782 JM would counsel Jefferson against sending Thomas McKean, a delegate in Congress from Delaware, other “papers procured from the Cherokees,” since he probably wanted the documents “with a view of fishing for discoveries which may be subservient to the aggressions meditated on the territorial rights of Virginia” (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 , VI, 172–73).

For more on this subject, see Motion on Negotiations with Cherokee Indians, 2 November 1781.

Index Entries