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Thomas Jefferson to Virginia Delegates and George Washington, 10 May 1781

Thomas Jefferson
to Virginia Delegates and George Washington

FC (Virginia State Library). Written by a clerk and directed to “His Excellency General Washington & the Honble Virginia Delegates in Congress.”

In Council May 10th. 1781.1

Sir,

The papers of the Executive having been almost wholly lost in the visit which was made by General Arnold to this place, we are endeavouring to procure Copies of as many of them as we can. As the Correspondence with Congress2 is among the most important I am to solicit the Favor of you to give permission [to]3 the Bearer hereof Mr. Granville Smith4 to take Copies of any Letters with which they5 have been pleased to honour the Executive or have received from them previous to the Commencement of the present year. Besides the General Importance of preserving the Memorial of Public Events, it is natural for those who have had a Share in the Administration to wish that under every possible Circumstance the records of their proceedings may guard them against Misrepresentation or Mistake.6 Mr Smith has been particularly chosen to execute this Office because of his approved Discretion, and we think ourselves safe in assuring you that he may confidentially be relied on. I have &c

Tho Jefferson

1This letter was the result of a decision reached by the Council of State on the same day (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, 344–45). Many state records were destroyed during Benedict Arnold’s occupancy of Richmond in January 1781.

2At the foot of the letter-book copy of the dispatch sent to Washington is the line, “In the Lre to the Delegates alter as in the margin.” Jefferson’s clerk put “Congress” in the margin as a necessary substitute for “your Excellency.”

3In the margin, “give permission [to]” is written as a substitute for “permit” in the letter to Washington.

4Granville Smith (1758–1811) of Louisa and later of Montgomery County had been a first lieutenant of a company of militia formed at the College of William and Mary in 1777. From February 1780 to June 1781 he was ensign and quartermaster of Virginia state troops (Malcolm H. Harris, History of Louisa County, Virginia [Richmond, 1936], p. 413; Gaius Marcus Brumbaugh, comp., Revolutionary War Records, Virginia [Washington, D.C., 1936], p. 571; Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine, I [1919–20], 214). How thoroughly Smith managed to fulfill his mission, assuming that he reached Philadelphia or Washington’s headquarters, is highly problematical. Certainly he never procured, as he was also commissioned to do, copies of documents forwarded by the executive to the House of Delegates. Those records accompanied the Assembly to Charlottesville and later to Staunton (Jefferson to Virginia Delegates, 14 May 1781, n. 3). From Staunton they were finally ordered back to the capital on 5 January 1782 (Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, March 1781 Session in Bulletin of the Virginia State Library, XVII, No. 1 (January 1928). description ends , October 1781, p. 73), only five days before Smith was appointed a commissioner of accounts for the western 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 , III, 25–26).

5In the margin is written, “they or you.” Obviously “they” was to be used in the letter to the delegates.

6Aside from the papers lost by the Council of State, the deficiency in official records as a whole—and particularly of those proving property titles—became so embarrassing that the General Assembly passed a joint resolution on 29 and 31 May 1782 (Minute Book, House of Delegates, May 1782, pp. 56, 58, MS in Virginia State Library). Its substance, insofar as the council records were concerned, was incorporated by Benjamin Harrison in a proclamation on 5 June, importuning all persons possessing “original papers or authentic Copies” to surrender them to the state (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, 102; Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser, 8 June 1782).

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