Thomas Jefferson Papers

Virginia and Pennsylvania Delegates in Congress to the Inhabitants West of Laurel Hill, 25 July 1775

Virginia and Pennsylvania Delegates in Congress to the Inhabitants West of Laurel Hill

Philadelphia 25 July 1775

Friends and Countrymen

It gives us much concern to find that disturbances have arisen and still continue among you concerning the boundaries of our colonies. In the character in which we now address you, it is unnecessary to enquire into the origin of those unhappy disputes, and it would be improper for us to express our approbation or censure on either side: But as representatives of two of the colonies united, among many others, for the defence of the liberties of America, we think it our duty to remove, as far as lies in our power, every obstacle that may prevent her sons from co-operating as vigorously as they would wish to do towards the attainment of this great and important end. Influenced solely by this motive, our joint and our earnest request to you is, that all animosities, which have heretofore subsisted among you as inhabitants of distinct colonies may now give place to generous and concurring efforts for the preservation of every thing that can make our common country dear to us.

We are fully persuaded that you, as well as we, wish to see your differences terminate in this happy issue. For this desireable purpose, we recommend it to you, that all bodies of armed men kept up under either province be dismissed; that all those, who, on either side, are in confinement or under bail for taking a part in the contest be discharged; and that until the dispute be decided every person be permitted to retain his possessions unmolested. By observing these directions the public tranquility will be secured without injury to the titles on either side. The period we flatter ourselves, will soon arrive when this unfortunate dispute, which has produced much mischief, and, as far as we can learn, no good, will be peaceably and constitutionally determined.

We are Your Friends & Countrymen

p. henry jr. john dickinson
richard henry lee geo: ross
benja. harrison b. franklin
th: jefferson james wilson
cha. humphreys

MS in an unidentified hand (DLC: Pennsylvania Papers). This is the original or official copy, with autograph signatures. Docketed: “An Address from Penna. & Vigina. Delegates in Congress to the Inhabitants West of Laurel Hill 1775.”

TJ was to be concerned with the protracted dispute over the boundary between Virginia and Pennsylvania in turn as colonial and state legislator, as delegate to Congress, and as governor, but (unlike many of his friends and colleagues) not as a speculator in western lands. He acquired and grouped together a number of papers relating to this dispute; the cover for this packet, docketed “Pensylvania & Virginia. papers relating to their boundary,” is still among his papers in DLC. The dispute arose out of ambiguities in the 1609 and 1681 charters of Virginia and Pennsylvania, respectively, summarized in Boyd Crumrine, “The Boundary Controversy between Pennsylvania and Virginia; 1748–1785,” Annals of the Carnegie Museum, i (1901–1902), 505–24, the standard older account, now superseded by Solon J. and Elizabeth H. Buck, The Planting of Civilization in Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, 1939, ch. viii; see also Paullin and Wright, Atlas, p. 77, and pl. 97G. The crux of the argument was whether Virginia or Pennsylvania should possess the Forks of the Ohio, the site of modern Pittsburgh. The progress of the struggle, from before the French and Indian War until after the Revolution, brought into conflict not only colony against colony (later state against state), but colonial against imperial interests, the great land magnates against the small settlers and against each other, Indian tribes against other tribes, whigs against tories, and, ultimately, state against federal authority. The phase of the struggle to which the present document pertains began in 1773 with the erection of rival jurisdictions over the territory west of the Laurel Hill or Ridge (the penultimate range of the Alleghenies in western Pennsylvania). Pennsylvania established Westmoreland co., with its seat of justice at Hanna’s Town near present Greensburg; and Virginia created the District of West Augusta, with a court periodically adjourned from Staunton to Pittsburgh (Crumrine, p. 514; Buck, p. 158, 167; Abernethy, Western Lands, p. 93–4). The early months of 1774 brought on local warfare between the partisans of Virginia under Dr. John Connolly (who held a commission from Gov. Dunmore as “Captain, Commandant of the Militia of Pittsburgh and its Dependencies”) and the partisans of Pennsylvania under Arthur St. Clair, prothonotary of Westmoreland co. (Penna. Archives, 1st ser., iv, 476–93; Jos. A. Waddell, Annals of Augusta County, Virginia, Staunton, 1902, p. 225–6). A serious attempt to reach an agreement on a line was made in May 1774 when Gov. John Penn sent two commissioners to Williamsburg for this purpose; proposals and counter-proposals were made, but negotiations broke down when Dunmore refused to yield Pittsburgh (Penna. Colonial Records, x, 181–91; Buck, p. 166–7; Paullin and Wright, Atlas, p. 77 and pl. 97G). It is quite possible that TJ was consulted during these negotiations; see his Memoranda on the Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland Boundaries, printed under the date of 5 Nov. 1776, below. The two governors continued to issue proclamations and counter-proclamations claiming jurisdiction of the upper Ohio, and in the autumn of 1774 Dunmore established a garrison at Fort Pitt, newly renamed for himself (Force, Archives, 4th ser., i, 790, 856; Thwaites and Kellogg, Doc. Hist. of Dunmore’s War, p. 380). The coming of the Revolution, however, divided the Virginians in that region, for Capt. Connolly was a zealous loyalist; see his “Narrative,” serialized in PMHB description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1877- description ends , xii-xiii (1888–1889). In May 1775 the West Augusta patriots organized a committee of safety, which promptly addressed an appeal to Congress. The text of the appeal is missing, but the action of Congress is recorded as follows:

“A petition from ‘the Committee representing the people in that part of Augusta county, in the colony of Virginia, on the west side of the Allegeny Mountain,’ being laid before Congress and read, intimating fears of a rupture with the Indians on Accot of Ld. Dunmore’s conduct, and desiring ‘commissioners from the colony of Virginia, and province of Pensylvania, to attend a meeting of the Indians at Pitsburgh, on behalf of these colonies.’ Also a resolve of the sd. committee in these words, viz. ‘That the unsettled boundary between this colony and the province of Pensylvania is the occasion of many disputes’ [the last sentence was lined out in the Journal].

“Ordered, That the above be referred to the delegates of the colonies of Virginia and Pensylvania” (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , ii, 76).

The present joint address probably resulted from this appeal. It is not known how it was circulated. Meanwhile other steps were being taken, by both Virginia and Congress, to be mentioned later; see Thomas Walker and others to TJ, 13 Sep. 1775; Virginia Committee of Safety to Virginia Delegates in Congress, 17 June 1776.

Index Entries