Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Beverley Randolph, 10 July 1790

From Beverley Randolph

Richmond July 10th. 1790.

Dear Sir

Mr. Stephen Austin one of the Proprietors of the lead mines in this State proposes to make application to the Congress of the United States for some encouragement in order to enable them to furnish this Country with manufactured Lead in all its various Forms. He also wishes to contract with the general government to supply such Quantity of Lead as may be wanted for their Magazines & caet: In order to give every aid to his application I take the Liberty to introduce Mr. Austin to you and to request the Favour of you to assist him by your advice and Recommendation to those who may have Power to forward his views.

I believe you are well acquainted with the Fertility of these Mines. From the Information which I have received I conceive they are capable of producing such a Quantity of Lead as will intitle them to the Countenance of Government. The inclosed certificate speaks fully of their present Situation and future Prospects. I am Dear Sir Yrs. sincerely,

Beverley Randolph

Rc (DLC). Recorded in SJL as received 23 July 1790. Enclosure: Certificate signed by Arthur Campbell, R. Sayers, and William Migomry, dated at the lead mines, 23 June 1790, and addressed to the governor and council of Virginia, reading: “We, professing ourselves friends to the promotion of American Manufactures, especially those of necessary Articles, and being requested by Mr. Stephen Austin to view the present state of the Works now carrying on at the Lead Mines, Do certify, that there are between fifty and sixty men employed as miners, Artificers and labourers, that there are seven pits sunk of about seventy feet in depth, which are so productive, that from six to eight tons of Ore, may be raised in a day; that the appearances give confidence to conclude, that the bodies of Ore, that may be found in the Hill is inexhaustible; that at present a very simple but improved manner of beating and Washing the Ore are adopted; that there are in forwardness materials for erecting a New furnace which may be ready for use in less than two Months, but that built by the late Colonel Chiswell is now so repaired that above one ton and an half of Lead may be smelted every day while it stands.—From these beginnings and from the activity and professed Views of the Owners, we are sanguine enough to believe, that with a small encouragement from the general Government, so as to compensate in a degree for so distant a land Carriage, that Lead will be produced and Manufactured in the Course of the ensuing year, Sufficient for the Consumption of the United States.—It has been mentioned to us that a duty of one Cent per pound on all foreign Lead imported will operate as an ample encouragement to bring about a completion of their Views. We are not so well acquainted with the Commercial Interests of the United States as to urge the adoption of such a proposition; but wish to remind our Rulers, that the time has been, that much depended on the preservation and success of this same Manufacture: That similar Occasions may happen in the Course of future events, that will show the good policy of being independent of all the World for so necessary an Article” (Tr in DLC; also DNA: RG 59, MLR). Randolph also wrote to Washington on 10 July 1790 enclosing a copy of this certificate, introducing Stephen Austin, and stating that he wished to make a contract with the government (same). The certificate was published in the (N.Y.) Daily Advertiser for 23 July 1790 as from the “Virginia Chronicle”—presumably the Norfolk and Portsmouth Chronicle—and was signed “A Friend to American Manufactures.”

TJ was indeed familiar with the lead mines of southwestern Virginia that had been formerly operated by Col. John Chiswell: it was he who drafted on 15 July 1776 a recommendation that these mines be developed by the state; during his governorship and until 1782 they were so managed and operated; their productivity was of crucial importance in the campaigns of 1781; and no one in Virginia during the war years was more concerned with the output of the mines than he (see, for example, Ross to TJ, 4 May 1781, commenting on the “great anxiety…expressed” by TJ in his missing letter of 3 May 1781 about the mines). See also, Hening, description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, Richmond,1809–1823, 13 vols. description ends ix, 237–8; x, 193–4; CVSP description begins William P. Palmer and others, eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers…Preserved in the Capitol at Richmond, Richmond, 1875–1893 description ends , iii, 390; VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 1893- description ends , iv, 359. On 12 July 1790 John Harvie also wrote TJ: “Mr. Moses Austin, a Merchant in this City and his Brothers have leas’d the Lead Mines in this State formerly Chiswells and propose working them extensively if they can Obtain some small Encouragement from the General Government. They have Established at this place a factory of Sheet Lead and Shott, which is Carry’d on with diligence and I believe good Success. No one can be better Acquainted with the Situation of these Mines in respect to Land Carriage and Navigation than yourself and any remark of mine relative to the proposition of these Gentlemen would be Superfluous, as their Views and Wishes can be best explain’d by themselves” (RC in DLC; endorsed as received 23 July 1790 and so recorded in SJL). TJ’s reply to Harvie must be interpreted in the light of his disposition at this time to show friendship (see TJ to Martha Jefferson Randolph, 17 July 1790, note) and of his fear that encouragement of private ventures by the general government might set a dangerous precedent (TJ to Harvie, 25 July 1790). There is no evidence that he replied to Gov. Randolph’s letter and his fear may have influenced the casual response that Washington gave to the Virginia governor: Washington on 25 Aug. 1790 wrote that it had not required any “particular answer” and hence he had deferred acknowledging it (Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, xxxi, 95).

In Notes on Virginia TJ gave the best contemporary description of the lead mines and suggested means of shortening the land transportation from the mines to Richmond: this road led from the mines “130 miles along a good road, leading through the peaks of Otter to Lynch’s ferry, or Winston’s, on James river”—thus passing near his own place at Poplar Forest (Notes on Virginia, ed. William Peden, Chapel Hill, 1955, p. 27).

Pig lead was admitted free of duty under the revenue act of 1789. But within a month after Moses and Stephen Austin appeared in New York, bearing letters of introduction to TJ, Madison, and doubtless to others, Congress levied a duty of “one cent per pound on bar and all other lead imported”; the resolution was introduced by John Brown (1757–1837), TJ’s former law student who was then representing the Kentucky District of Virginia in Congress. (See Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials by Joseph Gales, Senior, Washington, Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. The edition employed here is that which contains the running heads on verso and recto pages respectively: “Gales & Seatons History” and “of Debates in Congress.” Another printing, with the same title-page but with running heads on both recto and verso pages reading “History of Congress,” has a different pagination, so that pages cited in the edition employed here should be converted by subtracting approximately fifty-two from the number given in the citation. All editions are undependable. description ends , ii, 1740; Statutes at Large, i, 26, 180; Victor S. Clark, History of Manufactures in the United States, 1929 edn., i, 288). John Walker wrote Randolph that his letter had arrived in good time, that the duty of one cent per pound on all imported lead was readily agreed to, and that he hoped this would be “a sufficient protection for our infant Manufacture of this article” (Walker to Beverley Randolph, July 1790, PHi: Dreer Collection).

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