James Madison Papers

From James Madison to William Bradford, 1 July 1774

To William Bradford

RC (Historical Society of Pennsylvania). Addressed: “To Mr. William Bradford Junr. at the Coffee-House Philadelphia.” Bradford’s copybook version is also at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

July 1. 1774.

Dear Sir

I am once more got into my native land and into the possession of my customary enjoyments Solitude and Contemplation, though I must confess not a little disturbed by the sound of War blood and plunder on the one Hand and the Threats of Slavery and Oppression on the Other.1 From the best accounts I can obtain from our Frontiers The Savages are determined in the extirpation of the Inhabitants, and no longer leave them the alternative of Death or Captivity. The Consternation and timidity of the White people who abandon their possessions without making the least resistance are as difficult to be accounted for as they are encouraging to the Enemy. Whether it be owing to the unusual Cruelty of the Indians the want of necessary implements or ammunition for War or to the ignorance & inexperience of many who, since the establishment of peace, have ventured into those new Settlements, I can neither learn nor with any certainty conjecture. However It is confidently asserted that there is not an Inhabitant for some Hundreds of miles back which have been settled for many years, except those who are forted in or embodied by their Military Commanders.2 This state of things has induced Lord Dunmore, contrary to his Intentions at the Dissolution of the Assembly to issue Writs for a new Election of Members whom he is to call together on the 11th. of August.3

As to the Sentiments of the people of this Colony with respect to the Bostonians I can assure [you] I find them generally very warm in their favour. The Natives are very unanimous and resolute, are making resolves in almost every County and I believe are willing to fall in with the Other Colonies in any expedient measure, even if that should be the universal prohibition of Trade.4 It must not be denied though that the Europeans especially the Scotch and some interested Merchants among the natives discountenance such proceedings as far as they dare alledging the Injustice and perfidy of refusing to pay our debts to our Generous Creditors at Home. This Consideration induces some honest moderate folks to prefer a partial prohibition extending only to the Importation5 of Goods.

We have a report here that Governor Gage has sent Lord Dunmore some Letters relating to public matters in which He says he has strong hopes that he shall be able to bring things at Boston to an amicable settlement. I suppose you know whether there be any Truth in the Report or any just foundation for such an Opinion in Gage.6

I[t] has been said here by some that the appointed Fast was disregarded by every Scotch Clergyman though it was observed by most of the others who had timely notice of it. I cannot avouch it for an absolute certainty but it appears no ways incredible.

I was so luckey as to find Dean Tuckers Tracts on my return Home sent by mistake with some other books Imported this Spring. I have read them with peculiar satisfaction and illumination with respect to the Interests of America & Britain. At the same time his ingenious and plausible defence of Parliamentary Authority, carries in it such defects and misrepresentations as Confirm me in political Orthodoxy[,] After the same manner as the specious Arguments of Infidels have established the faith of Enquiring Christians.7

I am impatient to hear from you and do now cordially renew the stipulation for that friendly correspondence which alone can comfort me in the privation of your Company. I shall be punctual in transmitting you an account of every thing that can be acceptable, but must freely absolve you from so strict an obligation which your application to more important Business will not allow, and which my regard for your ease & Interests will not suffer me to enjoin.

I am Dear Sir your faithful friend

James Madison Junr.

1Although the date of JM’s return to Montpelier is unknown, the opening words of this sentence imply that he had been home only a short time. If religious intolerance was the spur which initially aroused his concern about contemporary events (see his letter of 24 January 1774), the military and political affairs stressed in the present letter probably served as an additional prod to end his absorption in study and reading. Besides indicating an improvement in his health, his journey through the middle colonies may well have widened his horizons and quickened his interest in public affairs. On the other hand, the complete omission in this letter of his customary inquiries about old friends and his unusually meager mention of books may merely signify that his meetings and conversations while on his trip had temporarily made these favorite subjects irrelevant.

2JM here refers to the attacks by Shawnee and other Indians on white trappers, traders, surveyors, and settlers in western Pennsylvania and Virginia, including what is now the Little Kanawha Valley of West Virginia, and eastern Kentucky. This struggle, known as Lord Dunmore’s War, began in the spring of 1774, climaxed in the repulse of the Indians at the hard-fought Battle of Point Pleasant on 10 October, and ended shortly thereafter with the Treaty of Camp Charlotte. By this preliminary pact, and its confirmation about a year later at Pittsburgh, insofar as the Shawnees and several other tribes living in what is now southern Ohio were concerned, Kentucky was opened to undisturbed settlement by the whites. The background of the conflict is a tangled story of a boundary dispute between Virginia and Pennsylvania in the Monongahela Valley, of bitter intercolonial rivalries between land speculators, including John Murray, Earl of Dunmore (1732–1809), of his determination and that of some Virginians to have the middle Kentucky area settled, and of the brutal murder of members of the family of a Mingo chieftain (Logan) by a party of whites (Reuben Gold Thwaites and Louise Phelps Kellogg, eds., Documentary History of Dunmore’s War, 1774 [Madison, Wis., 1905]; Thomas Perkins Abernethy, Western Lands and the American Revolution [New York, 1937], pp. 106–15).

3The unenthusiastic response of the tidewater-dominated House of Burgesses in mid-May 1774 to Governor Dunmore’s request that he be financially enabled to recruit a special military force, sufficiently large and well equipped to crush the Indians speedily, contrasts sharply with JM’s anxiety because of the frontier crisis. Besides the fact that Montpelier was nearer to the panic-stricken border than it was to Williamsburg, close relatives of his father had fought Indians and suffered from their depredations during the French and Indian War. Although some of JM’s kinsfolk living on the frontier may have supplied him with those “best accounts” mentioned earlier in this letter, he more likely read them in the Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, Rind) of 2 and 21 June 1774. Governor Dunmore had dissolved the House of Burgesses in late May because it called for prayer and fasting on 1 June, the day when the Boston Port Bill was to go into effect. Following the dissolution, a “rump session” of the House met in Raleigh Tavern, resolved to boycott most East India Company wares, and instructed the legislature’s Committee of Correspondence to invite all the other colonies to a general congress (First Continental Congress). Although on 17 June the governor issued the writs mentioned in this letter, he further prorogued the Assembly on 8 July—this time until early November. The Indian war kept him on the frontier from 10 July until 4 December. For this reason, as well as because he knew that a majority of the burgesses would oppose his demands, he by successive prorogations prevented them from meeting until 1 June 1775. By then his effective power as governor had ended (Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg, Rind], 14 July and 8 December 1774; Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1773–1776, pp. 132, 163–73; Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed., American Archives, 4th ser. (6 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1837–46). description ends , 4th ser., I, 350–51, 419, 523, 1014).

4Charles Ramsdell Lingley in his The Transition in Virginia from Colony to Commonwealth (New York, 1910), pp. 87–90, states that mass meetings in at least fifty-four of the sixty-one Virginia counties passed resolutions between the summer of 1774 and spring of 1775. Many of these resolves appear in Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed., American Archives, 4th ser. (6 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1837–46). description ends , 4th ser., I, passim.

5Underlined by JM.

6On 30 May and 26 June 1774 General Thomas Gage (1721–1787) wrote to the Earl of Dartmouth expressing a restrained optimism about being able to effect “an amicable settlement” (Clarence Edwin Carter, ed., The Correspondence of General Thomas Gage, 1763–1775 [2 vols.; New Haven, 1931–33], I, 355–57).

7JM probably refers to Josiah Tucker (ca. 1712–1799), Four Tracts Together with Two Sermons (2d ed.; Glocester, 1774). Tract IV by this anti-mercantilist Dean of Gloucester must have been of especial interest to JM. In this tract the Dean argued, on grounds of economic benefit to England, that the American colonies should be encouraged to separate entirely from England (Robert Livingston Schuyler, ed., Josiah Tucker: A Selection from His Economic and Political Writings [New York, 1931], pp. 281–369). JM apparently deemed a denial of any rightful authority of Parliament over the colonies to be an “orthodox” constitutional position.

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