James Madison Papers

From James Madison to William Bradford, 28 July 1775

To William Bradford

Copy (Historical Society of Pennsylvania).

Virginia Orange: July 28–1775.

My obliging friend

I received your favor of the 10th. inst. and have since had a sight of the declaration and Address from the Congress. I must concur with you in every1 encomium that can be bestowed on them, particularly the last mentioned which for true Eloquence may vie with the most applauded Oration of Tully himself. These performances must be chiefly owing to a few illustrious writers of that body. Is it discoverable who are the original Authors of them? I think the traces of Livingstons pen are visible in the one we are now speaking of. You are a better Judge & better acquainted with his Genius & writings2

Our convention is now sitting, and I believe intends to strike a considerable sum of money & to raise 3 or 4,000 men as an Army to be in immediate pay. The independants, who I suppose will be three times that number will also have their pay commence as soon as they are called to action.3 The Preparations for War are every where going on in a most vigorous manner. But the Scarcity of Ammunition is truly alarming. Can you tell how they are supplied in N England and what steps are taking to procure a sufficiency for the time to come. I was a little induced from the confident assertion of the Congress that foreign Assistance if necessary was [“]undoubtedly attainable,” to think & hope that some secret Overtures had been made to them. If so I imagine they are wrapped up in impenetrable secresy as yet.4 Hath any thing further been whispered relative to the conduct of Dr Franklin?5 I yesterday heard a report that the Indians on the back of us who are to be treated with the last of next month by Commissioners appointed by the Convention indicate a great indisposition to enter into friendly engagement with us at this Juncture. The report adds that there were some frenchmen with them and this determination was formed at their instigation. If there is any truth in this, it will probably be known at Philada. before this reaches you; As indeed every thing of importance is drawn there by the Congress before private intelligence can be conveyed.6

I was much surprized to hear of the marriage of our friend Mr Smith. I had never heard of such a manuvre’s being in agitation, And if I forget not Allen (who ought to know) told me there were some engagement with Thompson from that Quarter which he could not in honor break & from which she was unwilling to release him. And if I did not mistake him (I speak with caution you observe) Thompson intended a trip to Princeton to settle affairs. However I intermeddle little with such matters; & something that might set the affair in a different Light may have escaped my attention or memory.7 A Letter to Mr Smith is in company with this. It is directed to him at Princeton to the care of Plum.8 If he should be in Philada. at the time you get this I should be glad you would give him notice of it. Or if by going to Princeton you think it will miss of him in that case you would oblige me by taking it out of the office and conveying it to him. I have requested him to bring me two pamphlets “An apology for the Church of England as by Law Established” &c by Josiah Tucker—and An Essay on Toleration with a particular view to the late Application of the Dissenting Ministers to Parliament &c. by Phil. Turneaux. If he should not be in Town after he recieves this & you could procure them and send them to him with Priestly before he sets off for Virginia you would lay me under another Obligation.9

A Scotch Parson in an adjoining County refused to observe the fast or preach on that day. When called on he pleaded Conscience, alledging that it was his duty to pay no regard to any such appointments made by unconstitutional authority. The Committee it seems have their Consciences too: they have ordered his Church doors to be shut and his salary to be stopped, and have sent to the convention for their advice. If the Convention should connive at their proceedings I question, should his insolence not abate if he does not get ducked in a coat of Tar & surplice of feathers and then he may go in his new Canonicals and act under the lawful Authority of Gen. Gage if he pleases. We have one of the same Kidney in the parish I live in. He was sometime ago published in the Gazette for his insolence and had like to have met with sore treatment; but finding his protection to be not so much in the law as the favor of the people he is grown very supple & obsequious.10

The Dysentery has been again in our family & is now among the slaves. I have hitherto Escaped and hope it has no commission to attack me. It is less severe [than] it was at first.11 I am obliged to finish in great haste to have an opportunity that Just offers for sending this Letter to the Post.


J M Jun

1Bradford’s file copy repeats “every.”

2Although JM probably had in mind William Livingston (1723–1790), whose spirited pamphlets attacking established churches found a receptive audience, it was Robert R. Livingston (1746–1813) who had been on the committee of the Second Continental Congress which drafted the “Address to the Inhabitants of Great Britain” (Journals of the Continental Congress, II, 80). Even so, Richard Henry Lee was probably the principal author of that address.

3In August 1775 the Virginia Convention provided for the levying of a variety of taxes, the issuance of £350,000 of paper money, the recruiting of 1,445 soldiers for the defense of the colony, and the raising of over eight thousand minutemen for the protection of their respective districts. These new forces were to take the place of the former militia, volunteers, and independent companies (Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed., American Archives, 4th ser. (6 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1837–46). description ends , 4th ser., III, 377–411, 424–27, 456; George Mason to Martin Cockburn, 24 July and 22 August 1775, in Calendar of Virginia State Papers, I, 267–68).

4The expression “undoubtedly attainable” is from Congress’ “Declaration … of … the causes and necessity of … taking up arms.” The first formal step toward initiating “secret Overtures” for foreign aid occurred on 29 November 1775, when Congress created a Committee of [Secret] Correspondence.

5See Bradford to JM, 2 June 1775, n. 2, and 18 July 1775.

6Both the Virginia House of Burgesses and the Continental Congress appointed commissioners to treat with the western Indians at Fort Pitt (Journals of the Houseof Burgesses, 1773–1776, p. 282; Journals of the Continental Congress, II, 183; III, 433; Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed., American Archives, 4th ser. (6 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1837–46). description ends , 4th ser., III, 76). Delay by the Indians in coming to the fort, as well as friction between the commissioners from Virginia and Pennsylvania over whether the one or the other province owned the forks of the Ohio River, protracted the negotiations. Eventually, in October 1775, the Indians signed a treaty agreeing not to take the warpath (Reuben Gold Thwaites and Louise Phelps Kellogg, eds., The Revolution on the Upper Ohio, 1775–1777 [Madison, Wis., 1908], p. 125).

7Reverend Samuel S. Smith married Ann Witherspoon at Princeton on 28 June 1775 (Willard Thorp, ed., Lives of Eighteen from Princeton, p. 92). The “Thompson,” whom JM evidently believed had been engaged to Miss Witherspoon, was probably Reverend James Thompson. At that time he and Reverend Moses Allen lived in Charleston, S.C.

8Probably Benjamin Plum. JM’s letter to Smith has not been found.

9Josiah Tucker, An Apology for the Present Church of England as by Law Established, occasioned by a Petition said to be preparing by certain Clergymen, and Others, to be laid before Parliament, for abolishing Subscriptions, in a letter to one of the Petitioners (Glocester, 1772); Philip Furneaux (1726–1783), An Essay on Toleration: with a particular view to the late application of the Protestant Dissenting Ministers to Parliament, for amending and rendering effectual the Act of the first of William and Mary, commonly called the Act of Toleration (London, 1773). JM’s letter could not have reached Bradford before Smith left Princeton or Philadelphia for Virginia.

10On 12 June 1775 the Continental Congress designated 20 July as a day of “public humiliation, fasting and prayer” (Journals of the Continental Congress, II, 87–88). The “Scotch Parson” was Reverend James Herdman, who was licensed in 1770 as a minister of the established church in Virginia and assigned in 1774 to Bromfield Parish, which included parts of what was then Culpeper County. Although the Convention appears to have offered no “advice,” the Culpeper Committee of Safety ordered Herdman’s expulsion from the county “from and after the 19th day” of October 1775. He departed so hastily that he left behind a portion of his library. He is last heard of in 1777 as a “foreigner” in Henrico County, where he once more refused to take the oath of allegiance (Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, XLI [1933], 143; Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg, Dixon and Hunter], 20 January 1776; Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg, Purdie], 31 January 1777; Raleigh Travers Green, comp., Genealogical and Historical Notes on Culpeper County, Virginia [Culpeper, 1900], p. 35). The recalcitrant Orange County minister was Reverend John Wingate (ca. 1746–1789), who, after being licensed to preach in 1771, was assigned in 1774 to St. Thomas Parish, Orange County, where he christened JM’s youngest sister, Frances Taylor Madison, in October of that year. He surprised the Committee of Safety on 25 March 1775 by refusing to give up “seditious” pamphlets in his possession on the ground that they were not his personal property. Two days later the pamphlets were seized and burned in the presence of the Orange Independent Company. Some time later he left the parish. At the time of his death he resided on the island of Grenada in the British West Indies (Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, XLI [1933], 305; LXVI [1958], 82; Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed., American Archives, 4th ser. (6 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1837–46). description ends , 4th ser., II, 234–35; Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle [303 vols.; London, 1731–1907], LIX, Part II [1789], 955).

11Bradford probably miscopied JM’s “than” as “that.” In the Boston Public Library is a letter of 5 July 1775 from James Madison, Sr., in which he writes: “My Wife was taken two days ago with the same disorder my children died with. I hope She will have it favourable. It is above a fortnight since any of my family at home had it.” The letter was addressed to Oliver Fowler.

Index Entries