James Madison Papers

Commission as Colonel of Orange County Militia, 2 October 1775

Commission as Colonel of Orange County Militia

MS (Henry E. Huntington Library). The words and numbers in script type signify that the clerk inserted them in ink. Otherwise, the original of this commission is in print. Each of the seven signatures appears to have been written by the man whose name is subscribed. The commission forms were probably printed by Alexander Purdie, editor of the Virginia Gazette of Williamsburg.

[2 October 1775]

The Committee of Safety for the Colony of Virginia
To James Madison Junr. Esqr.

By Virtue of the Power and Authority invested in us, by the Delegates and Representatives of the several Counties and Corporations in General Convention assembled, we, reposing especial Trust and Confidence in your Patriotism, Fidelity, Courage, and good Conduct, do, by these Presents, constitute and appoint you to be Colonel of the Militia of the County of Orange; and you are therefore carefully and diligently to discharge the Trust reposed in you, by disciplining all Officers and Soldiers under your Command. And we do hereby require them to obey you as their Colonel. And you are to observe and follow all such Orders and Directions as you shall from Time to Time receive from the Convention, the Committee of Safety for the Time being, or any superiour Officers, according to the Rules and Regulations established by the Convention.1

Edmd. Pendleton
Thos. Lud. Lee
Given under our Hands, at } P. Carrington
Williamsburg this 2d. Day of October Dudley Digges
Anno Domini 1775. Carter Braxton
Js. Mercer
John Tabb.2

1The Virginia Committee of Safety, created by the General Convention which convened at Richmond on 17 July 1775, was empowered to conduct the defense of the colony during the recesses of the Convention and in accordance with its regulations. The military aspect of this defense was to be provided by armed men of three types—the “regulars” (state line), the minutemen, and the militia. The last of these was in the nature of a reserve force, to be used against the enemy in emergencies. The highest officer of the militia of each county was the county lieutenant (Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , IX, 9–35). In Orange County in 1775, JM’s father held this office. JM, by virtue of this commission, became his father’s second in command. Although there is no doubt that the son had undergone military training (JM to Bradford, 19 June 1775) and would occasionally be called “Colonel” in later years, he rarely, if ever, served in the field with the militia of Orange County. Referring to himself in the third person in his “Autobiographical Notes” (Princeton University Library), written at some time between 1816 and 1831, he spoke of “causes preventing him from entering the army, viz his feeble health, and a constitutional liability to sudden attacks, somewhat resembling Epilepsy, and suspending the intellectual functions.” In short, in spite of his colonelcy, JM was not a veteran of the Revolution and never claimed to be. In 1775, Orange County was divided by the county lieutenant into muster districts, with the militia in each district commanded by a captain. In the Mills College Library, Oakland, Calif., is a letter dated “October 1775” from JM’s father to “Capt. James Hunter,” geographically defining his muster district and ordering him to prepare a roster of the men therein who were liable for militia service.

2Besides the signers of this commission, George Mason, John Page, Richard Bland, and William Cabell were also members of the Virginia Committee of Safety in 1775 (Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , IX, 49). As chairman of this committee, Edmund Pendleton (1721–1803) of Caroline County, who had just completed twenty-three years as a burgess, was de facto governor of the colony, or at least of the patriots among its citizens. Thomas Ludwell Lee (1730–1778) of Stafford County, had occasionally been in the House of Burgesses between 1758 and 1775. His training in the law helped to qualify him as a judge of the General Court of Virginia for several years before his death. He was one of a notable group of brothers including Richard Henry, Francis Lightfoot, Arthur, and William Lee (Cazenove Gardner Lee, Jr., Lee Chronicle: Studies of the Early Generations of the Lees of Virginia, ed. by Dorothy Mills Parker [New York, 1957], pp. 72–73). Paul Carrington (1733–1818) of Charlotte County, a lawyer and officer of militia, served as a king’s attorney before the Revolution, as a judge of the higher courts of his state from 1778 to 1807, and held numerous less important public offices. Dudley Digges (1718–1790) of York County had had long experience as a burgess and colonel of militia before the Revolution. Besides serving as a delegate to the General Conventions of 1774–1776, he was a member of the Council of State and a state examiner of claims during the war (Lyon Gardner Tyler, ed., Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography [5 vols.; New York, 1915], II, 9). Prior to the Revolution, Carter Braxton (1736–1797) was of local prominence as a burgess and sheriff of King William County. From 1776 until his death he was usually a member of either the Virginia House of Delegates or of the Council of State. When serving in the Continental Congress, 1776–1777, he signed the Declaration of Independence. Before the Revolution, James Mercer (1736–1793) of Hampshire County had served as a captain in the French and Indian War and as a burgess. During his later career he was chiefly distinguished as a judge of the General Court and the Court of Appeals, 1779–1789, and of the reorganized Court of Appeals, 1789–1793. John Tabb (ca. 1737–1798), son of a rich Amelia County merchant, served successively between 1771 and 1776 in the House of Burgesses, the general conventions, and on the state Committee of Safety. In 1777 he was colonel of the militia of his county. Shortly before his death his daughter Martha married Congressman William B. Giles (ibid., II, 33–34).

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