Case of William Aylett
[8–22 May 1776]
When JM, a delegate from Orange County, took his seat in this Convention on 8 May 1776, he was at once appointed to the Committee of Privileges and Elections. This large group, ultimately numbering nearly half of the 130 delegates, concerned itself primarily with the validity of their election and with alleged instances of individual Virginians manifesting disloyalty to the patriot cause. As a young and inexperienced legislator, JM probably contributed little to the work of this committee. For this reason, a reproduction of its extensive minutes, which in no instance mention his name, will be limited to the first item of business after JM became a member. The Convention of 6 May to 5 July 1776, however, was an important chapter in his political education, and the disputed-election case of William Aylett of King William County will illustrate one type of problem necessarily engaging his attention. Other matters in which, as a member of other committees, he directly participated, were the settlement of claims against Virginia arising from “the late expedition against the Indians,” the counting of ballots cast in the elections of governor and members of the Privy Council, and, above all, the preparation of a declaration of rights and plan of government for the province (see Declaration of Rights, 16 May–29 June 1776). For the committees, see The Proceedings of the Convention of Delegates Held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg, in the Colony of Virginia, on Monday, the 6th of May, 1776 (Richmond, 1816), pp. 16, 17, 25, 78, 79, 81.
[18 May 1776]
The Committee of Privileges and Elections, have according to Order,1 inquired into the Information, touching the Election of Delegates for the County of King William, to them referred, And it appears to your Committee from the Poll taken at the said Election by Owen Gwathmey Gentn. Sherif of that said County,2 that at the close of the Poll the Number of Votes stood as follows
|Richard Squire Taylor4||73|
It also appears to your Committee from the Testimony of the said Owen Gwathmey, that some time before the Poll was closed,6 Mr. Aylett, declined standing a Candidate, and made a Public declaration of it and at the same time desired that Mr. Braxton might be elected.
That after Mr. Aylett’s resignation, he7 made proclamation several times for the Freeholders to come in and Vote, before he closed the Poll.
It also appears to your Committee from the Testimony of Benjamin Temple,8 that he with many others who had voted at the Election, applied to Mr. Aylett during the Poll, and desired he would decline in favour of Mr. Braxton, which he accordingly did, and the people generally seemed well pleased, that Mr. Braxton should be returned a Delegate; but that there was not a sufficient Number, who had not voted to have elected Mr. Braxton and in case the Poll had been continued, most of them would have voted for Mr. Taylor. That Mr. Dandridge Claiborne had been proposed as a Sub-Delegate,9 but on hearing Mr. Taylor was a Candidate, he declined. That the Poll was kept open so long as any person would come in to Vote, and that the Sheriff, before he closed it, made Publication several times for the Freeholders to come and vote, And that in any event Mr. Taylor would have been elected.
It further appears to your Committee from the Testimony of Drury Ragsdale10 that after Mr. Aylett declined, there was a sufficient Number, in his Opinion, who had not voted to set Mr. Braxton before Mr. Aylett. That many, who did not vote after Mr. Aylett’s resignation, looked on it to be unnecessary, considering Mr. Braxton as elected of course: that the Poll was kept open a considerable time, after the People declined going in to Vote. That the Deponent informed many, while the Poll was taking, of the consequences of leaving Mr. Braxton out. That for some time after the Poll was begun, Mr. Braxton’s friends were backward in giving their Votes, but afterwards they exerted themselves to promote his Interest. That the Deponent with Mr. Fox,11 the day after the Election was making a Calculation how many persons were at the Election who did not Vote, and they made the Number about 42, which would have mostly voted for Mr. Braxton and Mr. Aylett; but that in any event Mr. Taylor would have been elected.
It also further appears to your Committee from the Testimony of James Quarles12 that he did not vote at the Election, on account of Mr. Ayletts resignation; that he thought, until the day of Election, that Mr. Taylor offered only as a Sub-Delegate, and many people in the lower Parish thought as he did.
And it further appears to your Committee from the Testimony of Archibald Govan,13 that he did not vote at the Election, thinking Mr. Braxton could not get a sufficient Number of Votes to elect him; but in case he had voted it would have been for Mr. Braxton; that on Mr. Aylett’s resignation in favour of Mr. Braxton, the People in General seem’d to be well pleased; that before Mr. Aylett resigned, Mr. Braxton had not friends enough to set him before Mr. Aylett or Mr. Taylor, but some were of a different Opinion; but that in any event Mr. Taylor would have been elected.
Upon the whole matter your Committee came to the following Resolution vizt.
Resolved as the Opinion of this Committee that the said William Aylett and Richard Squire Taylor are duly elected Delegates for the said County of King William.14
[22 May 1776]
The Committee of Privileges and Elections have had under their Consideration, an Information (to them referred) that William Aylett Esqr., a Delegate for the County of King William had accepted a Military Post of Proffit in the Continental Army, by which his Seat in this Convention is become vacated: And it appears to your Committee that the said William Aylett, since his Election, hath accepted a Commission, appointing him Deputy Commissary General to the Continental Forces in Virginia.15 Whereupon your Committee came to the following Resolution, Vizt.
Resolved, as the Opinion of this Committee, that the said William Aylett hath vacated his Seat in this Convention.16
1. On 9 May, the Convention was assured by the committee that in its opinion the certificates of election from King William County, along with those from thirty-six other counties or corporations (e.g., the College of William and Mary), were evidences of valid elections. Later that day, however, upon hearing that the sheriff of King William County “hath returned a delegate as duly chosen … who had a lesser number of votes than two other candidates,” the Convention referred the matter to the Committee of Privileges and Elections for investigation and report (Proceedings of the Convention, May 1776, p. 9).
2. Owen Gwathmey III (1752–1830) was a brother-in-law of George Rogers Clark and sheriff of King William County for several years after 1776. Later he moved to Kentucky and died at Louisville (Lineage Book of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, XIV , 250; XCV , 172).
3. William Aylett (1743–1780) had been a burgess from 1771 to 1775 and a delegate to the three general conventions of 1775. He would be Virginia’s commissary of stores and agent for trade in 1776–1777. He also served as deputy commissary general of purchases for the southern department, with a colonel’s rank in the continental line, from 1776 until his death (Journals of the Continental Congress, IV, 315; VIII, 477; Louis A. Burgess, ed., Virginia Soldiers of 1776 [2 vols.; Richmond, 1927], II, 944–47; Elizabeth Hawes Ryland, ed., King William County, Virginia, from Old Newspapers & Files [Richmond, 1955], pp. 55, 62; Journals of the Council of State, I, 62, 248, 296, 398, 403).
4. Richard Squire Taylor (d. 1810) was sheriff of King William County in 1764 and a justice of the peace between 1764 and 1771. He was also a delegate to the General Assembly of October 1776 and a trustee for the improvement of Pamunkey River navigation in 1789 (Bulletin of the Virginia State Library, XIV , 56–110, passim; Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia 1776–1918 and of the Constitutional Conventions [Richmond, 1918], p. 1; 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 , XIII, 73).
6. Voting for delegates to the General Convention was viva voce, and the polls were kept open by the sheriff in “April annually, on the several days appointed by law for the holding of the county or co[r]poration courts respectively, and at the places where such courts are accustomed to be held” (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, 54).
7. The sheriff.
8. Benjamin Temple (ca. 1735–1802) rose from lieutenant’s rank in the French and Indian War to a colonelcy by 1783, after serving through the Revolution in the dragoons. From 1784 until 1800 he was continuously a member of one or the other house of the Assembly of Virginia, and was a delegate in 1788 to its convention to ratify the Federal Constitution (F. B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army, p. 394).
9. Equivalent to an alternate. William Dandridge Claiborne (1756–1811) left the College of William and Mary in 1776 to join the patriot army. In 1777–1779 he was a major of militia. His one term as a member of the state legislature during the Revolution was followed between 1785 and 1798 by considerably more service in that body. He was sheriff of King William County in 1790 and from 1802 to 1804. Since he was only twenty years of age in 1776 and the vote for delegates was confined to those twenty-one or older, Claiborne would hardly have been eligible to stand for an office for which he could not even vote (Elizabeth H. Ryland, ed., King William County, pp. 62, 73, 81; 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 , VIII, 305–7; IX, 54).
10. Drury Ragsdale, Jr. (1750–1804), was a captain during the Revolution—at first of his county’s militia and, from 1777 to 1783, of the 1st Continental Artillery. He was a member of the Virginia General Assembly in 1783 (F. B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army, p. 339).
11. Possibly Thomas Fox (ca. 1750–1802), who, while serving in the Virginia continental line as a second lieutenant and later as a first lieutenant, was taken prisoner by the British when Charleston surrendered in May 1780 (ibid., p. 181; Elizabeth H. Ryland, ed., King William County, pp. 70–71).
12. Although the identification is not certain, he likely was the James Quarles who moved to Albemarle County in 1776, served as captain and major in the 2d Regiment of the state line during the Revolution and as sheriff of his county in 1782–1783 (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (16 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , III, 344–45, 439; VI, 175; Edgar Woods, Albemarle County in Virginia, pp. 299–300; H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia [3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29], I, 175, 266; II, 115–16). On the other hand, he may have been the James Quarles of King William County who was known as “General” after the Revolution because of his service as paymaster general for a time during that war (Louis A. Burgess, ed., Virginia Soldiers of 1776, I, 332–34).
13. Probably he was a relative of the Tory Archibald Govan, who left for England early in 1776, and whose land in King William County escheated to the state four years later (Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg, Dixon and Hunter], 20 January 1776; Calendar of Virginia State Papers, I, 396; VII, 86; VIII, 96, 155).
14. Following the submission of this report, the Convention “Ordered, That the sheriff do amend the certificate of the election of delegates for the said county of King William, agreeably to the foregoing resolution” (Proceedings of the Convention, May 1776, p. 18).
15. On 20 May,
“The Convention being informed, that William Aylett, Esq., a delegate for the county of King William, had accepted a military post of profit in the continental army, by which his seat in this Convention is become vacated.
“Ordered, That the said information be referred to the Committee of Privileges and Elections; and that they inquire into the truth thereof, and report the same, together with their opinion thereupon, to the Convention” (ibid., p. 20).
16. On 22 May, having heard this report, the Convention “Ordered. That the President [Edmund Pendleton] be desired to issue his warrant for the election of a delegate for the county of King William, in the room of the said William Aylett” (ibid., p. 23). Aylett never attended the Convention. In fact, it received from him on 7 June a “memorial” bearing upon a matter connected with his new position as deputy commissary general (ibid., pp. 37, 82). Although unnoted in the Proceedings of the Convention, a certificate dated 13 June 1776 in the Virginia State Library makes clear that Braxton was elected, vice Aylett, as a delegate from King William County. Braxton, however, could not have attended the Convention even during its closing days because he was in the Continental Congress at Philadelphia from 23 February until at least 9 July 1776 (Journals of the Continental Congress, IV, 167; V, 530).