James Madison Papers

From James Madison to James Madison, Sr., 6 March 1778

To James Madison, Sr.

RC (LC: Madison Papers).

Williamsbg March 6th. 78

Hond Sir

Since I wrote to you by Mr. Cave1 I have taken the freedom to give an order on Mr. Lee2 who is at present at Nants for the money due to you in favour of the Revd. Mr. Madison3 who wanted to procure from Europe a few literary curiosities by means of a French Gentleman just setting out on public Business for this State,4 addressed to the management of Mr. Lee. I take the opportunity by Mr: Harrison from Culpeper5 of giving you the earliest notice of this circumstance that you may not dispose of your Bills to any other person. As some little return for the favours I am daily receiving from Mr. Madison I shall not charge him more than the legal rate of exchange for the money. I have sent for a few Books also on my own account and Mr. Lee is requested to transmit whatever late publications relate to G. B. or the present state of European Politics. If any Balance should remain after these purposes are provided for Capt. le Maire the french Gentln. alluded to has engaged to lay it out for us in linnen &c.

We have no news here that can be depended on. It is said by Mr. King6 who is just from Petersbg that a Gentleman was at that place who informed that sundry persons had arrived at Edenton from Providence Island7 who affirmed that they saw in Providence a London Paper giving an account that Burgoyne’s disaster had produced the most violent fermentation in England that the Parliant. has refused to grant the supplies for carrying on the war and that a motion for acknowledging our independ[ence] was overruled by a small majority only. The People who bring this news to Edenton, as the story goes, were Prisoners w[ith] the Enemy at8 Providence, where they were released by a New-England privateer who suddenly landed her men took possession of the small for[t] that commanded the Harbour and secured several Ves[sels] that lay in it one of which was given up to these men to bring them to the Continent. I leave you to form your own Judgment as to the credibility of this report. I wish it carried stronger marks of truth.9

The Govr has just recd a letter from the Capt. of french frigate10 I mentioned in my last11 informing him of his safe arrival in N. C. with a rich Cargo of various useful and important Articles, which will be offered for sale to us. The frigate belongs to a Company at Nants in France. We also hear but in a less authentic manner that 7000 Tents have arrived at Martinique on their way from France to the Grand Army[.]12 Salt at South. Quay sells at £3.10 [per bushel?] and is falling.13 A letter from York-Town [this] moment read informs us that an Exchange of Prisoners is at last agreed on between W. & H.14

I wish much to hear from you, and shall continue to write by every opportunity.

I am Dr. Sir with my constant good wishes & &c Yr Affecte. Son

James Madison Jr.

1Letter not found. Possibly Belfield Cave (ca. 1756–1811), who rose from second lieutenant to colonel in the Orange County militia between 1779 and 1799 and held many local political offices during the last twenty years of his life. He was also a mill owner and farmer. He is frequently mentioned in the Orange County Minute Books, Nos. 2, 3, and 4.

2William Lee.

3Reverend James Madison.

4Captain Jacques Le Maire (ca. 1740–1791), after being in Virginia for a few months, was engaged by the state on 18 March 1778 to return to Europe to purchase artillery and other military stores. Having fulfilled this mission with considerable success, he was commissioned a brevet lieutenant colonel of the Virginia Dragoons and was on active service until after Cornwallis’ surrender in October 1781. Thereafter he experienced considerable difficulty in securing the salary and land bounty promised by Virginia (Calendar of Virginia State Papers, IV, 13–14; Journals of the Council of State, III, 418, 455; 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 , VII, 430; H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of Virginia Governors, I, 250–51, 262–63).

5Probably Reverend Thomas Harrison (1750–1814), then of Bromfield Parish, Culpeper County, and Dettingen Parish, Prince William County (Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, XXIV [1916], 212). On the address sheet of this letter JM wrote, “favd. by Mr. Harrison.”

6This could well have been Miles King (1747–1814), a merchant of Hampton and a member of the House of Delegates in 1777–1778 and continuously from 1784 to 1799. As the captain of a minuteman company in the Revolution he was frequently on patrol duty along Virginia’s southeast coast. Late in life he served twice as mayor of Norfolk (William and Mary Quarterly, 1st. ser., XVI [1907–8], 108–10; Lyon G. Tyler, ed., Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, II, 363–64).

7Edenton, N.C., is near the mouth of the Chowan River, which flows into Albemarle Sound. Following the word “Edenton” in the manuscript, the words “which he was travelling from” are inclosed in brackets and struck out—whether by JM or someone else cannot be known. New Providence Island is one of the Bahamas.

8Following “at” in the manuscript, the words “Jamaica from whence they got to” are crossed out.

9Late in January 1778, Captain John P. Rathburne, commanding the continental sloop “Providence,” hailing from Rhode Island, performed the feat summarized here by JM. No one was killed during the raid. Rathburne released thirty American prisoners (Gardner W. Allen, A Naval History of the American Revolution [2 vols.; Boston, 1913], I, 292–95). One of the enemy craft captured by Rathburne probably had been sailed to Edenton. Although the news of the surrender at Saratoga on 17 October 1777 of John Burgoyne (1722–1792), reaching England early in December, caused a prolonged attack in Parliament upon the ministry of Lord North, the opposition failed by a wide margin to muster enough votes to effect a change of administration (William Cobbett, ed., Parliamentary History of England from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803, XIX, 414–1255, passim).

10This is probably the ship mentioned below in Session of Council of State, 12 June 1778, and in Henry to Laurens, 18 June 1778.

11Letter not found.

12Washington’s troops, then encamped at Valley Forge. The preceding paragraph, as well as this paragraph down to “Grand Army,” are inclosed in brackets. So, too, is the final sentence of this paragraph. These brackets, added many years later by William C. Rives, marked the portions of this manuscript to be printed in Madison, Letters description begins (Cong. ed.). [William C. Rives and Philip R. Fendall, eds.], Letters and Other Writings of James Madison (published by order of Congress; 4 vols.; Philadelphia, 1865). description ends (Cong. ed.), I, 31–32.

13A blot on the manuscript obscures the quantity to be had for that price, but it undoubtedly was a bushel. South Quay was in Nansemond County on the Blackwater River, close to its junction with the Nottoway River. With British ships often in control of Chesapeake Bay during the Revolution, South Quay was an important Virginia entrepot because of its easy access by water to Albemarle Sound and thence to the ocean (Rogers Dey Whichard, The History of Lower Tidewater Virginia [2 vols.; New York, 1959], II, 148).

14By “York-Town” JM most likely meant York, Pa. There Congress met from 30 September 1777 to 27 June 1778, because of the British occupancy of Philadelphia. The agreement between Washington and General William Howe (1729–1814) to exchange prisoners was reached on 10 February 1778 (Fitzpatrick, Writings ofWashington, X, 444–46; Journals of the Continental Congress, X, 179, 194, 197–98). Word of this agreement had likely been sent to Governor Patrick Henry by one of the delegates of Virginia in Congress.

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