James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Philip Mazzei, 13 June 1779

From Philip Mazzei

RC (LC: Madison Papers). On the cover the address reads “Honble: Js: Maddison Esqre. Counsellor of State Williamsburg.”

Hob’s Hole,1 June 13th. 1779.

Dear Sir,

There was in the copy of the Cipher you gave me2 twice 8. It may perhaps be so in my original. I have converted one of the 2 in 81. I have likewise added the j besides the v, & so completed the Alphabet consisting of 26 letters, & not of 24. I wish therefore that you will keep the inclosed, & destroy the other, to avoid misunderstanding.

I have put my papers with a 4 pounds ball in a bag to be thrown overboard, if prudence should require it; but I have first made an extract, & have interlined it in old papers of private accounts &c, which I don’t think would be taken from me, as both figures & words are masked in a manner as to give no suspicion; & it will be necessary the assistance of my memory to recollect myself the originals they represent. In case I should sink the papers & escape, the said memorandum will enable me to act while I am waiting for the copies of my Commissions & Instructions, the sending of which I hope you will not neglect.3 These, I suppose, could be amended & improved in proportion to the amendment & improvement of your venerable board.4 If such a thing was to happen (which I ardently wish for the public good) pray, have my observations upon them considered, & that use made of them which you think they deserve. I hope you will believe me when I tell you, that the greatest inducement for a Sovereign to grant a loan of good [gold?] & silver will be the prospect of great part of the money remaining in his Dominions. Success in this scheme will afford us a great & sudden relief. Therefore all proper means ought to be used to promote it. Among the steps, which could be taken to defeat the scheme, I cannot think of one more effectual, than that of sending out 2. Agents, one to a place to borrow the money, & one to spend it in another. However well disposed the Gran-duke,5 or the Genoese might be to lend us money, I am confident that as soon as they know, that part of it is to be drawn in favour of another part of Europe to pay for things, which could have been bought in their Country, they would withdraw highly, & in my opinion justly, disgusted. I told you already, that I ought to have been furnished with a copy of the invoice given to Mr. Smith,6 with a power to purchase on equal terms (’though at this juncture it would have been proper, in order to obtain our end, not to stand upon trifles) & if such articles, as we are in want of, are not to be got there,7 our intention would produce a good effect, & I could then with propriety say that such things must be purchased elsewhere immediately, & untill they could be manufactured in their Country. The late Governor, Mr. Page,8 & you agreed in January last, that, in good policy as well as gratitude, as much money as it was necessary to employ in goods, was to be layed out in the country of the Lender, or Lenders. If prudence & common sense are to be given up, & the interest of the Country sacrificed to gratify the humour & spleen of narrow-minded & ill-disposed men,9 we are in a really bad condition. It is a melancholy reflection, that the men, who have caused obstacles to be put in the way, are those better acquainted than others with the difficulty of borrowing money, & the disposition of men to trust thousands in goods rather than £50. in cash. A Sovereign has a much greater interest to find market for the manufacturies of his Country, & especially where they are almost on the ground for want of a market. Pray, remove the obstacles, rather help me, & instruct me about a banker to keep your money, & accept & pay your bills’ in case I should succeed. I told you, that if I should not, I will publish a factum,10 in which no circumstance shall be omitted, & the Actors shall be justly described. I really think, that both my honour & regard to my Friends would require it, & I feel that my personal resentment would have a small share in it in comparison to the sensibility for the public good. I don’t doubt but I should make some impression, as I am confident that I shall have in my power to render, exclusive of that, essential services to the Country. I leave to your prudence to make a proper use of this letter, but as to Mr. Jefferson & Mr. Page I wish they will take the trouble to read it, & consult with you on quid agendum.11 I refer y[ou] to Mr. Page for an information abt. Capn. Wood[ford’]s12 fate. Remember me to our Friends, & believe me most sincerely,

dr. Sir, Your most Obliged & Obedt. Servt.

Ph. Mazzei
17. do. Near Urbana.13

We are here stopped, & probably shall be obliged to go back. It is reported that several privateers are in the bay, & have done a great deal of mischief, which cannot be avoided as long as your men of war are most usefully, honorably, & patriotically employed in fishing oisters. The season is so advanced, that I am much uneasy abt. the cloathing for the army, & I think it will be prudent, as soon as I get to Paris, to persuade my acquaintances to become adventurers14 by sending on the terms proposed the articles you want for it, least it should be too late when I get to Tuscany.

1Even though Hobb’s Hole in Essex County on the Rappahannock River had been renamed Tappahannock by the General Assembly of Virginia in 1705 (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 , III, 417), the old designation of this official port of entry was commonly used during the Revolution.

2Philip Mazzei (1730–1816) of Florence, Italy, after seventeen years in England as an importer of wines, emigrated to Virginia in 1773. There he was helped by leading planters, and above all by Jefferson, to acquire a property (Colle) neighboring Monticello, for the purpose of growing grapes and making wine. His eagerness to aid the patriot cause resulted in the collapse of his promising experiments in viniculture. On 8 January 1779 Governor Patrick Henry and the council, of which JM was a member, commissioned Mazzei to go to his native Tuscany to negotiate a loan of not over £900,000 specie, and to use at least a portion of it, together with tobacco shipped from Virginia, to purchase needed military supplies, including cloth, for the troops of that commonwealth. JM appears to have favored this arrangement and may have drafted Mazzei’s commission and instructions (E[ugenio] C. Branchi, trans., “Memoirs of Philip Mazzei,” William and Mary Quarterly, 2d ser., IX [1929], 251–52). Now, six months later, Mazzei was impatiently waiting aboard the brigantine “Johnston Smith” to set out upon his mission (Richard Cecil Garlick, Jr., Philip Mazzei, Friend of Jefferson: His Life and Letters [Baltimore, 1933], pp. 9, 22, 26–52, passim, 163; Howard R. Marraro, ed., Philip Mazzei, Virginia’s Agent in Europe: The Story of His Mission as Related in His Own Dispatches and Other Documents [New York, 1935], p. 9; Reverend James Madison to JM, 3 August 1780, n. 7; Jameson to JM, 20 September 1780, n. 6).

3These precautions proved to be well advised. On 20 June 1779, when the “Johnston Smith” was about to be captured by a British privateer off the Virginia capes, Mazzei threw overboard the “bag” containing, among other papers, his commission and instructions. After being held prisoner in the New York City area for the rest of the summer, he was given free transportation by the British to Cork, Ireland. He finally reached Nantes in November 1779, Paris in February 1780, and Italy in the summer of that year (Richard C. Garlick, Jr., Philip Mazzei, pp. 59–69).

4Of the eight members of the Governor’s Council only two—Joseph Prentis (1754–1809) and David Jameson (1757–1793)—were younger than Madison. The average age of the other five was fifty-five years. If by “venerable,” Mazzei meant “esteemed” rather than “aged,” his underlining of the word probably signified that he used it ironically.

5Leopold I (1747–1792), Grand Duke of Tuscany, 1765–1790, and, as Leopold II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire for the two years preceding his death.

6By “invoice,” Mazzei likely meant both a list of desired articles and the maximum price authorized to be paid for each of them. “Mr. Smith” was Thomas Smith, Virginia’s agent for trade from 1777 to 1779.

7Northern Italy.

8That is, Governor Patrick Henry and John Page, a member of the Governor’s Council. See above, n. 2.

9No doubt JM knew to whom Mazzei referred, but these men cannot now be identified with certainty.

10A statement of facts.

11What should be done.

12Probably Thomas Woodford (b. 1736 and d. “soon after the Revolution”), captain of a merchant ship and a brother of Brigadier General William Woodford, Jr., of Caroline County. Privateers captured Captain Woodford and his vessel in May or June 1779 (Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, XXXIII [1925], 34; Mazzei to JM, 19 June 1779).

13Urbanna in Middlesex County, on the Rappahannock below Hobb’s Hole and about seventeen miles from Chesapeake Bay.

14That is, risking their money to send to Virginia on credit the articles needed.

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