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Williamsburg, October 25, 1779.
Strayed or stolen from the common of this city,1 a sorrel horse, about 12 years old, and upward of 14 hands high, with a hanging mane and switch tail; he is of a strong make, his hind feet are white and he has a few saddle spots. He formerly was owned by Mr. Edwin Fleet of King & Queen, deceased.2 Whoever will deliver the said horse to me in Williamsburg, or to Col. James Madison in Orange, shall be paid one hundred dollars.
James Madison, Jun.3
1. The particular “common” has not been located. The act of the provincial assembly of Virginia on 7 June 1699, “Directing the Building the Capitol and the City of Williamsburgh,” designated several parcels of land which should be left “in comon” at the “Discretion of the Directors” (Rutherfoord Goodwin, A Brief & True Report Concerning Williamsburg in Virginia, pp. 335, 342). Since JM calls it “the common of this city,” it was more likely the Palace Green, whch adjoined the governor’s “Palace,” than the 150-acre “pasture” of the College of William and Mary, where JM lived in the home of its president, Reverend James Madison.
2. Edwin Fleet (1729–1778) of King and Queen County also had large land holdings in Orange County and thus was probably known by the Madisons. His will indicates that he was either a bachelor or a childless widower (Beverley Fleet, comp., “Virginia Colonial Abstracts” [mimeographed], XIV, 36, 37).
3. In a conversation on 25 April 1827 with Jared Sparks, JM apparently failed to recall the lost horse but he did tell about having his hat stolen while he was a member of the Council of State. As Sparks reported JM’s anecdote: “He [JM] sent out for a new hat, but none could be found in all the shops of Williamsburgh, and he was actually obliged to keep within doors for two days for the want of a hat. At last he obtained a second-hand one from a tailor, for which he paid an enormous price, and which gave him such an appearance when on his head, as to make him the amusement of his friends during the whole session” (Herbert B. Adams, The Life and Writings of Jared Sparks [2 vols.; Boston, 1893], II, 36).