James Madison Papers

From James Madison to James Madison, Sr., 8 December 1779

To James Madison, Sr.

RC (LC: Madison Papers). The recipient used a portion of the cover sheet to add three columns of figures.

Williamsburg Decr. 8th. 1779

Hond Sir

Having an opportunity by Mr. Collins I add a few lines to those I sent by Col. Burnley on the Subject of your’s by him.1 The Assembly have not yet concluded their plan for complying with the requisitions from Congress.2 It may be relied on that that can not be done without very heavy taxes on every species of property. Indeed it is thought questionable whether it will not be found absolutely impossible. No exertions however ought to be omitted to testify our zeal to support Congress in the prosecution of the War. It is also proposed to procure a large sum on loan by stipulating to pay the Interest in Tobo. A tax on This Article necessary for that purpose is to be collected.3 Being very imperfectly acquainted with the proceedings of the Assembly on this matter I must refer you for the particulars to the return of Majr. Moore,4 or some future opportunity. The law for escheats & forfeitures will be repealed as it respects Orphans &.5 The effects of the measures taken by the Assembly on the credit of our money & the prices of things cannot be predicted. If our expectations had not been so invariably disappointed they ought to be supposed very considerable. But from the rapid progress of depreciation at present and the universal struggle among seller[s] to bring up prices, I can not flatter myself with the hope of any great reformation. Corn is already at £20 & rising.6 Tobo. is also rising. Pork will probably command any price. Imported goods exceed every thing else many hundreds PerCt.

I am much at a loss how to dispose of Willey.7 I can not think it would be expedient in the present state of things to send him out of the State. From a New Arrangement of the College here nothing is in future to be taught but the higher & rarer branches of Science.8 The preliminary studies must therefore be pursued in private Schools or Academies. If the Academy at Prince Edward9 is so far dissolved that you think his return thither improper, I would recommend his being put under the instruction of Mr. Maury10 rather than suffer him to be idle at home. The languages including English, Geography, & Arithmetic ought to be his employmen[t] till he is prepared to receive a finish to his Education at this place.

By the late change also in the College, the former custom of furnishing the table for the President & professors is to be discontinued. I am induced by this consideration to renew my request for the Flour mentioned to you. It will perhaps be the only opportunity I may have of requiting received & singular favours, and for the reason just assigned will be extremely convenient.11 I wish to know without any loss of time how far this supply may be reckoned & 5 or 600 lb. at least, I persuade myself may be spared from your Stock withou[t] encroaching on your own consumption. Perhaps Mr. R. Burnley12 would receive & store it for me. Capt. Wm. Anderson13 I believe also lives at that place and would probably do any favour of that sort. I am desired by a Gentleman here to procure for him 2 Bear Skins to cover the foot of his Chariot. If they can be bought any where in your Neighborhood I beg you or Ambrose will take the trouble to enquire for them & send them to Capt. Anderson at Hanover Town.14 If the flour should come down the same opportunity will serve for them. Capt. Anderson may be informed that they are for Mr. Norton.15 If they can be got without too much trouble I should be glad of suceeding as he will rely on my promise to procure them for him.

Having nothing to add under the head of News I subscribe myself Yr. dutiful Son

James Madison Jnr.

PS. I have got the Warrant on S. Young’s16 Claim, but do not think fit to trust it to the present conveyance. There is one fine [sh]irt among mine with your mark but I believ[e it among the?] number transferred to me by my moth[er.]

1William Collins (ca. 1746–1816) of Orange County was a planter and neighbor of Zachariah Burnley. The letters to and from JM, mentioned in this sentence, have not been found.

2On 7 October 1779 the Continental Congress decided to requisition $15,000,000 from the states during 1780. Of this total, the quota assigned to Virginia was $2,500,000 or 16⅔ per cent (Journals of the Continental Congress, XV, 1150; Jefferson to JM, 26 July 1780, n. 2).

3On 24 December 1779 the General Assembly enacted a law, to be in force for twelve years, imposing a tax of thirty pounds of tobacco, first payable by 1 August 1780, on almost every male, free or slave, of twenty-one years of age or over. The state government planned to use the tobacco as security for a bond issue (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 , X, 182–88; JM to Bradford, 17 July 1779, n. 3).

4William Moore.

5On 13 December 1779 the General Assembly amended two earlier statutes in order to assure Virginia-born orphans, wives, and widows (or wives and widows of Virginia-born husbands), who were or recently had been overseas for no unpatriotic reason, that they might recover their escheated or confiscated property, or its equivalent value (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 , X, 153–56).

6That is, per bushel.

7See Smith to JM, 15 September 1778 and n. 11. If William was at the grammar school of William and Mary College, JM’s need to “dispose” of him is probably explained in the next footnote, as well as by JM’s expected election to Congress. If the boy was there, Reverend James Madison’s memory failed when he wrote JM on 18 January 1781 (q.v.) that “Your Brother has not returned since ye first Invasion.” This was in May 1779.

8On 4 December 1779 the Board of Visitors of the college decided to reduce its organization to five college-level schools or departments by abolishing its grammar school and two divinity schools (Lyon G. Tyler, The College of William and Mary in Virginia: Its History and Work, 1693–1907 [Richmond, 1907], p. 60). “Science,” of course, meant any systematized knowledge.

9Hampden-Sydney Academy.

10Walker Maury (1752–1788), graduate of the College of William and Mary and an able classical scholar, was at this time the head of a grammar school near Barboursville in Orange County. In 1780 he established a similar school in Williamsburg. Six years later, having been ordained an Episcopal minister, he moved to Norfolk to become headmaster of its academy (W. W. Scott, History of Orange County, p. 127; Lower Norfolk County Virginia Antiquary, I [1895–96], 25).

11JM probably was the more eager to express his appreciation for Reverend James Madison’s hospitality because he would likely return home soon. Less than a week after he wrote this letter, he was elected by the General Assembly to be a delegate from Virginia in the Continental Congress.

12Richard Burnley (ca. 1726–ca. 1782), a merchant of Hanover County and a brother of Zachariah Burnley (Emma Dicken, comp., Our Burnley Ancestors, pp. 13, 18–19).

13Anderson (d. 1796), senior partner in the firm of Anderson and Company of Hanover County, was a large landowner in several counties and an officer in the militia. He had been a commissioner for the sequestration of British property. He was to serve as a justice of the peace and, from 1783 to 1785, as a member of the General Assembly from Louisa County. Sometime after 1785 he became a merchant in London, England (W. P. Anderson, Anderson Family Records [Cincinnati, 1936], p. 11).

14A thriving settlement, extinct now for more than a century, on the Pamunkey River about thirty miles northeast of Richmond (Joseph Martin, ed., A New and Comprehensive Gazetteer of Virginia [Charlottesville, Va., 1835], p. 187; Henry Howe, Historical Collections of Virginia … [Charleston, S.C., 1845], pp. 292–93). A “chariot” was a light four-wheeled carriage.

15John Hatley Norton (1745–1797), junior partner in the mercantile firm of John Norton and Sons of Norfolk (Frances N. Mason, ed., John Norton & Sons, p. 516).

16Probably Samuel Young (1747–ca. 1837), a freeholder of Culpeper County and a private in the Virginia state line (Raleigh T. Green, comp., Genealogical and Historical Notes on Culpeper County, Virginia, p. 129). The nature of the warrant is unknown but was presumably for land.

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