to Virginia Delegates in Congress
Copy (Virginia State Library). The original of this letter is missing. Theodorick Bland made a copy of it and also of the reply to Morgan. The delegates inclosed these in their letter of 22 November 1780 to Governor Jefferson.
Philadelphia Novr 16th 1780
I hope you will excuse the trouble I give you in calling your attention to a Subject, which is not only interesting to myself and Several other Citizens of America, but also to the State of Virginia, which you have the Honour to represent. It cannot be unknown to you Gentlemen that some time Since, the Indiana Company were called upon by the Honble the Senate and assembly of your State to set forth their right to a tract of Country on the Ohio which was Ceded to them by the treaty at fort Stanwix in 1768 & of the Consequent proceedings thereon.2 You Must also as Members of the Honble. the Congress of the United States be acquainted with the Memorial of the Company to Congress on this Subject, requesting them to hear and determine the Case at the Bar of their House, as also that nothing decisive has yet taken effect in consequence of their application.3 It is unnecessary to go further into a detail of Facts, to Introduce a proposition I have to make to you, in behalf of myself and the rest of the Company; which is to Submit the dispute in Question between the State and the Company, to the arbitration & final Decision of Gentlemen of the first Capacity, Integrity, & Experience upon the Continent, to be Chosen by the Honble. the Congress in the Same Manner as is directed by the articles of Confederation in like Cases, between State and State.4
This Proposition is so Consonant to reason & Justice that I hope it will not be rejected. It cannot be the desire of the State of Virginia to oppress and ruin a Number of Individuals who never did them an Injury, there is every reason to Suppose her Councils are governd by more honorable motives If the Company have no right to the Lands in Question there will no doubt be a decision against them, the Compy will be Satisfied, & the State will be applauded for her Candor & Justice in Submitting the dispute to an Impartial discussion.
That the Indiana Company have just Pretensions to this tract of Country, is admitted by a great Number of Gentlemen of the first Character and abilities in the State of Virginia. On the Motion for Compensation to the Company the House of delegates were equally divided, untill the speaker gave the Casting Vote against them.5 Some of the first Characters in other States and in England have declared their opinions in Support of our right and the Names of Camden, Franklin, Stockton, Glyn[,] Dagge & Henry, Cannot but Impress the Strongest Ideas of the Company’s Right to the disputed Territory.6
If then they have pretensions which are warranted by Such respectable Opinions, why should they be refused an unprejudiced Investigation.
I do assure your Honors, that this proposition proceeds from an Ardent desire to Settle the dispute which we are so unfortunate as to have with the State, in the most Amicable manner and with the least Expence possible. It would be our Wish to decline investigating the rights of Virginia to the territorial Jurisdiction if not drove to such a step from necessity & to save ourselves and Families from Impending Destruction. The Act of Virginia for depriving the Company of their property, may possibly be viewed by the United States in a very different light, than what those who promoted it intended.
I intreat you will honor me with an answer in writing & believe me to be with the greatest respect
Gentlemen Yr. most obedt. & very Humb: Set
Agent for the Indiana Compy.
1. JM and Theodorick Bland were the only Virginia delegates attending Congress at this time. For the general context of the issue raised in the letter, see above, Motion regarding the Western Lands, 6 September 1780, editorial note. The Indiana Company (often called William Trent and Company), of which George Morgan (1743–1810) of Philadelphia was the principal promoter, had been deeded by the Iroquois Confederacy, in November 1768, nearly two million acres in present-day West Virginia. At the same time, the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, concluded by these six tribes with Sir William Johnson, Indian agent of the Crown, included a confirmation of this grant. The grant was, of course, within the territorial limits of Virginia and west of the King’s Proclamation Line of 1763 (Max Savelle, George Morgan: Colony Builder [New York, 1932], pp. 78–80).
2. In the May 1779 session the two houses of the General Assembly of Virginia resolved that the Indiana Company’s deed was “utterly void.” That session also enacted a general law invalidating all land titles within the state resting upon unauthorized purchases by individuals or companies from Indians (Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held At the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg.Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used, unless otherwise noted, is the one in which the journals for 1777–1781 are brought together in one volume, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , May 1779, pp. 39–44; 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, 97–98).
3. As agent of the Indiana Company, Morgan presented its memorial to Congress on 14 September 1779. By a narrow margin, and over the unanimous dissent of the Virginia delegation, Congress referred this petition to a committee. Recognizing the divisive nature of the issue, the committee apparently decided to delay its report. The Virginia legislature at the close of the year adopted George Mason’s “Remonstrance … to the Delegates of the United States in Congress Assembled.” Given permission to present this protest at their discretion, the Virginia delegates waited until 28 April 1780 before doing so (Journals of the Continental Congress, XV, 1063–65; XVI, 398).
4. In short, Morgan was assuming that the sovereign state of Virginia might consent to negotiate on equal terms with a private company. If Virginia would not agree with this suggestion, Morgan hinted in his next-to-last paragraph what his next step would be.
5. How Morgan knew that the vote had been close is not clear. The official journal does not record the yeas and nays (Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held At the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg.Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used, unless otherwise noted, is the one in which the journals for 1777–1781 are brought together in one volume, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , May 1779, p. 56). There is no doubt, however, that the Indiana Company had powerful supporters in Virginia (Thomas P. Abernethy, Western Lands and the American Revolution, pp. 220–21, 225).
6. Besides the patriots, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, and Richard Stockton (1730–1781), the former chief justice of New Jersey, Morgan refers here to Charles Pratt, Earl of Camden (1714–1794), the Lord High Chancellor, and the British lawyers Henry Dagge (d. 1779) and John Glynn (1722–1779). Camden had assured the company that its land title, based upon a deed from the Indians and a treaty with them, needed no confirmation from the Crown to add to its validity (Max Savelle, George Morgan, p. 80; George E. Lewis, The Indiana Company, 1763–1798 [Glendale, Calif., 1941], p. 229; Thomas P. Abernethy, Western Lands and the American Revolution, pp. 143–44).