James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates in Congress to Thomas Jefferson, 1 January 1781

Virginia Delegates in Congress
to Thomas Jefferson

RC (Virginia State Library). Written by Theodorick Bland and signed by Bland and JM. Docketed by a clerk, “Col Blands Lr. inclosg Baron de Arendt’s Jany 81.” Arendt’s letter of 30 December 1780 “A L’Honorable Assemblée du L’Etat de Virginie” is also in the Virginia State Library.

Philadelphia Jany 1st. 1781


We have been Hond. with Your Excellencys favor in answer to ours concerning the Safest and best Harbor &c. &c. which has been duely communicated, through the proper Channel,1 and we beg leave to inform you that we have endeavord to improve the intended design into a mode for obtaining a more Speedy and safe Conveyance of the Cargoe of the Comite to Virginia (should it take place,) than a land Carriage would be and hope it will meet with yr. approbation, as it appeard to us the most eligible method, we have venturd to adopt it without particular Instructions for so doing.2 Monsr. L_____ has promised to use his endeavors to have our request complied with.3 We have the Honor of transmiting to Yr. Excellency a Proposal from a Baron D’Arendt. He Speaks of a Commission with which he is charged but we have not as yet seen his Commission or powers, we have seen Mr. Wm. Lee’s written request to him to endeavor to negotiate the Sending of Arms, Linen, &c. with Mr. Wm. Lee’s promise to him in writing that if he Succeeded he shd. be handsomely rewarded by the State of Virginia, but if not he shd. be Entitled to receive from that State twenty five Louis D’ors for his trouble;4 all these things we offer to Yr. Excellency at his request, (being ourselves Ignorant of the whole transaction except as stated above) and wait your Orders thereon.

In a letter from his Excy. Genl. Washington dated New Windsor Decr. 27th. 1780 we have the following Intelligence—”Another embarkation has taken place at New York supposed to consist of two thousand five Hundred land forces, whose destination is not yet known the fleet fell down to the Hook on Wednesday last.”5 Our Conjecture is that they are destined to the Southward, and indeed all the Enemy’s political & military manoeuvres seem to indicate their Intention of making a Vigorous effort against the Southern States, this Winter. We are Sorry to inform yr. Excellency that we receive very little Authentic Intelligence of the Steps which are taking to counteract those vigorous operations, that we are in a great measure uninformd of the progress that has been made in raising the new army, and on what terms, of what has been, and will be, done in establishing Magazines for its Support, and above all, of the measures persuing to cancell the old money and give an effectual Support to the new, by providing for its punctual and final redemption with Specie. This is a crisis at which we conceive a most assiduous application to these great objects to be necessary, and (next to the completion of the Confoederacy which is perhaps the Basis of the whole) of the first importance to America therefore highly importing us to know, as the measures of so large a state as ours cannot but have considerable effects on the other states in the Union.

We have the honor to be with the greatest respect Yr obt. & humble Servants.

James Madison Junr.
Theok: Bland

1See Jefferson to Virginia Delegates, 18 December 1780, answering their letter to him of about 6 December.

3The delegates wrote La Luzerne on 1 January, urging that a frigate from the French squadron at Rhode Island bring the arms to Virginia. This letter has not been located but is described in Bland to Jefferson, 9 February 1781 (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 , IV, 567–68). La Luzerne wrote on 2 January to Chevalier Destouches, commander of the French squadron at Rhode Island, to seek his co-operation in this matter (Jefferson to Virginia Delegates, 18 December 1780, n. 1).

4Henry Leonard Philip, Baron d’Arendt, had been colonel of the continental German Battalion. In a letter of 30 December 1780 from Philadelphia to the Virginia Assembly, he admitted that he had failed to carry out the mission, entrusted to him by William Lee, to open up a trade in cloth and ammunition from Prussia in exchange for tobacco and other goods from Virginia. Nevertheless, Arendt had found that the Prussian Director General of Maritime Commerce, although fearing undue losses from British capture of the proposed cargoes at sea, was sufficiently interested to request more specific information about how the business could be transacted. After pointing out that his expenses had far exceeded twenty-five guineas, Arendt asked to be reimbursed by at least that sum, in accord with Lee’s promise to him in letters of 3 and 5 July 1779. Jefferson agreed to grant to Arendt the sum asked for, even though he was convinced of Virginia’s inability to trade with Prussia. On 4 April 1781 Congress added JM to a committee appointed to consider Arendt’s unsettled claims against the United States. Congress eventually granted Arendt full pay as a colonel to 1 January 1781 and assured him of whatever further rewards might be bestowed upon officers of his rank and service (Journals of the Continental Congress, XIX, 143–44, 180–81, 353; XX, 589, 740–42; NA: PCC, No. 78, VII, 359–60; Jefferson to Virginia Delegates, 26 January 1781).

5Washington to president of Congress (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1931–44). description ends , XXI, 22). This is a summary, rather than a direct quotation. The expedition, commanded by Benedict Arnold, numbered about sixteen hundred troops and was directed against Virginia (William B. Willcox, ed., The American Rebellion, p. 235). New Windsor is near Newburgh, N.Y.

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