James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates’ Agreement with Ebenezer Cowell, 27 April 1781

Virginia Delegates’ Agreement with Ebenezer Cowell

FC (Colonial Williamsburg, Inc.). Not in Cowell’s hand nor in that of any of the Virginia delegates, but signed by all of them. Endorsed, “Articles Between the Delegates of Virginia & Ebenezer Cowell about 2000 Ramport Muskets.” A copy made for Governor Jefferson by Theodorick Bland is in the Executive Papers of the Virginia State Library.

Philadelphia April 27th. 1781

Memorandum of an Agreement entered into this 27th of April 1781 Between the Honble The Delegates of the State of Virginia on the one Part, and Ebenezer Cowell of the City of Philadelphia on the other.1

The said Cowell doth hereby undertake to Cut and put in good Repair two Thousand Rampart Muskets, the Property of the Said State,2 in the same Manner, and of the same length as those now Shewn in the War Office, at the rate of Seven Shillings and Six Pence Hard Money, or the value thereof in Paper Money at the Time of Payment.

And the said Cowell doth hereby engage to finish Twelve Hundred of the said Muskets in Fourteen Days from this Time, and deliver the same to the orders3 of the said Delegates to be transported to the said State of Virginia—and the Residue before the day of Payment.

And the said Delegates do hereby engage to Pay the said Cowell or order the said Sum of Seven Shillings and Six Pence Hard Money or the real value thereof in Paper m[oney] for each Musket, in Sixty days from the day of the Date of these Presents; and they hereby agree that if it is not paid at that Day, that the Eight Hundred Muskets or so many thereof as shall be sufficient for the [pu]rpose shall be immediately sold to satisfy the said Cowell his demand according to this agreement.

James Madison Junr

Theok: Bland

M. Smith

Ebenezer Cowell

Ocr. 10th. 1781.4

It appears to Me by a Certificate given by Mr. George Nicolson5 unto the above Mr Ebenezer Cowell that this Contract has been on his part duly, and fully complied with, as will appear by the said Certificate in My possession.

Thomas Pleasants jr

C. A for the State of

Virga.6 in Philadelphia

1The Bland copy (see headnote) has “of the one part” and “of the other.” Ebenezer Cowell was a flintlock musket maker at Allentown, Pa., from 1775 to 1779, and a gunsmith at Philadelphia from 1779 to 1782. On 3 September 1778 he had become an armorer for the Pennsylvania militia. He was still living in Philadelphia in 1790 (A. Merwyn Carey, American Firearms Makers … [New York, 1953], p. 24; Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790. Pennsylvania [Washington, 1908], p. 238).

2“Rampart muskets” were firearms, ranging from caliber 0.75 to 1.25, designed for use in defensive works and were seldom borne in the field because of their weight (sometimes exceeding twenty pounds) and their severe recoil (Edward S. Farrow, Farrow’s Military Encyclopedia: A Dictionary of Military Knowledge [3 vols.; New York, 1885], II, 633; Charles Winthrop Sawyer, Firearms in American History [3 vols.; Boston, 1910–20], III, 132–33). It is obvious, therefore, why Cowell should have been engaged “to Cut” the pieces. Apparently on 31 May the two thousand arms which might be purchased from the “Public Magazines” had become the property of Virginia (George Nicolson to Virginia Delegates, 28 May 1781, n. 3). On 26 April, Congress had directed:

“That the Board of War cause the rampart muskets in their possession to be repaired; and forward, with all possible despatch, to the executives of the States of Virginia and North Carolina, a quantity not exceeding two thousand, to each state, charging to the said states respectively, the value of the muskets, with the expence of repairing and transporting them” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 450; XXI, 923–25; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 204–5). For a significant modification of this resolution on 31 August 1781, with the unanimous consent of the Virginia delegates, see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 923–25.

3This word is “Order” in the copy made by Bland.

4This certificate is not appended to the Bland copy.

5George Nicolson (1758–1802) was an assistant of David Ross, commercial agent of the state of Virginia. In a letter of 15 April, Ross asked Governor Jefferson to request the Virginia delegates to help Nicolson, who was about to leave for Philadelphia, “procure some of the Stores wanted for the Army.” Jefferson most probably adopted the suggestion, but his letter, if any, urging the co-operation of the delegates, has not been found. Nicolson in 1790–1791 and again in 1799–1800 served as mayor of Richmond (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 , V, 458; VI, 27 and n.; Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 1 May 1781; Madge Goodrich, “The Mayors of Richmond,” typescript in Virginia Historical Society).

6Thomas Pleasants, Jr. (ca. 1737–1804), of Goochland County was a planter and merchant who was serving as a commercial agent for Virginia (Journals of the Council of State description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (Richmond, 1931——). description ends , II, 471; III, 249).

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