James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates to Thomas Nelson, 7 August 1781

Virginia Delegates to Thomas Nelson

Printed excerpts (Parke-Bernet Catalogue No. 54 [25–26 October 1938], item 167; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 170). The letter was written by Joseph Jones and signed by Jones, JM, Theodorick Bland, and Edmund Randolph. The excerpts below amount to somewhat more than half the letter, since the catalogue states that the entire document comprises “about 350 words.” The quotation in the Parke-Bernet Catalogue is introduced by the statement: “Fine war letter reviewing the situation of Virginia from the point of view of Congress on the prohibition of traffic with Bermuda, the refusal of Pennsylvania to assist Virginia for want of funds, and the invasion of Virginia by Lord Cornwallis.”

Phila. 7th Augt. 17811

We have received your Excellencies favor of the 25th ult.2 and are happy to hear, contrary to our private information, that the State hath not suffered in any material degree by the expedition of L’d Cornwallis into the Heart of the Country, and in particular that he was joined by so few of our People.3 The spirit of opposition being high, we doubt not your Excellency will be able after the Harvest to draw forth a Force sufficient to oppose their future excursions and cover the Country from their ravages, which we conceive can no way, while they command the water, be so effectually accomplished as by equiping a large Body of Cavalry.

The4 repeal of the resolutions permiting the trafic of Bermuda with these States was the consequence of mature deliberation, and to prevent those abuses which had crept in under the indulgence, and would have been dishonorable in the States any longer to countenance. perhaps the peculiar situation of our State may, as was lately done in favor of South Carolina,5 induce Congress to grant passes for a few Vessells for the importation of Salt only. we shall endeavour to obtain this permission for the State and if we are successful will loose no time in transmitting the Pasports of yr. Excellency.6

1Date line from the excerpt in Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends . Although the catalogue, from which the first paragraph is taken, dates the letter 7 August 1780, the contents of the dispatch and the presence of Edmund Randolph in the Virginia delegation make certain that the year should be 1781.

2This date is probably another error. In Nelson’s letter of 26 July 1781 (q.v.), he referred to his only preceding dispatch to the delegates as the one of the 21st, now missing. Probably that is the letter which they were answering here, because they cite information from Nelson not contained in his dispatch of 26 July. Although he mentioned the embargo of trade with Bermuda in his letter of 26 July, he stated there that he had also discussed it in his earlier communication.

3See Pendleton to JM, 6 August 1781, and n. 6, for comments on the scarcity of Loyalists in Virginia.

4The extract from Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , begins here.

5See Motion for Non-Intercourse, 16 March, and n. 27; JM to Jefferson, 3 April, and n. 18; Nelson to Virginia Delegates, 26 July 1781. The “favor” granted to South Carolina had been extended by Congress on 27 June 1781 in the form of furnishing “Governor Rutledge with four sets of permits or passports for vessels to bring salt only into the State of South Carolina, or North Carolina” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 705–6). For the delegates’ action on the trade embargo in response to Nelson’s complaint, see their letter to him on 14 August 1781.

6Judging from the quotation given in the headnote, the missing portion of this letter dealt, at least in part, with “the refusal of Pennsylvania to assist Virginia for want of funds.” In this connection the delegates may have adverted to Pennsylvania’s slowness in providing money and supplies sufficient to enable General Wayne’s troops to move to Virginia until long after the time designated for their arrival, and to maintain their morale after joining Lafayette’s force on 10 June (Pendleton to JM, 26 March, n. 11, and 28 May, n. 6; Motion on Impressment, 18 May 1781, and n. 2). After informing Washington in a letter of 20 July that “Waïne’s Pennsylvanians never exceeded about 700—fighting and desertion have much reduced them,” Lafayette further commented in a dispatch of 11 August, “The Pennsylvanians and Virginians have never agreed but at the present time, it is worse than ever” and “I will consequently make use of your name to reinforce Gal Greene with the Pennsylvanians and keep the bataïllon of 600 Marylanders that is coming on” (Louis Gottschalk, ed., Letters of Lafayette to Washington, pp. 208, 217). For Wayne’s views of some of these difficulties, see Pennsylvania Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser., 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 1st ser., IX, 283–84, 358–59, 366–67.

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