James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates to Thomas Nelson, 14 August 1781

Virginia Delegates to Thomas Nelson

RC (Virginia State Library). Written by Joseph Jones. The letter is obviously a communication from all the delegates, even though the signatures of JM, Edmund Randolph, and Meriwether Smith do not appear.

Phila: Augt. 14th. 1781


We have your favor of the 27th. ulto.1 The Delegates moved in Congress for a resolution to furnish our State with some passports for Vessells to import Salt only from Bermuda and load with Indian Corn and flour in return. the motion meeting opposition was committed and no Report is yet made. We shall hasten this business all we can and use our best endeavours to support it.2

The Allied Army under the command of Genl. Washington continues in the Neighbourhood of Dobbs’ Ferry waiting events to commence operations agt. New York.3 From Spain we have advices of a powerfull armament preparing in that Kingdom for a secret expedition, supposed agt. Minorca, and that it would be in action in the course of the last month. 8000 Troops it is said were to be employed on this occasion. The celebrated Necker, being disgusted and applying for his dismission, it was granted him. whether his retiring from Office may affect the credit of the Nation time will discover. It is to be lamented that any disagreement, at this critical conjuncture which calls for vigorous and united efforts, should appear in the Councils of our good Ally.4

It is with reluctance we request your Excellency to press the Agent to send forward supplies for our support. Necessity alone could induce us again to mention it; but we feel for the honor of the State as well as for ourselves upon this occasion, and wish to avoid every mode of supply that may be disagreeable to either.5 we have the Honor to be Sr. yr. most obedt. Servt.

Jos: Jones.

Theok. Bland

1This must refer to Nelson’s letter of 26 July (q.v.). Either Nelson dated the recipient’s copy differently from the draft, or Jones misread or forgot the date of the earlier letter.

2Probably the motion was made on 9 August, for on that day the JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 848, shows that “A Motion was made by Mr. Jones, seconded by Mr. Madison the delegates of Virginia: Ordered, That it be referred to a committee of three: The members, Mr. [Elias] Boudinot, Mr. [James] Duane, Mr. [Oliver] Ellsworth.” Although Boudinot’s report on 14 August recommended that eight passports be issued to Nelson, Congress adopted a resolution offered by Jones on that day that “sixteen passports be granted to be employed by the governour of Virginia in protecting such number of vessels as shall be sufficient to import fifty thousand bushels of Salt for the use of Virginia.” Whether this was the original motion of 9 August or a substitute offered on 14 August for Boudinot’s motion is not known. Salt was declared to be “absolutely and essentially necessary for that State, as the army there, without salt meat, must experience the greatest sufferings” (NA: PCC, No. 17, under date of 9 August; No. 20, II, 264; No. 177, “Register of Passports,” pp. 12, 13; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 870–73). President Thomas McKean sent the passports to Nelson on 15 August 1781 (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 185–86).

3See JM to Pendleton, 31 July 1781, n. 6. Remaining at Dobbs Ferry until 19 August, Washington had his headquarters for a week thereafter three miles from nearby Kings Ferry. As early as 20 August he and Rochambeau began to move their troops toward Virginia as the first steps in the campaign that was to culminate in the triumph at Yorktown (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXIII, 20, 25, 49).

4See Pendleton to JM, 23 July 1781, n. 11. This information probably came from William Carmichael’s letters of 2 and 11 June 1781, which were read in Congress on 13 August. The latter of these dispatches has not been found (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 856; Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 466–67). Attacked in July 1781 and besieged by the French and Spanish throughout the fall and winter, the British garrison at Minorca finally surrendered on the following 5 February. On 19 May 1781, largely because his demands for economy were resented by privileged and speculative interests, Jacques Necker (1732–1804) was dismissed as director general of the finances of France.

5See Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 29 May, editorial note; JM’s Expense Account, 20 June, n. 4; and Jameson to JM, 10 August 1781, and n. 1. “The Agent” was David Ross. Nelson apologized to the delegates in a letter of 5 October 1781 (q.v.), because the agent still had “not established some Means of supplying” them.

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