From the Reverend James Madison
RC (LC: Madison Papers). Addressed: “The Hone. James Madison Esqr. Member of Congress Philadelphia.” Docketed by JM: “Revd Js. [?] Madison June 15. 1782 Mahmouth-Opossum.”
Williamsburg June 15h. 1782.
I shd have been more expeditious in acknowledg your Favr. of 22d April,2 had I not expected an Answer to a Short Letter I wrote you from the Attorny’s by Mr. F. Webb, who intended then shortly to set out for Phila.3 We have been all here in great Anxiety, from the Commander in Cheif4 to the lowest amongst us, I beleive, to hear a certain Acct. of the Action in the W. I. The first Report was celebrated with a Discharge of Cannon, but it is now generally feared that the Antigua Acct. is too true.5 What a Misfortune? How many Years may such a Disaster protract a War, hitherto continued upon a vain Opinion, by the Enemy, of their own Strength & Invincibility.
This Place affords but little Variety, for indeed there is a Sameness or Uniformity in the uncommon good Conduct of the Army here, which must ever reflect the greatest Honour upon our Allies. It is commonly said that one Company of Malitia would have done more Mischeif in a Week, than this Army has done in 9 months. indeed I know of no one, who has by Design, not even by the lowest of the Soldiery been injured to the Amount of a Penny.6
We had the other Day the Satisfaction of seeing the greatest Respect paid to our University. Dr. Coste, the first Physician to F. Army,7 & who is a favourite of Gen. Chattelleux’s8 which seems alone eno’ to give his Name universal Currency, delivered a latin Oration upon Medicine in general, with Applications to this Country & He met with much Applause—& you will probably soon see it in Print in Phila.9 He was presented at the same [time] with a Degree.10 All the Generals & principal officers attended upon this occasion which made a very brilliant Appearance. So that you see Science is not altogether neglected amongst us,—tho’ it seemed to want the Arm of our Ally, as much as our unfortunate Country did some Time past. Several of the officers who have a Turn for Nat. History have made Excursions into the Country beyond the mountains. Chattelleux has visited, & ordered a Plan or View of the Natural Bridge to be taken.11 D’abbesville12 has examined & found out the Arcana of the Opossum—and also that the Bones of the Mahmouth, or the Incognitum13 are common in the lower Ports. We had always taken them for Fish Bones.
You see how little I have to write about, but I expect more from you.
I have not a Book left since the Conflagration of the House in wch. I lived.14 Will you be so kind as to mention in your next, what is the Price of them generally in Phila.
By a Letter from the President of Yale Coll.15 It seems the Phoenicians have visited Narragenset Bay, pray mention what the Litterati say upon this Head, or whether it be only the Dreams of an Antiquarian, Mr. Gibelin of Paris, who is said tho’ to have a very great Reputation.16
Beleive me to be Yrs. sincerely
1. For JM’s commission as colonel, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , I, 163.
2. Not found.
3. This letter, carried by Foster Webb, Jr., who left Richmond for Philadelphia on 15 May, is also missing (Ambler to JM, 11 May 1782, and n. 3). The “Attorny’s” was Edmund Randolph’s rented house in Henrico County (Randolph to JM, 11–13 April 1782, n. 2).
4. The Comte de Rochambeau.
5. That is, of the outcome of the Battle of the Saints. See JM to Randolph, 6 June, and n. 13. On 11 June, upon returning to Williamsburg from a mission for Rochambeau to Washington’s headquarters, the Baron von Closen noted in his diary that “confirmation of M. de Grasses 2 battles by a flag from Antigua” had been received. Not until 20 June could he record that the “cruel uncertainty” had ended on that day, thanks to the arrival of “a gazette from Grenada, which gave the details of the battles on the 9th and 12th” April 1782 (Acomb, Journal of Closen description begins Evelyn M. Acomb, trans. and ed., The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Closen, 1780–1783 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1958). description ends , pp. 203–4).
7. Jean François Coste (1741–1819) had arrived in the United States with Rochambeau’s army on 11 July 1780. He was mayor of Versailles in 1790–1791 and continued to serve as a high-ranking military physician and consultant until his death. For many years he was physician at the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris (John E. Lane, “Jean-François Coste, Chief Physician of the French Expeditionary Forces in the American Revolution,” Americana, XXII , 51–80).
9. Although the Pennsylvania Journal of 10 July 1782 reported the delivery of the oration, no Philadelphia edition of the lecture apparently ever appeared. The work was published in Leyden as Oratio habita in capitolio Gulielmopolitano in comitiis Universitatis Virginiae, Die XII Juni M.DCC.LXXXII (Lugduni, Batavorum, 1783). For an English rendition, see “The Adaptation of the Ancient Philosophy of Medicine to the New World, by Jean-François Coste,” translated and edited by Anthony Pelzer Wagener in the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, VII (1952), 10–67.
10. On 12 June the College of William and Mary conferred the degree of Medicinae Doctor upon Dr. Coste (William and Mary Quarterly, 1st ser., XV [1906–7], 266; Pennsylvania Packet, 13 July 1782).
11. On 20 April 1782 François Jean, Chevalier de Chastellux, commander of the Bourbonnais regiment of Rochambeau’s army, had visited the Natural Bridge, situated in Rockbridge County and owned by Jefferson. Upon returning to Williamsburg, Chastellux persuaded Rochambeau to dispatch a French military engineer to make sketches of the bridge. Three of the five drawings were engraved and published at the close of the second volume of Voyages de M. le Marquis de Chastellux dans l’Amérique Septentrionale dans les années 1780, 1781 et 1782 (2 vols.; Paris, 1786). See also ibid., II, 90–93, 386–416; 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 , VI, 190, 193, opp. 204; Acomb, Journal of Closen description begins Evelyn M. Acomb, trans. and ed., The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Closen, 1780–1783 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1958). description ends , p. 184.
12. In recognition of his “judicious and spirited management” of Rochambeau’s artillery during the siege of Yorktown, François Marie, Comte d’Aboville (1730–1817), had been mentioned by Washington in his “General Orders” of 20 October 1781 (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, 246).
13. The Comte d’Aboville’s description of the opossum appears in Chastellux, Voyages, II, 425–30. For the mammoth, see George Gaylord Simpson, “The Beginnings of Vertebrate Paleontology in North America,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, LXXXVI (1943), 148–50; 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 , VI, 159–60, 204, 219–20.
14. The fire had occurred on 23 November 1781. According to the Baron von Closen, his sovereign “got off for £12,000 in damages, in a settlement that M. de Rochambeau negotiated with the President, Mr. Madison, who had lost a large part of his library and several very fine physics instruments” (Acomb, Journal of Closen description begins Evelyn M. Acomb, trans. and ed., The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Closen, 1780–1783 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1958). description ends , p. 166).
15. Ezra Stiles, who had initiated a correspondence with the Reverend James Madison on 12 July 1780 (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 55; 56, n. 10).
16. Antoine Court de Gebelin (1725–1784) was the author of an uncompleted work, nine volumes of which were published in Paris between 1773 and 1784 under the general title Le monde primitif analysé et comparé avec le monde moderne. The eighth volume, which appeared in 1781, had as its particular title Le monde primitif considéré dans divers objets concernant l’histoire, le blason, les monnaies, les jeux, les voyages des Phéniciens autour du monde, les langues américaines ou dissertations mélées. See also Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, LXIV (1940), 260–61; 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 , XII, 264; XIII, 377–78; XV, 14–15.