Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates
FC (Virginia State Library). In William Tatham’s hand and directed to “The Virginia Delegates in Congress.”
This dispatch is concerned mainly with an unnamed ship and a number of persons identified only by their surnames or places of residence. Although Governor Harrison leaves the impression that he or the delegates had mentioned the episode in their earlier correspondence, they apparently had not done so and would not do so in the future. Only the file copy of each of the five letters sent between 29 June and 27 July by Harrison to the delegates survives, but his clerk seems to have entered the full text of each of these communications in the executive letter book, with the possible exception of the one of 11 July (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 377–78; 385; 398–99; 402; 405–6; 412–13; 427; 430; 438–39; 446).
Unlike the others, that dispatch by ending abruptly suggests that the transcriber may have omitted a concluding paragraph which, in the recipient’s copy, perhaps informed the delegates about the libeled vessel and the persons mainly connected with its condemned cargo. This explanation would account for the evident belief of the governor in his dispatch of 8 August that the delegates were conversant with the case, even though it would not answer why the delegates, having received that dispatch, made no comment upon the matter in their letter of 20 August to him (q.v.). Alternative possibilities are that the subject was treated in an enclosure, now lost, in one of their customary weekly interchanges, or in a special letter, now missing, other than those routine dispatches.
Council Chamber, August 8th. 1782.
I have heard Burkes1 goods are condemn’d but Mr. King who seized them and to whom they all go by our Laws gave me to understand that he would give much the greater part of them up to him if I had no objection to it.2 I applauded him much for his intentions and assured him tho’ he was a Public Officer neither myself nor any other Man of sensibility would think him wrong for doing it. If he should forget his promise which I do not think he will, I will remind him of it and endeavour to prevail on him to keep it. Mr Meads or Mr. Nelson’s reflections on the Gentlemen in trade at Petersburg are injurious and unjust,3 several of them took great pains to persuade Burke to go down and enter his goods, assuring him they thougt he might do it with safety, but could not prevail on him.4 The recruiting service is not yet begun5 [.] the success we meet with shall be communicated as soon as I am informed of it. I am with respect Gentn. your’s &c.
1. Probably Samuel Burke (d. 1795), a merchant-importer of Norfolk (Norfolk Borough Hustings Court Records, Will Book 1, pp. 83–84, microfilm in Virginia State Library). See also Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , XI, 530; Calendar of Virginia State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , IV, 601.
2. Since 1776 John King (d. 1783) had been naval officer of the Elizabeth River District (Journal of the House of Delegates description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used is the one in which the journals for 1777–1786 are brought together in two volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , October 1776, p. 104; October 1783, p. 77). Harrison was in error concerning the effect of “our Laws.” The statute, passed on 5 January 1782, provided that “one moiety” of goods seized for illegal entry should “be to the use of the informer, and the other moiety to the use of the commonwealth” (ibid., October 1781, p. 74; Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , X, 480). In the present instance King himself was the “informer.” “Burkes goods” appear to have been among, and perhaps totaled a half, of the “small cargo, amounting in value to 700 £” (Randolph to JM, 6 August 1782, and n. 4). The ship probably was the “Good Intent.” See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 423; 425, n. 9; Reverend James Madison to JM, 2 August, and n. 3; Randolph to JM, 6 August 1782, and n. 9.
3. Possibly George Meade (1741–1808), a Philadelphia merchant and real-estate agent who had business connections in Virginia at least as early as 1778 (Pennsylvania Packet, 21 and 25 January 1783; Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, LXXIII , 330).
Although the identification of Mr. Nelson is even less certain, he may have been former Governor Thomas Nelson, who perhaps had engaged in a trading venture with Meade and Burke in the hope of mending his broken fortune. See JM to Randolph, 19 November 1782, n. 14. Among “the Gentlemen in trade at Petersburg,” Harrison probably included David Ross’s most prominent partner, Thomas Shore (d. 1803) of Violet Bank, an estate about a half mile north of the town (Chesterfield County Court Records, Will Book 7, pp. 245–55, microfilm in Virginia State Library; Virginia Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends [Williamsburg, Dixon and Nicolson], 19 March 1779; Calendar of Virginia State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts (11 vols.; Richmond, 1875–93). description ends , III, 568; William and Mary Quarterly, 1st ser., VIII [1899–1900], 181).
4. In the law cited in n. 2, above, there was no provision enabling an owner or consignee of legal goods to prevent them from being confiscated if they were part of a cargo illegally entered or not entered at all. The mercantile friends of Burke at Petersburg appear to have counseled him that he might preserve both his reputation and his goods by personally seeking to “enter” them, accompanied by a protest against having to suffer an unjust penalty because of the ship captain’s criminal negligence. This advice was not without merit, judging from King’s proposal to “give much the greater part” of Burke’s goods back to him.
5. For Harrison’s previous comments on the recruiting law, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (5 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 377; 399. The “service” began on 5 September 1782, when the Governor in Council appointed district recruiting agents and their assistants (Journals of the Council of State description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (3 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , III, 139–41).