James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Benjamin Harrison, 15 November 1782

To Benjamin Harrison

RC (Princeton University Library). Cover reads: “His Excellency Benjamin Harrison Esqr. Richmond Hon’d by Col: Bland.” Theodorick Bland left Philadelphia on 15 November to return to Virginia. See JM to Randolph, 12 November 1782 (first letter), n. 5.

Philada. Novr. 15th.

Dear Sir

I send you as a peice of information of which you will be the best judge of the use to be made,1 an extract of a letter laid before Congress by the Secy. at War:

Extract of a letter from Gl Irvine to the

Secy. at War dated, Fort Pitt Ocr. 28. 17822

“Short as the time is since the accounts came into this Country that the Savages were to be called in & restrained by the British,3 the people are in great numbers flocking over the Ohio into what has hitherto been called the Indian Country & are busy in taking up & improving lands as well on what is supposed to be within the bounds of Penna. as beyond the Western line thereof.4 From the avidity with which they act on this occasion & the industry used by some few to persuade the people to form new States,5 I am of opinion that unless Congress & the several States, (who have unsettled lands within their limits) immediately take measures for securing them neither the U. S. nor any particular State will reap much advantage from them. Notwithstanding I may be mistaken in this opinion yet I6 think it my duty to mention the matter. if you think it worthy the attention of Congress, you will doubtless inform them.7 I will write the Council of Penna. on this subject, as I have reason to think they hope to pay much debt with the lands west of the Ohio”8

To this I may add a report that the inhabitants of this State West of the Alleghany Mountains are openly proceeding towards a separation of Govt. It is certain that they have for some time had such a scheme in contemplation.9

I have the honr. &c.

J Madison

1On 25 November, having “just receiv’d” the present letter, Harrison sent it to the House of Delegates (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, 181; McIlwaine, Official Letters description begins H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia (3 vols.; Richmond, 1926–29). description ends , III, 386–87; 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 1782, p. 36).

2The manuscript of this letter from General William Irvine, continental commandant of the “western district,” to Benjamin Lincoln, secretary at war, has not been found. The extract from which JM copied in full and verbatim, except for minor differences in capitalization, punctuation, and abbreviations, is in NA: PCC, No. 149, II, 71. Although Lincoln submitted this extract to Congress, no note of the referral appears in the docket of the extract, in the printed journal, or in Charles Thomson’s register of dispatches received (NA: PCC, No. 185, III). See Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 542, first n. 2; C[onsul] W. Butterfield, ed., Washington-Irvine Correspondence, p. 185. For the background of the situation described by Irvine, 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, 184; 184–87 nn.; 215, n. 2; 287, n. 27; Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 23 August 1782, and nn. 8, 11.

4On 28 November 1782 surveyors representing Pennsylvania and Virginia completed the running of a temporary line demarcating the western limits of Pennsylvania from territory claimed by Virginia (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, 186–87 n.).

5With the western boundary between Pennsylvania and Virginia about to be agreed upon, residents of the hitherto disputed area who held doubtful land titles concluded that their future welfare demanded political separation. Probably the leading secessionist was Colonel Dorsey Pentecost (d. 1802) (Reuben Gold Thwaites and Louise Phelps Kellogg, eds., Documentary History of Dunmore’s War, 1774 [Madison, Wis., 1905], pp. 101–2, n. 47), who allegedly declared that “this Country never would be Pennsylvania or Virginia, but a new State” (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, 573, 661–63; Robert Levere Brunhouse, The Counter-Revolution in Pennsylvania, 1776–1790 [Philadelphia, 1942], pp. 113, 127, 268–69, n. 25). The members of the Indiana and Vandalia companies, which for long had asserted their ownership of most of the same area, appear to have been surprised by and opposed to the secession movement. According to Professor Abernethy, Irvine himself was “a silent member” of the Indiana Company (Thomas P. Abernethy, Western Lands and the American Revolution, p. 269).

6This pronoun is not in the extract which JM copied.

7Congress appears to have taken no action. See n. 2, above.

8On 15 November President John Dickinson and the Executive Council of Pennsylvania, having received Irvine’s letter of 29 October, submitted it to the General Assembly. The dispatch told of squatters preempting land west of the Ohio River which the state had pledged as “a fund that may contribute toward rendering justice to our deserving and suffering officers and soldiers” (Colonial Records of Pennsylvania, XIII, 425–26).

9See n. 5. Heeding Dickinson’s recommendation of “early, vigorous and decisive measures,” the Pennsylvania General Assembly on 19 November unanimously empowered the Supreme Executive Council to have “one or two proper persons” travel to and temporarily reside in the disaffected area for the purpose of bringing “over our deluded fellow Citizens to a proper sense of their Duty.” To add to the persuasiveness of the mission, the legislature enacted, but delayed the enforcement of, a statute “declaring any attempt to organize a new state within the boundaries of Pennsylvania to be high treason and prescribing the death penalty” and confiscation of estate of any person convicted of the offense (ibid., XIII, 477, 489; 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, 666–67, 729–30; Pennsylvania Packet, 30 November and 7 December 1782; Solon J. Buck and Elizabeth Hawthorn Buck, The Planting of Civilization in Western Pennsylvania [Pittsburgh, 1939], pp. 165–71).

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