James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison, 17 December 1782

Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison

RC (Virginia State Library). Written by Joseph Jones, except for JM’s signature. Docketed, “Virginia Delegates to Govr of Virginia Decr 17th 1782.”

Phila: 17th: Dece. 1782.


We are honoured with your Excellencys favor of the 7th.1 Our last communicated the measures that had been taken for supplying the unfortunate captives then on their way to Virginia,2 which we hope will meet the approbation of the Executive. We have heard nothing further of those expected by way of New York. should they be sent out, and their situation call for our aid, it shall be afforded them3 in the manner recommended by your Excellency, tho’ we fear our exertions to obtain them relief by draughts upon the State, or the Sale of Tobacco, will prove ineffectual. perhaps a similar course may be taken by them when they arrive, as with those already gone forward. we shall make the attempt, and resort to the mode you advise, only in case of necessity.4

The inclosed Copy of a Letter from the Secretary of Congress to Mr. Clarke on the subject of the pasports for shiping Tobacco to New York, will shew the conduct of Mr. Thompson in the business, and enable you to obtain a Satisfactory explanation from Mr. Clarke.5

We very sincerely wish on account of the public, as well as for the convenience of the individuals more immediately concerned, your account of the evacuation of Charles Town may be verified. Here that event is very doubtfull.6

A Letter lately received from Capt. Barry of the Alliance Frigate7 informs us of his good fortune in taking and carrying into l’Orient four of the Jamaica fleet, loaded with abt. 1200 Hhds. of sugar, 400 Hhds. of rum, a quantity of Coffee, logwood &c. He also writes, that the Ramilees had foundered at Sea, that the crew were saved, and distributed among the fleet, part of them being on board the prises captured by him. He further says, it was reported, another Ship of the line was lost.8 we are respectfully

yr. Excys. obed. serts.

Jos: Jones

J. Madison Jr


2Unless the delegates had discussed this subject in their dispatch of 10 December to Harrison, of which only an extract has been found (q.v.), “Our last” meant their letter to him on 26 November 1782 (q.v.).

4See Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 7 December 1782, and n. 4; 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, 434–35.

5See Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 30 November 1782, and n. 2. In the present letter, the delegates enclosed a copy of Charles Thomson’s dispatch of 3 May 1782 to Daniel Clark, who then was overseeing, as the agent of Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris, the loading in Virginia of tobacco for shipment to New York City in payment for goods sold to the United States by the merchants-capitulant of Yorktown. For Thomson’s letter to Clark, see Instructions in re Tobacco Contract, 28 December 1782.

With his message of 21 October to the House of Delegates, Governor Harrison had submitted a copy of the ordinance of Congress of 21 June, asking the states “to put a stop to the illicit Trade carried on with the Enemy.” He pointed out that for repressing “this pernicious kind of trafic” the laws of Virginia were “extremely defective,” because the prohibitory statute of 2 July 1782 stipulated that it would be enforced only after “the rest of the United States shall have passed similar laws” (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, 347–48; 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, 351–52; 353, nn. 8, 11; 398–99; Randolph to JM, 6 August, and n. 18; 16 August 1782, and n. 6). On 19 November the House of Delegates listened to a committee proposal to repeal the suspending clause of the statute of 2 July so as to have it take effect at once and also appointed a “select committee,” with power to subpoena “persons, papers and records,” to “inquire into abuses supposed to have been committed” in connection with the tobacco shipment, mentioned above.

On 11 December Governor Harrison laid before the House of Delegates, in compliance with its directive, “a copy of the capitulation of York town, and an account of the quantity of tobacco shipped in all the flag vessels, in consequence thereof, distinguishing the quantity in each vessel” (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, pp. 18, 24, 25, 53, 59, 62). Thus the House of Delegates was simultaneously endeavoring to fulfill the request of Congress to suppress illicit trade and prosecuting an inquiry to determine whether officers of Congress—Daniel Clark or his superior, Robert Morris, or the secretary, Charles Thomson—had engaged in that traffic. For the outcome of the first of these endeavors, see Randolph to JM, 20 December and 27 December 1782. For the outcome of the investigation, see Instructions in re Tobacco Contract, 28 December 1782.

7For Captain John Barry, 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, 290, n. 8.

8This paragraph summarizes information in a portion of Barry’s letter of 18 October from Lorient to Robert Morris, agent of marine. The extract was read in Congress on 13 December and published, with addressee undisclosed, in the Pennsylvania Packet of 17 December. See NA: PCC, No. 137, II, 99–104; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 798, n. 1. From Lorient on 23 October Thomas Barclay (JM to Randolph, 11 September, n. 7) wrote a letter to Robert R. Livingston, secretary for foreign affairs, listing the cargoes of Barry’s prizes as probably 300 hogsheads of rum and between 1,500 and 1,600 hogsheads of sugar. Barclay’s dispatch was submitted to Congress on 24 December (NA: PCC, No. 78, IV, 341–44; No. 91, fols. 13–16). For “the Jamaica fleet,” see Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 14 December 1782, and n. 2.

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