James Madison Papers

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates, 7 February 1783

Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates

FC (Virginia State Library). In the hand of Thomas Meriwether. Addressed to “The Virginia Delegates in Congress.”

In Council February 7th. 1783.

Gentlemen

Your favors of the 21th. and 28th. of last Month1 came together by Post. we had some reason to expect from advices received here you would have been able to have inform’d us with certainty whether we were to have Peace or War for the next year, the Ultamatum of Great Britain has been gone over so long to France that I think the next Packet from England will put the Matter beyond a doubt, tho’ I confess I have no expectations of Peace till Lord Shelburne has seen the Temper of the Parliament and tried his Strength in it.2 A late Letter from General Muhlenburg informs me that the Financier has discontinued his Contracts for the support of the Post at Winchester and that he has now no means of subsisting the recruits that are daily going there but from this State.3 This Conduct appears altogether strange to me as the Financier well knows we are restricted by him from furnishing any Necessaries to Troops or Post of the Continent, or what amounts to the same Thing   he has declared he will not give us credit for a Shilling so expended, out of the Quota demanded by Congress; the Matter standing thus is it not surprising that he either has not continued his Contracts or taken of[f] the restriction and suffered us to support them out of the Money called for,4 surely it can not be expected that we should not only find Troops but that we should support them also,5 if it is[,] more is expected than will be comply’d with. Muhlenburg tells me he understands the States who pay in their Money fastest are to be first attended to and eased from Burthens of this kind, which might be just if all had been alike circumstanced,6 but this is not the Case, every State to the Eastward of us has been free from Invasions for several years, been in perfect security and carrying on an extensive and lucrative Trade by which Money flowed into them from every Quarter, the very reverse of which has been the Situation of the Southern States, what little Money they had has been carried away to those happier Climes for the Necessaries of Life,7 nothing proves this plainer than our present Situation, for tho’ the last Crop of Tobacco was the shortest ever know[n]8 Money is so extremely scarce that not a Hhd. even of the best kind can be sold for cash; but I will give you no more Trouble on this disagreeable Subject as you have been fully possessed of it long ago. The above digression has led me a little out of my Subject which I trust you will pardon, and that you will excuse me for adding a request that you either lay the subject before Congress or the Financier9 as shall appear to you most proper, and that you endeavour if possible to obtain an order for the support of the Post at Winchester in the usual mode, or if that can not be done that you obtain an explicit Declaration that we shall receive Credit for what we shall expend in the Support of it, without which the recruiting Service will very soon be at an end, for Men will not enlist when they see those that have done it starving[;] a Consequence which will certainly flow from the rejection of the Propositions.10

We have directed General Muhlenburg to contract for the next Month for the feeding such recruits as may be sent him provided they are forwarded on to Fredrick Town so often as their Number amounts to thirty, further than this we can not go, and therefore wish for the determination of Congress as soon as possible.11

I am with respect Gentlemen Yours &c.

B. H.

1Qq.v. See also Harrison to Delegates, 31 Jan. 1783, and n. 3.

3Brigadier General John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, commander and chief recruiting officer of the continental-line troops in Virginia, wrote to Governor Harrison on 28 January 1783, but the letter has not been found (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 149, n. 2; V, 307, n. 6; 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, 442, and n. 173). The urgent need to economize in order to have money to pay the troops in the main army, the small number of continental troops in Virginia, and the unsatisfactory terms asked by potential suppliers of food were Robert Morris’ reasons for not providing rations in 1783 to “the posts in Virginia” (Clarence L. Ver Steeg, Robert Morris, pp. 161, 165). Winchester was the place of “General rendezvous” in Virginia for continental recruits (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 149, n. 2; JCSV description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia (4 vols. to date; Richmond, 1931——). description ends , III, 203, 215).

4Harrison’s suggestion was the more reasonable because Morris recently had consented to accept tobacco in satisfaction of some of the requisition on Virginia for 1782 (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 258; 259, n. 9; 324; 332, n. 2; 381, and n. 2).

5The governor’s concern about food for the soldiers had supplanted his earlier grievance because of Morris’ slowness in providing them with clothing (ibid., V, 258; 313).

6Virginia’s delinquency in paying her financial quota had made JM hesitate to request money from the continental treasury for the relief of Virginia prisoners of war released by the British (ibid., V, 325; 326, n. 11; 328).

7Ibid., V, 169; 322; 323, n. 8; 341, and n. 7.

8Ibid., V, 110; 341; Harrison to Delegates, 31 Jan. 1783, and n. 7.

9Robert Morris.

10Upon receiving the present letter, Arthur Lee evidently succeeded in inducing Morris to “avoid trouble and criticism” by arranging “to supply the troops at Winchester” (Clarence L. Ver Steeg, Robert Morris, pp. 161, 245, n. 5).

11In his letter of 5 February 1783 to General Muhlenberg, Governor Harrison requested him to contract for rations at a maximum daily cost of 8½ pence for each recruit. While being trained in Winchester and in Frederick, Md., recruits helped to guard British prisoners of war (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, 442–43; 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 , XXVI, 340–41). See also ibid., XXVI, 98, 100.

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