Benjamin Harrison to Virginia Delegates
FC (Virginia State Library). In the hand of Thomas Meriwether. Addressed to “The Virginia Delegates in Congress.”
Richmond February 21th. 1783.
Your favor of the 11th. Instant1 came to Hand by the Post, as did the missing Letter by the Post before which makes it probable that the delay proceeded from it’s not geting to the Post master before the Mail was closed.2 I enclose you a Paper sent to me by the Commissioners of our Navy at Portsmouth which they received by a Flag from the Lyon Man of War then in Linhaven Bay.3 the Captain of the Lyon obtain’d it from a french Brig from France which he took within the Capes going to Baltimore. I think you may depend on it’s being the Substance of the King of Great Britains Speach tho’ it has suffered greatly in the translations both by the french man who turned it into french and by the translator on board the Lyon, the Letter to Townsend bears evident Marks of authenticity.4 I am led to give more Credit to them from a report which was circulated here some Days ago that the Speach was actually in North Carolina brought by a Vessel from Nantes that left it the 26 of December and that it contain’d in Substance what you may collect from this.5 I can not help congratulating you on the Occasion tho’ I have some trifling fears that I may be a little premature. The necessary Certificate for the Settlement of Nathans Accounts was forwarded you by the last Post and hope will get to hand in Time to save the State from the payment of a sum of Money it does not owe and that Nathan never paid.6
I am Gentlemen &c.
2. The “missing Letter” was that of the delegates on 21 January to Harrison (q.v.). See also Harrison to Delegates, 31 Jan.; 7 Feb.; Delegates to Harrison, 11 Feb. 1783. There appears to have been at that time no one with the official title of “Post Master” of Philadelphia, but Harrison probably had in mind Ebenezer Hazard, postmaster general, or his “assistant or clerk,” James Bryson (1744–1813). Congress had appointed Bryson to this position, which apparently was equivalent to being Hazard’s “deputy” or the assistant postmaster general, on 28 January 1782, following about five years of service by him as “surveyor” of the post offices in “the middle district,” comprising the area from Philadelphia to Edenton, N.C. (NA: PCC, No. 61, fols. 495, 499; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , IX, 860; XV, 1203; XVII, 553; XXII, 60, 66, n. 1).
Although Congress on 18 October 1782 had empowered the postmaster general to appoint as many postmasters “as he shall think proper,” Bryson continued to call himself “assistant” rather than postmaster of Philadelphia (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIII, 670; Pa. Packet, 26 Oct., 29 Oct., 16 Nov. 1782). On the date of the present letter, he was making an extended trip “to the southward to settle the posts,” and was not expected to return to Philadelphia “before June” (Belknap Papers, Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 5th ser., Vols. II and III [Boston, 1877], II, 199, 203). Sometime later Hazard evidently named Bryson “postmaster of Philadelphia,” for that is his title on a “Civil List” which appears to have been prepared in 1787 (NA: PCC, No. 61, fol. 587). There is no doubt that Bryson’s tenure ended about 1 October 1789, when Hazard was succeeded as postmaster general by Samuel Osgood (Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America [Washington, 1828——], I, 33; Belknap Papers, III, 192–93, 198, 201). Thereafter the career of Bryson is obscure. He is said to have been in Newport, Ky., at the time of his death. Unless he was then on a trip to the West, he had probably moved there after 1800, for no “James Bryson” is listed among the taxpayers of Kentucky either in that year or in 1790 (Charles Brunk Heineman and Gaius Marcus Brumbaugh, comps., “First Census” of Kentucky, 1790 [Washington, 1940], p. 16; G. Glenn Clift, comp., “Second Census” of Kentucky, 1800 [Frankfort, 1954], p. 38; Lineage Book of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, CXIV , 153–54).
3. The unidentified French brig had sailed from Lorient (Va. Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends , 22 Feb. 1783). For the sixty-four-gun frigate “Lion” and Lynnhaven Bay, see Jefferson to JM, 7–8 Feb., n. 3; 14 Feb. 1783 (2d letter), n. 22. The enclosure is missing, but its probable contents are summarized in n. 4 (q.v.). The “Paper” had been forwarded to Harrison in a letter of 15 February 1783 from Colonel Thomas Newton, Jr. (1742–1807), one of the three commissioners of the Virginia navy (MS in Va. State Library; Cal. of Va. 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, 436). The other commissioners were Thomas Brown (d. 1803) and Captain Paul Loyall (ca. 1721–1807) (Norfolk Herald, 15 Oct. 1803; Norfolk Gazette and Publick Ledger, 2 Feb. 1807).
Newton, an officer in, and by 1781 commander of, the Norfolk County militia, was a member of the House of Burgesses, 1765–1775, of the Virginia conventions of 1775 and 1776, of the House of Delegates, 1779–1783, 1794–1797, and of the Senate, 1798–1805. He also served four terms as mayor of Norfolk between 1780 and 1794. On 8 March 1794 Newton became one of the seven federal inspectors of the surveys and ports of Virginia. On 23 December 1805 he was appointed federal collector for the district of Norfolk and Portsmouth, a position which he continued to hold until his death (Swem and Williams, Register description begins Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1776–1918, and of the Constitutional Conventions (Richmond, 1918). description ends , pp. 9–66 passim; Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States, I, 102, 111; II, 8, 10; 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, 296, n. 6; IV, 360, nn. 22, 23; 431, n. 1; V, 90, n. 2; Va. Mag. Hist. and Biog., XX , 365; XXX , 87–88).
4. The “Paper” mentioned in the second sentence of this letter probably summarized in garbled form the announcement by King George III on 5 December 1782 to Parliament of the signing of preliminary articles of peace between Great Britain and the United States, and the letter of (not “to”) Thomas Townshend on the same day informing the lord mayor of London that a copy of the preliminary treaty had been received (Va. Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends , 22 Feb. 1783). A corrected copy of the king’s statement appeared in the Virginia Gazette on 1 March. The Virginia delegates, who on 12 February first heard of the king’s announcement, sent a copy of it two days later by special messenger to Governor Harrison (JM Notes, 13 Feb., n. 10; Delegates to Harrison, 18 Feb., and n. 3; JM to Jefferson, 18 Feb., n. 2; to Randolph, 18 Feb.; Harrison to Delegates, 24 Feb. 1783).
5. The “Vessel” has not been identified, but it probably brought to David Ross the letter mentioned by Governor Harrison in his letter of 24 February to the Virginia delegates (q.v.).
6. 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, 202–3, and nn. 1, 3, 4; 228–29, and n. 6; 344, and n. 10; Harrison to Delegates, 15 Feb. 1783 and citations in n. 1.