James Madison Papers

Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison, 24 March 1783

Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison

RC (Virginia State Library). In the hand of John Francis Mercer, except for the signatures of the other delegates. Cover addressed by Mercer to “His Excellency Benjamin Harrison Esqr. Governor of Virginia.” Mercer signed his name on the lower left, and wrote “(On public Service)” on the upper right portion of the cover. The letter was carried to Richmond by a special courier. The cover is docketed, “Lr. from Delegates in Congress March 24th. 83.”

Philadelphia March 24th. 1783.


We have the pleasure of congratulating your Excellency on the result of the Negociations in Europe, which have at length happily terminated in a general Pacification.

The Triumph a french Sloop of War, commanded by the Chevalier du Quêne, arriv’d here the last Evening, dispatchd from Cadiz the 14th. of Feby by the Marquiss of Fayette & the C[o]mte D’Estaign, on a supposition, which the event has justified, that she might reach America, before any Packett which shoud sail either from Brest or L’Orient:1

The orders of the C[o]mte d’Estaign to the Ch: du Quêne contain a proclamation of the cessation of Hostilities, & the communications from the Marquiss of Fayette, convey the heads of the Preliminary Articles of the General Peace, which were signed the 20th. January at Paris.2 These leave the decisive terms respecting the United States as affixed by the partial Agreement between America & G. Britain3 (our southern boundary being restricted to the 32 degree). The other belligerent Powers are in general reinstated in those Possessions which they held previous to the War, with Exception that G. Britain cedes to France, Tobago, St. Vincents & Senegal, who on her part recedes from her right to fish on great Part of the Coast, which she held by the treaty of 63. She cedes to Spain, The Floridas & Minorca, & retains Negapatam in the East Indies,4 If any thing can add to this happy event, it is that the late confusion in the Army, thro’ the prudence of the Commander in chief, has terminated in a manner wch reflects additional honor on that band of Patriots.5

With the highest Respect We have the honor to be Yr Excellencys Most Ob’ & very hble Servants

Jos: Jones

Theok. Bland Jr.

J. Madison Jr.

A. Lee

John F. Mercer

Congress have just now directed the Agent of Marine to recall all armed naval Commissions & the Minister of Foreign Affairs to make the necessary communications to Sr. Guy Carleton & Admiral Digby, which will produce an immediate cessation of hostilities6 We shall draw on you for 24 £ the price agreed on for the Express:7

John F. Mercer

1JM Notes, 24 Mar. 1783, and n. 1. For Lieutenant (later Rear Admiral) Pierre Claude, Chevalier (later Marquis) du Quesne (1751–1834), see Baron Ludovic de Contenson, La Société des Cincinnati de France et la Guerre d’Amérique, p. 249.

2La Luzerne immediately released for publication an English translation of the “Orders, in form of a Passport” issued by d’Estaing to “monsieur the chevalier Duquesne, lieutenant commanding his majesty’s cutter, Triumph” (Pa. Packet, 25 Mar. 1783). The same issue of the Packet printed the “heads of the preliminaries of peace, signed the 20th of January” 1783. These, too, had been dispatched to La Luzerne by d’Estaing. For the “proclamation,” see JM to Maury, 24 Mar. 1783, and n. 2.

3That is, by the preliminary articles of peace between Great Britain and the United States, 30 November 1782. See JM Notes, 12–15 Mar., and nn. 2, 6; Delegates to Harrison, 12 Mar. 1783, and nn. 6–14.

4Although Mercer intended only to report “in general” about the territorial provisions of the preliminary peace treaty of Great Britain with France and of Great Britain with Spain, several of his facts were inaccurate. In the West Indies, St. Lucia and Tobago were returned and ceded, respectively, by Great Britain to France, while France restored all the islands, including St. Vincent, which she had conquered from Great Britain. France regained possession of the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon but relinquished her right under the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) to fish on the coast of Newfoundland between Cape Bonavista and Cape St. John.

Although Spain returned the Bahama Islands to Great Britain, the latter ceded the Mediterranean island of Minorca and East Florida to Spain and agreed that Spain “shall keep West Florida.” The northern boundary of West Florida was not defined in the treaty but presumably, as Mercer surmised, would be the thirty-second parallel of north latitude, thus confirming Article II of the preliminary treaty between Great Britain and the United States (JM Notes, 12–15 Mar. 1783, n. 6). His statement concerning Senegal was correct, except that France guaranteed Great Britain there “the possession of Fort James, and of the river Gambia.” Great Britain restored to France her posts in India (Frances Gardiner Davenport and Charles Oscar Paullin, eds., European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States and Its Dependencies [4 vols.; Washington, 1917–37], IV, 147–48, 150; Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates description begins William Cobbett, ed., The Parliamentary History of England from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803 (36 vols.; London, 1806–20; continued as Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates). description ends , XXIII, cols. 346–54). In the preliminary treaty of peace of 2 September 1783 between Great Britain and the Netherlands, Trincomalee in Ceylon was returned to the Dutch, but unless they “shall hereafter have an equivalent to offer” the British, Negapatam in India would remain under the British flag (Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates description begins William Cobbett, ed., The Parliamentary History of England from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803 (36 vols.; London, 1806–20; continued as Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates). description ends , XXIII, cols. 1158–60).

5JM Notes, 22 Mar. 1783, and nn. 1, 2.

6JM Notes, 24 Mar., n. 1. For Morris’ notification of “recall,” dated 25 March, see Va. Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends , 12 Apr. 1783.

7See hdn. The unidentified “Express” delivered this letter to Harrison on 30 or 31 March 1783 (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, 237).

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