Virginia Delegates to Bernardo de Gálvez
Copy (Sección Cuba 2370, Archivo General de Indias, Seville). Addressed to “His Excellency don Bernardo de Galvez, Governor of the Havana.” This copy, including the signatures and the enclosure, appears to have been made by a clerk. For a suggested explanation of the copy’s origin, see n. 3.
Oliver Pollock, a merchant of New Orleans, had rendered important service to both Congress and Virginia as commercial agent. To pay for military supplies, Pollock had used his own money or loans secured by his notes from business acquaintances. By the spring of 1782 he desperately needed remuneration to satisfy his impatient creditors.
At the request of Governor Jefferson in 1779, Governor Gálvez, who was a friend of the American cause and of Pollock, had advanced him $74,087 from the Spanish provincial treasury. In the same year Jefferson authorized Pollock to draw bills for nearly $66,000 on Penet, d’Acosta Frères et Cie, the commercial agent of Virginia at Nantes, France. Unknown to Pollock, J. Pierre Penet by 1782 was bankrupt, partly at least because Virginia had been unable to furnish him with the cargoes of tobacco promised in return for his shipments of military matériel. In the meantime Pollock had drawn bills on the Penet Company and used them as security for the repayment of additional loans.
Threatened with suits by his creditors who were holding his worthless bills of exchange drawn on Penet, Pollock late in April 1782 was granted permission by Don Estavan Miró, who was acting as governor in Gálvez’ absence, to go to Richmond and Philadelphia to seek payment by the Virginia General Assembly and by Congress. Both bodies already had acknowledged their heavy indebtedness to Pollock, but neither they nor he knew the exact sums owed. Some of his vouchers had been lost; some of his consignments evidently had been priced in specie, others in paper currency; some goods shipped on the continental account had been diverted to the use of Virginia and vice versa; and some had been forwarded to military or civilian officials of Virginia in the Ohio country who had no legal authority to order them. Adding to the baffling complexity, some of the bills of exchange issued by Pollock had been purchased by Simon Nathan. These two men, being creditors of the bankrupt Penet Company, expected its debtor, Virginia, to cover their losses. See NA: PCC, No. 50, fols. 285, 331; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , I, 277, n. 7; III, 98; 99, n. 1; 256, n. 1; IV, 349, and n. 5; James Alton James, Oliver Pollock: The Life and Times of an Unknown Patriot (New York, 1937), pp. 74, 81, 270–72, 276; Lawrence Kinnaird, ed., Spain in the Mississippi Valley, 1765–1794 (3 vols.; Washington, 1946–49), II, 8–12; John Walton Caughey, Bernardo de Gálvez in Louisiana, 1776–1783 (Berkeley, Calif., 1934), pp. 85–93, 98.
From August 1782, when he arrived in Philadelphia, until the date of the present letter, Pollock found that the controversial nature of many of his claims and the empty state of both the continental and Virginia treasuries combined to thwart him from gaining immediate cash payments. On 31 October 1782 President John Hanson wrote Miró that Congress was well disposed toward Pollock and would deal justly with him “as soon as possible.” About four months later President Elias Boudinot affirmed this promise by sending Miró a duplicate of Hanson’s letter. In Richmond, where Pollock tarried for almost three months, the legislature adjourned on 28 December 1782 after adopting the resolution, of which a copy was enclosed in the present letter, postponing further action upon his claim until the session of May 1783. By then the report of the commissioners on western accounts, including their judgment of the validity of many of Pollock’s bills, would probably have been submitted. Also the Virginia delegates in Congress were expected to gain from Pollock, who had returned to Philadelphia in February, adequate guarantees to assure Virginia against paying twice the sum covered by the protested bills of exchange which he had drawn on the Penet Company and given as security for loans from businessmen in New Orleans.
In their letter of 29 April 1783, the delegates informed Governor Harrison, “Mr. Pollock has declined offering any security for the present, as he expects the returned Bills themselves, which he says will be the best Vouchers in his power to give.” In other words Virginia obviously would not assume for payment the amount of the bills of exchange unless they were surrendered to her treasury. Only Pollock’s creditors in New Orleans, who held these bills, could submit them. Virginia, therefore, was amply protected against any claim by him in their regard. See Lawrence Kinnaird, ed., Spain in the Mississippi Valley, II, 55, 63–64, 71, 75–76; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 345, n. 5; V, 208, n. 5; 287, n. 19; 455, n. 10; VI, 474; 475, nn. 3–5; 476, n. 6; 478, n. 3; 502; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 149, n. 1, 234–38; James A. James, Oliver Pollock, pp. 276, n. 9, 280, 282, 288; John W. Caughey, Bernardo de Gálvez, pp. 99–100.
Philada. May 4th. 1783
We have the honor of Enclosing to your Excellency1 a Resolution of the General Assembly of our State, by which your Excellency will see that the Accounts of Mr. Oliver Pollock, are Liquadated, and the balance put into a due Course of payment.2
We think it proper to give your Excellency this Information for the benefit of such of the subjects of the King of Spain as are in Possession of the Bills drawn by the said Mr Pollock on Penette, Dacosta, Freres & Co[.] these Bills will be paid agreeable to the Inclosed Resolve, upon thier being presented at the Treasury of Virginia.
We have the honor to be with sentiment of the highest respect Your Excellencys Most Obedient and Humble Servts.
|J. Madison Jur.|
|Theod. Bland Jr|
|John F. Mercer|
|delegates in Congress from the
State of Virginia3
1. When the present letter was written, the positions held by Don Bernardo de Gálvez (ca. 1746–1786) were far more impressive than merely “Governor of the Havana.” Ever since early in 1777, after military service in Europe, Africa, and against the Indians in Louisiana, he had been the governor of that province. On 12 November 1781, in recognition of his success in capturing Pensacola from the British and driving them from the rest of West Florida, Charles III of Spain issued him a patent of nobility, promoted him to the rank of lieutenant general, and added West Florida to the vast area of which he was governor. In May 1782, although the decisive naval victory of Sir George Brydges Rodney on 9–12 April in the Battle of the Saints had effectively ruined Gálvez’ plan to mount an expedition against the British in Jamaica, he brought the Bahama Islands under the flag of Spain.
At the time of the Virginia delegates’ letter to Gálvez, he had sailed, or was about to sail, for Spain. When he finally reached Havana again on 4 February 1784, he was captain general of Cuba as well as the governor of Louisiana and West Florida. Early the next year he became viceroy of New Spain with his seat of authority in Mexico City. His residence in Mexico began with his arrival at Vera Cruz on 21 May 1785 and closed with his death from fever on 30 November 1786 (John W. Caughey, Bernardo de Gálvez, pp. 61–68, 210–11, 214, 244–46, 251, 252, and n. 36, 253, 257; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , I, 218, n. 6; II, 39 and n. 1; 110, n. 2; III, 83, n. 1; 183, n. 21; IV, 36, n. 16; 113, n. 6; 239, n. 14).
2. By “Liquadated,” the delegates meant that the “Resolution” embodied only a schedule for payments by Virginia to Pollock. Assuming that the resolution quoted below is an accurate copy of the enclosure by the delegates and that they had faithfully reproduced the copy received by them from Governor Harrison, the latter varies occasionally in phraseology, as well as in abbreviations, punctuation, and capitalization, but not in meaning, from the resolution entered in the journal of the House of Delegates (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , Oct. 1782, pp. 83–84; Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VI, 13; 15, n. 5; 474; 475, n. 5).
In the House of Delegates
The 27th Decem: 1782
Resolv’d, that the Accounts of Oliver Pollock be liquidated agreeable to the recommendation of the Executive upon the Settlement made by their Commissioners, Sampson Mathews and Merriwether Smith Esqrs. and paid in Manner following. ten Thousand Dollars immediately, and Certificates passed for the remainder of his Accounts bearing Interest at the rate of six pCent per annum to wit, ten Thousand dollars payable the first day of January, One thousand seven Hundred & eighty four, Ten thousand Dollars the first day of January, One Thousand seven Hundred and Eighty five and the Ballance in Certificates with the like Interest payable in four years from the date thereof Provided that the Issuing of Certificates for one half the Amount of the said Accounts be postponed untill the said Oliver Pollock finds such security as may be approved of by the delegates representing this State in Congress for the Indemnification of the state from any demand for the bills drawn by him on Penette, Dacosta, Freres & Coy.
|John Beckly C H D|
|1782 Decem: 28th|
|Agreed to by the Senate|
|Will. Drew Ck. a Copy|
For the commissioners on western accounts, including Matthews and Smith, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 40, n. 2; III, 329, n. 3; 345, n. 5; IV, 378, n. 5; V, 263; 265, n. 9; 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, 188. The stipulation about paying Pollock “ten thousand Dollars immediately” was delusive, for he discovered by calling upon Jacquelin Ambler, the treasurer, that “I could not get as much as paid my expenses to Virginia” (Lawrence Kinnaird, ed., Spain in the Mississippi Valley, II, 77–78). The editorial note above explains why the resolution closed with a proviso. See also n. 3. For John Beckley and William Drew, the clerks, respectively, of the House of Delegates and the Senate of the Virginia General Assembly, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 318, n. 2.
3. The delegates gave their letter and its enclosure to Pollock for delivery, upon his return to New Orleans or Havana, to Gálvez. Two days before the date of the letter. Congress resolved that “as soon as the situation of the finances will permit,” Pollock should be paid as much of his claim as had already been authenticated, except the $74,087 loaned him by Governor Gálvez from the Spanish treasury at New Orleans (ed. note). At the same time, Congress instructed Robert Morris to ascertain from New Orleans whether Gálvez had advanced that money to enable Pollock to provide military supplies for the United States or for Virginia (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 323). On 8 May Congress agreed to hang on the wall of its meeting room Pollock’s gift of a portrait of Gálvez, “an early and zealous friend of the U. S.” (NA: PCC, No. 50, fol. 289; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 333, and n. 2). Although refusing on 22 April, in spite of the unanimous vote of the delegates of Virginia and five other states, to pay Pollock $10,000 for his five years’ labors as commercial agent at New Orleans, Congress eight days later rewarded him with half that sum for his “extra-ordinary services.” On 30 May without a recorded vote, Congress appointed him to be the unsalaried American commercial agent “at the port of Havannah” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 266, 318, 372, 376–77).
Pollock delayed his departure from the United States until early in August. By then he almost certainly knew that on 25 June the Virginia General Assembly had instructed the treasurer “until further orders” to cash none of the warrants which had been issued to him. Ill fortune pursued him to Cuba. Upon arriving there in mid-August, he found not only that Gálvez was in Spain but that he could expect few commissions as commercial agent because the port of Havana was closed to all foreign shipping. On 18 August Pollock wrote to Governor Miró at New Orleans, enclosing what apparently is the present copy of the Virginia delegates’ letter and its enclosure. In his acknowledgment of 18 October 1783 Miró blamed Pollock for not recognizing while in the United States that one of his “principal and most sacred obligations” had been to assure the repayment of those “generous citizens” of New Orleans who, by lending money on the security of bills of exchange drawn on the Penet Company, “have suffered enough by bearing with you for the long time of four years.” Miró apparently did not realize that the promises to pay, which were almost all that Pollock had been able to gain in Philadelphia and Richmond, applied to his creditors in New Orleans as well as to himself. The Virginia General Assembly had agreed to honor the bills on Penet as soon as their holders presented them in person or through their authorized agent. See ed. note above; also, Harrison to Speaker of the House of Delegates, 5 May 1783, in Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, pp. 110–11, MS in Va. State Library; JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , May 1783, pp. 83, 85; Lawrence Kinnaird, ed., Spain in the Mississippi Valley, II, 77–78, 87–88, 91–92; James A. James, Oliver Pollock, pp. 280–92, 297, and n. 1, 306, n. 16, 335–37, and nn., 346. From 9 January to 10 November 1783, inclusive, Virginia paid to Pollock £3,608 9s. 10d. (Treasurer’s Book or Account of Payments Made Publick Creditors by the Treasurer, Jany. 1783 to Decr. 1785, unpaginated MS in Va. State Library).