James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Randolph, 4 June 1783

From Edmund Randolph

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned but in Randolph’s hand. Cover addressed by him to “The honble James Madison jr. Esqr of congress Philadelphia.” Docketed by JM, “June 4. 1783.” JM also jotted on the cover: “Dana La: Hol: Md. Peace Estabt. New Delegation Fairfax Instrons. Claypoole for Int. opn. of Gl. W. on proceedings of Congs. Mutinous Men? of Sergts? W. Territory Secy. F. Affrs.” These jottings were written by JM on either 16 or 17 June. They were the days, respectively, on which he received the present letter and wrote to Randolph. In his letter to Randolph (q.v.), JM discussed most of the topics comprising the memorandum.

Wmsburg. June 4. 1783.

My dear sir

George Hay has, I hope, complied with my directions in transmitting the operations of the assembly.1 From this place I can forward nothing new, except the folly of a french captain, who refused to enter with the naval officer2 on his arrival, insisting that some protection or other, which he possessed under his king, was paramount to any internal regulation here. The naval officer went on board of his vessel in company with another Frenchman;3 and both of them remonstrated with him on the folly of his obstinacy; but neither could prevail. By this means he has exposed himself or rather his ship to Seizure and condemnation4 must be his lot.

These foolish events irritate much: and will doubtless be handed to you in Philadelphia with some exaggeration, which it may acquire from the narrative of the party, who is likely to sustain loss.5 But I cannot be mistaken, because I made it a point to represent the case in its just colours to a Mr. La croix in this town.6 He answered, that he had stated it in the same light to his countryman, but his labours to recover7 him were ineffectual.

2Beverly Dickson (d. 1787) was the naval officer of the Williamsburg district (Va. Gazette, and Weekly Advertiser, 6 Sept. 1787; 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, 42, 81; McIlwaine, Official Letters, III, 356 n.; Pendleton to JM, 4 May, n. 8). Probably Randolph referred to Peter (Pierre?) Heron, master of the “Lark,” a French brigantine which had arrived in the James River from Morlaix, France, on 27 May. In that case, the Frenchman was less intractable than supposed. In a petition for relief, submitted on 4 June to the Virginia General Assembly, he declared that “ignorance of the law” and the inaccuracy of his interpreter, who had checked with the naval officer, led him to discharge cargo without paying the required duties. For this offense “the marshal of the admiralty” had seized the “Lark” as a “forfeiture” to the state. Finding Heron’s plea to be reasonable, the General Assembly on 9 June 1783 passed a private act returning the vessel to him “upon paying the customary duties, office fees, and the expenses of the seizure” (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , May 1783, pp. 37, 38, 42–45; Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , XI, 254).

3Possibly “Mr. La Croix,” mentioned in Randolph’s next paragraph.

4That is, by the Court of Admiralty which convened at Williamsburg (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 , V, 16; 17, n. 2; Randolph to JM, 9 May 1783, n. 2).

5Heron’s acceptance of the action of the General Assembly in answer to his petition would seem to explain the lack of any evidence that the issue was carried to Congress.

6Peter de La Croix seems to have resided in Virginia as early as 1779. Either in that year or in 1780 his ship was looted and burned by parties unknown. Denying that the court of Accomack County, and later the General Court of Virginia, had jurisdiction over issues between foreigners, “he refused to make any defence” in separate suits brought against him by three members of his crew for nonpayment of their wages. The sailors’ claims were sustained by three tribunals, and for a time La Croix was imprisoned for debt. In 1779 and again on 18 June 1783, he petitioned the Virginia General Assembly for redress. The House of Delegates on 20 June, and the Senate four days later, decided that although the state should assume the cost of the “several prosecutions,” La Croix had been accorded “two fair and full judiciary hearings.” For that reason “it would be inconsistent with the constitution and laws of this country for the Legislature to re-consider the subject” (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , Oct. 1779, pp. 96, 100; May 1783, pp. 65, 71, 79). See also Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (18 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , III, 162–66, 197–98, 213–14; 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, 253–54). If the individual in question was the Pierre La Croix who in 1831 died in Fredericksburg at the age of eighty-eight, he had been a drummer boy in Montcalm’s army at Quebec, and some service has been claimed for him in the American army during the Revolution (Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, LX [1949], 166).

7That is “to regain his senses or ability to judge sanely.”

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