Virginia Delegates to Benjamin Harrison
RC (Virginia State Library). In the hand of Theodorick Bland, except for the signatures of Arthur Lee and John F. Mercer. Docketed: “Letter f’m Virga. Delegates 4th. Oct. 83. inclosg resolve of Congress of 5th August. relative to the offer made by Virga. of public Vessels. & of Oct. 3d. on subject of the Govrs. Letter &c. 1783.” For the absence of JM’s signature, see Delegates to Harrison, 24 June 1783, ed. n.
Prince Town Octr. 4th 1783
The last Post brought us your Excellencys favor of the 19th Ultimo. The Information which it Containd relative to the Pennsylvanians setling on the N. W. of the Ohio, we thought it our Duty to lay before Congress, and at the same time moved that it might be recommended to that State to take the most effectual measures to restrain its Citizens from a Measure which your Excellency seemd apprehensive might produce so many Evils to our State in Particular, and which we could not but think might be highly prejudicial to the Union in General.1 the fate of our Motion by no means answerd our Expectations, as you will see by the Enclosed vote.2 the Chief Arguments against adopting it were, that Pennsylvania had already used every means in her power for that Purpose, that Congress had Issued a Proclamation prohibiting persons from Setling on Lands within the boundaries of the United States & out of the limits of any of them,3 That such a resolution wd. reflect on the State of Pennsylvania, as it wd suppose that State to have been at least inattentive to a Subject which nearly concernd her own as well as the Welfare of the States in General, and that Congress had under consideration at this time the General arrangement of Indian affairs in which that Subject would be considered more comprehensively,4 and only waited for the Confirmation of the acceptance of the Cession by our Assembly to take Vigorous and effectual measures to put a stop to the Evils which wd. result from such irregular Proceedings.5 We have thought fit to Explain to your Excellency our Conduct in this Matter and hope that our Zeal for the Welfare of the State will apologize for it on the one hand & that the reasons above mentiond, will be deemd Valid on the other6
We Enclose Your Excellency the Answers of Congress respecting the Guards & Vessels intended to be kept up, which have but lately passed,7 owing to the numerous important Subjects which have claimd the attention of Congress. we think it our Duty to transcribe for the Information of the Legislature some Paragraphs (in the Joint letter of our Ministers for treating of Peace) Explanatory of the Sense of some of the Preliminary Articles which have been heretofore P[ub]lishd, which Explanations they have given at the desire of Congress, as follows
Extract from the Joint Letter of Mr. Adams, Mr. Franklin & Mr. Jay dated July 18th 1783.
“The Words—for restoring the Property of Real British Subjects were well understood and Explaind between us (viz the Negotiators on both Sides) not to mean or comprehend American Refugees. Mr. Oswald & Mr. Fitzherbert know this to have been the case; and will readily Confess and admit it. this mode of Expression was preferred by them as a more delicate mode of Excluding those refugees and making proper distinctions between them and the Subjects of Britain whose only Particular Interest in America consisted in holding Lands and Property there.8
The 6th Article viz where it declares that no future Confiscations shall be made &c &c. ought to have fixed the time with greater Accuracy We think the most fair and true Construction is that it relates to the date of the Cessation of Hostilities. We are Surprized to hear that any doubts have arisen in America respecting the time when the Cessation of Hostilities took Place. It most certainly took Place at the Expiration of one month after the date of that declaration in all parts of the World, whether Land or Sea that lays North of the Latitude of the Canaries The Ships afterwards taken from us in the more Northerly Latitudes ought to be reclaimed and given up. we shall apply to Mr. Hartley on this Subject, and also on that of transportation of Negroes from New York contrary to the Words and Intention of the Provisional Articles.”*9
We Send Yr. Excellency the Papers containing the Proclamations of the King of Great Britain & the W. Indies Calculated to check our growing Commerce & Marine. it is conjectured that France will adopt some measures of a Similar nature. Shd. Britain or any other power, persevere in such a System of Commercial Politics we Imagine Congress will address the States either to adopt themselves or to enable Congress to adopt Regulations to counteract them, but this we do not advance as a certainty.10 It is easy to perceive how these regulations of Great Britain or France may embarrass our Commerce. It remains to be tried whether they themselves will not first and most Sensibly feel the effects of what we esteem an Ill Judged Policy. we are with the most perfect respect Sr.
Yr Excell’ys most obedt. Servts
John F Mercer
except as to the first paragraph
1. Harrison to Delegates, 19 Sept. 1783, and nn. 2, 3. On 3 October Bland and Lee laid before Congress a copy of the first two sentences of the second paragraph of the governor’s letter (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 640). See n. 6.
2. On six of the folios “Enclosed,” a clerk copied an extract from the journal of Congress for 3 October recording the proceedings, including four tallied votes relating to Indian affairs in the Ohio country or in New York State. On three of those polls, Mercer opposed with his vote the position taken by Bland and Lee. For this reason Mercer indicated by the comment following his signature to the present letter that he did not subscribe to the contents of its first paragraph. The initial vote, which was on the question of ending further debate on the Bland-Lee motion so that Congress could give consideration to “the order of the day,” was defeated by a vote of five states to four, with Mercer voting “ay” and Bland and Lee, “no.” Congress thereupon, by a vote of eight states to one, and over the opposition of Bland and Lee, adopted Mercer’s motion to refer the excerpt from Harrison’s letter together with the Bland-Lee motion to a committee.
This action cleared the way for a discussion of “the order of the day,” that is, the report of the committee on Indian affairs. Although this committee, when appointed on 12 August, consisted of James Duane, chairman, and two other delegates, it was enlarged a week later by the addition of Benjamin Hawkins and Lee (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 501, n. 1; XXV, 534, n. 2). For the background and contents of its first report, which related solely to Pennsylvania and Indians, see Harrison to Delegates, 19 Sept., and nn. 2, 3. Its second report, submitted on 3 October, recommended that the legislature of New York be urged to cease granting military bounty lands “at Onandaga and Cayuga,” if doing so exposed “these United States to the dangers and calamities of an Indian War.” Of the twenty-five delegates attending Congress, only two from New Jersey and one from Pennsylvania voted in favor of the recommendation. On that question Mercer agreed with Bland and Lee.
The debate of 3 October on Indian affairs closed with the untallied adoption of a single paragraph providing that agents “for the northern and western districts” jointly hold “one convention” with the Indians within those districts and “yield to separate conventions” only “in case of inevitable necessity” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 643). When the committee submitted a more extensive report on 15 October, this paragraph was incorporated as the fifth recommendation of the report (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 687). Bland and Lee had moved on 3 October to amend the paragraph by having Congress notify each state from New Hampshire south to Virginia sufficiently in advance to enable any of those states, at its option, to send “commissioners” to the convention. This amendment was rejected by a vote of 2 to 6. Mercer voted against the proposal (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 643–44). For the background of the issue with the Iroquois Indians in New York, see Delegates to Harrison, 8 Sept., and nn. 3, 4; 1 Nov. 1783 (1st letter), and n. 2.
3. Harrison to Delegates, 19 Sept. 1783, n. 3; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 602.
4. 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, 432–33; 434, n. 10; 444, n. 2; 472, n. 3.
5. Delegates to Harrison, 20 Sept., and n. 4; JM to Jefferson, 20 Sept. 1783, and n. 3. The Virginia General Assembly on 19 and 20 December confirmed Congress’ “acceptance of the Cession,” and on 22 December directed Governor Harrison to transmit that “Confirmation” to “the delegates of this State,” authorizing them “to convey to the United States in Congress assembled, all the right of this Commonwealth to the territory northwestward of the river Ohio” (JHDV description begins (1828 ed.). Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Anno Domini, 1776 (Richmond, 1828). description ends , Oct. 1783, pp. 71, 79, 81–83).
6. In a letter of 20 October 1783 to the speaker of the House of Delegates, Harrison forwarded the present letter with its copy of “the proceedings in Congress.” After mentioning their connection with “a question propounded by two of our delegates on a paragraph of a letter of mine,” he added that the “apology for the step they have taken” was “indeed necessary as it was never intended for the consideration of Congress but was merely a piece of intelligence communicated for them only and not to bring on a public investigation” (Executive Letter Book, 1783–1786, p. 219, MS in Va. State Library). Harrison thus partially vindicated Mercer’s dissent from the action of Bland and Lee.
7. Instruction to Delegates, 20 June, and n. 3; Instruction to Delegates in re “Cormorant,” 26–27 June, and n. 3; Harrison to Delegates, 4 July; 19 Sept., and n. 4; Motion in re Armed Vessels, 28 July 1783, hdn., ed. n., n. 4. Enclosed in the present letter was a copy in a clerk’s hand, except for the signature of Charles Thomson, secretary of Congress, of the resolutions of Congress, dated 3 October 1783, in reply to the two instructions.
8. On a separate page, enclosed with this letter, Arthur Lee copied this paragraph. Congress had received the peace commissioners’ dispatch on 12 September (JM to Randolph, 13 Sept., and n. 1; Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 569). For Richard Oswald and the British peace commissioners, including Alleyn Fitzherbert, 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 , V, 154, n. 2; 208, n. 3. For the issue posed by the phrase “Real British Subjects” in Article V of the provisional articles of peace, see JM Notes, 9 May, and citations in n. 3; 19 May, and n. 1; 30 May, and n. 1; Beckley to Randolph, 20 June, and n. 7; Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 98. The word “Refugees” was used as an equivalent of “Loyalists” or “Tories.”
9. Bland wrote the footnote in the left margin of the letter. The first sentence of this paragraph quotes the first sentence of the peace commissioners’ paragraph immediately following the one which Bland had copied. The remainder of his paragraph reproduces the last two paragraphs of the peace commissioners’ dispatch (ibid., VI, 569, 570). For the “date of the Cessation of Hostilities,” see JM to Randolph, 30 Sept., and n. 7. For David Hartley, see JM to Jefferson, 10 June, and n. 8. The problem of the “transportation of Negroes” has been mentioned frequently in the present volume (Walke to Delegates, 3 May, and nn. 2, 5, 7; JM to Jefferson, 13 May, and n. 10; Jones to JM, 25 May; JM Notes, 26 May, and n. 1; Pendleton to JM, 2 June, and n. 3; Beckley to Randolph, 20 June, n. 7; JM to Randolph, 8 July; Harrison to Delegates, 9 Aug. 1783, and n. 4).
10. The “Proclamations” were probably the one on 2 July of King George III, already summarized, and the one on 23 July of the “lieutenant governor general of Martinique and its dependencies, and commandant general of the French Windward Islands,” extending Americans a limited freedom of trade with these Caribbean possessions of France (JM to Randolph, 13 Sept., and nn. 5, 6; Delegates to Harrison, 20 Sept., and n. 3; JM to Jefferson, 20 Sept., and nn. 13, 14; Harrison to Delegates, 26 Sept.; 3 Oct.; Pa. Packet, 13 Sept., 30 Sept., 2 Oct.; Pa. Journal, 13 Sept.; Va. Gazette description begins Virginia Gazette, or, the American Advertiser (Richmond, James Hayes, 1781–86). description ends , 27 Sept. 1783). See also Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 559, 560–61, 582–83, 592–93.