From the Reverend James Madison
Williamg. Novr. 15. 1785.
As several Matters will probably be agitated this Session in wh. the Interests of our University may be deeply concerned, I have wish’d to give you some Information respecting them, & then as a Friend to Science I am sure we shall have a powerful Advocate in our Favour.
The 1st. is involved in the Dismemberment of the State. The Seperation of Kentucky may take Place, without an express Reserve of the Fees due to the College from that Country.1 If this Matter be pass’d over in Silence, it is possible, the Surveyors might find some Plea to refuse Payment. The Debt is of Importance to the College. Would it not then be prudent to give us a securing Clause in the Act of Seperation wh. may probably be pass’d? The 2d. is of much less Importance, because it is scarce possible that the House will attend to it. The Tenants upon our Lands have grown restive.2 They intend to petition the Assembly, I am told, for a Destruction of the Coll. Rights, & to vest in them a Fee simple Estate.3 However unreasonable the Demand may be, yet it will be well for us to have a Friend at Court, & therefore I have mentioned their Intentions to you. Besides that General Petition of the College Tenants, the Holders of the Lands near James Town, lately given to the College, mean also to present a Petition, in Order to have their former Leases, which we consider as illegal, confirmed to them. The Atty. gave it as his opinion that they were illegal. The Object of this Petition then must be, supposing his Opinion to be well founded, to obtain from the Assembly, the Confirmation of what was originally illegal. This last Petition however, will probably attract a general Attention. But I thought it adviseable to mention particularly the first Matter, as an entire Silence of the Act for a Seperation, might be construed by the opposite Party even as a Ground for a Refusal of Payment, or might be considered as a sufft. Plea of Justification in the new Govt. to appropriate those Fees to their own interior purposes, especially as in some of their Resolves respecting their Greivances, the Payment of such Fees to this Coll. is enumerated as one.4 If we can get no more after the Seperation, wh. is reasonable eno’ perhaps, yet let us have what is due prior to the Seperation. But wd. it not be possible to secure all the Fees due for surveying officers Lands even after the Seperation, the Survey having already commenced? I leave this however to your own better Judgt.
When shall we have the Happiness to see you here. I had hopes the fœderal Court might be some Inducement to bring you down.5 If it shd still sit, & at a Time your Absence can be spared, perhaps you may be induced to visit us. Whatever may be the Cause of transferring you to this Place, we shall esteem it a fortunate one. My Wife desires to be particularly remembered as well as Dr Cole.6 Yr. Friend
RC (DLC). Cover missing.
1. The 1779 act “for establishing a Land office” provided that all county surveyors receive a certificate of competency from “the president and professors of William and Mary college” (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 , X, 53). The college was to receive “one sixth part of the legal fees which shall be received by such surveyor” and this subvention became a major source of revenue for William and Mary. An act passed at the Oct. 1783 session of the General Assembly had added surveys of military bounty lands to the sources of income (ibid., XI, 310). Despite the Reverend James Madison’s plea, the committee drafting the act of separation for the Kentucky district passed over the provision although surveys made through 1 Sept. 1788 were to be subject to the 1779 law.
2. After the seat of government was moved from Williamsburg to Richmond, title in the public lands in the old capital was conveyed to the college by an act passed at the May 1784 session of the General Assembly (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, 406). These included “the lands commonly called the palace lands,” a tract in Williamsburg “commonly called the Vineyard,” certain public lands near Jamestown, “together with all the lots and houses in the said city which are the property of this commonwealth.” The college president and faculty were empowered to sell or use the lands “in any manner they shall judge best for the interest and advantage of the said university” (ibid.; The History of the College of William and Mary from Its Foundation, 1693, to 1870 [Baltimore, 1870], p. 46).
3. The JHDV description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used is the one in which the journals for 1777–1786 are brought together in two volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in either 1827 or 1828 and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends of the Oct. 1785 session does not mention a petition from the tenants of the college lands.
4. At the Danville convention held in Dec. 1784 the delegates passed a bill of complaints that included: “Resolved that the one sixth part of all Surveyors Fees arising within this District, appropriated to the support of the University of William & Mary, and not to the Transilvania Seminary[,] is a greevance [sic]” (Abernethy, “Journal of the First Kentucky Convention,” Journal of Southern History, I , 73).
5. The “fœderal court” was a board of arbitration set up by Congress in 1784–1785 to adjudicate a territorial dispute between Massachusetts and New York. The appointed judges were to meet at Williamsburg for their deliberations, but delays ensued and the scheduled meeting was not held there (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIX, 865).
6. Probably Dr. Walter King Cole (d. 1794), who was educated at William and Mary, served as a surgeon in the Virginia navy during the Revolution, and petitioned the General Assembly for compensation because of slaves and lands confiscated during the war (JHDV description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used is the one in which the journals for 1777–1786 are brought together in two volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in either 1827 or 1828 and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , Oct. 1785, p. 53; Wyndam B. Blanton, Medicine in Virginia in the Eighteenth Century, [Richmond, 1931], pp. 75, 387–88).