James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Robert Johnson, 23 September 1786

From Robert Johnson

Fayette County Sepr. 23d. 1786

Dear Sr.

I take the liberty to inform you By letter that we have at present an Expedition Gone against the wabach Indins to the amt. of abt. 1200 Men and another to march in two Days against the Shawnees, who have Broke the articles of the treaty by stealing and Killing proved by Substantial witnesses, thus much for Indian affairs1 and our convention is To sit in a few Days and it is Expected we Shall Diturmine upon a Separation and of course Have another Eli[c]tion to Diturmine on what Laws Shall Gover[n] us after the separation and to Do the Great business of forming a Constitution and we think we are one fourth of the District in number and Seven counties now and I Expect Several petitions for a Division of Counties, and unless we obtain a Divison of our county we Shall have a very unequal Representation in forming a constitution.2 We Have a petition which is oblige[d] to wait untill our next court as it may be advertised according To Law after which time we Shall send as Quik as possible, and there is a petition prepared To take a small part of the county and part of Madison which I Expect will be offered before ours and I wish it to be Laid over untill the other is presented, for the Division of Fayett and the west End under the name of Versailles.3 I hope You wil be a frien[d] to our petition and if you would take the trouble by letter to Give me or some others in this Country your advice in forming a constitution with Some observations and objections which You probably May have against the Virginia Constitution.4 I am with Respect your M[o]st. obt.

Robt. Johnson5

RC (DLC). Addressed by Johnson and carried “by Captn. Fowles.” On the outer cover JM made notes for a speech attacking proposals for a paper money emission, printed below as having been prepared ca. 1 Nov. 1786.

1The Kentucky expedition was demanded after Indians killed two prominent leaders—John Donelson and William Christian (Abernethy, Western Lands and the American Revolution, pp. 317–18). See also George Muter to JM, 23 Sept. 1786. Johnson did not end this sentence here but proceeded to write “and we have a,” then crossed out only a part, but the entire phrase has been deleted by the editors for clarity’s sake.

2This was the fourth statehood convention elected in August 1786. Johnson’s optimism regarding a consensus was not warranted, for the convention was split over the separation issue when a quorum finally convened in Danville late in January 1787. Uncertain of their status, the delegates finally disbanded without achieving any of their intended goals (George Muter to JM, 20 Feb. 1787). See Watlington, The Partisan Spirit, pp. 117–20. Meanwhile certain delegates to the Danville convention had sent a petition to the General Assembly citing the Indian troubles as an excuse for delay in the legislation to implement statehood (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. 1786, p. 41).

3This petition seems never to have been presented to the House of Delegates during the October 1786 session. Fayette had been divided into two counties at the October 1785 session when Bourbon County was created, and a further division was delayed until November 1788 (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 , XII, 663–65).

4Johnson obviously had not seen JM’s letter to Caleb Wallace, 23 Aug. 1785, covering JM’s constitutional “observations and objections” (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (9 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VIII, 350–57).

5Col. Robert Johnson (1745–1815) was born in Fredericksburg and reared in Orange County, where he seems to have been acquainted with the Madisons. He married Jemima Suggett. Later migrating to Kentucky, he settled near Great Crossing, overlooking Elkhorn Creek, ca. 1779–1780. He served prominently in several capacities: as a trustee of Transylvania Seminary, 1783; as a delegate to the first and second conventions proposing Kentucky statehood, 1784–1785; as a commissioner on the Virginia-Kentucky boundary commission, 1795, and on the U.S. assessment commission for Kentucky property, 1798; and as a member of the grand jury that failed to indict Aaron Burr, 1806. In 1814 he founded the town of Fredericksburg (now Warsaw). One of his sons, Richard Mentor Johnson, became a U.S. senator from Kentucky and ninth vice president of the U.S., while another, James, was a minor figure in the War of 1812 and a U.S. congressman (ViU: Barbour Family Papers; Leland W. Meyer, “Colonel Robert Johnson, a Pioneer Leader in Education and Religion,” Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society, XXX [1932], 21–36; Filson Club History-Quarterly, X [1936], 39–40, 79; Virginia W. Howard, Bryan Station Heroes and Heroines [Lexington, Ky., 1932], pp. 32, 36).

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