James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Edmund Randolph, 22 March 1781 [1782]

From Edmund Randolph

Bushtown March 22. 1781 [1782]

Dear sir

The roads have been hitherto so bad, that we have been able to accomplish no more of our journey, than about 80 miles. Tomorrow we shall see Baltimore; and unless my arrangements miscarry, I shall revisit Richmond on Sunday se’ennight.

For a few minutes this afternoon I thumbed the body of Maryland laws. In the preface to Bacon’s edition of them, I found a recital of an act of the Lords commissioners &c. on the 4th. of April 1638, asserting the principles of preemption. The cause of this act was, that a Mr. Clayborne had attempted to settle under the title of the Indians within the precincts of Lord Baltimore: and the board absolutely protested against the usurpation.1

Consult too the many laws respecting the Nanticoke and Choptank Indians. Not one of them can be supported but upon the grounds of preemption.2

Betsy begs to be particularly remembered to Mrs. House, Mrs. Trist, Mrs. Jones, Mr. Jones & yourself, and offers her respects to the rest of your family. As for myself, I profess particular regard to the ladies, and wish most sincerely the welfare of the gentlemen. To you, my dear Sir, I subscribe as your friend

E. R.

RC (DLC). Misdated by Randolph. Listed by Peter Force under date of 22 Mar. 1781 (DLC: Madison Miscellany). Subsequently classified by the editors as a 1787 Ms, but upon reexamination the internal evidence clearly establishes 1782 as the correct date. At that time Randolph was representing Virginia in Congress along with JM, Arthur Lee, and Joseph Jones. He left Congress to return to Virginia about 18 Mar. 1782 (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, liii). This letter, written at Bushtown (Harford), near Baltimore, was Randolph’s first to JM after leaving Congress (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (9 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 147 n. 1, 325 n. 1). Randolph mentioned this letter when writing to JM on 11 Apr. 1782 (ibid., IV, 145).

1Randolph was referring to Thomas Bacon, ed., Laws of Maryland at Large … Now First Collected into One Compleat Body, and Published from the Original Acts and Records … (Annapolis, 1765). His information was from a footnote on the second page of Bacon’s preface. Capt. William Cleyborne (Claiborne) claimed an island and some lands near the mouth of the Susquehanna River by virtue of a license from the king to trade with Indians, “in such Places where the sole Trade had not been formerly granted by his Majesty to any other.” This claim was rejected by the Commissioners for Plantations at Whitehall on 4 Apr. 1638. The commissioners declared that the right and title to these lands belonged “absolutely” to Lord Baltimore and “that no Plantation or Trade with the Indians ought to be within the Precincts of Lord Baltimore’s Patent without his Licence, &c.”

2Randolph no doubt consulted the entries in Bacon’s index under “Indians Lands,” which abstracted the laws establishing the boundaries and regulating the sale and purchase of lands appropriated to the Nanticoke and Choptank Indians. The purpose of Randolph’s research remains obscure, but it was evidently related to the defense of Virginia’s claim to western territory, which had recently come under attack in Congress. Shortly after his return to Virginia, the legislature appointed Randolph to a committee “to collect all Documents and Proofs necessary for establishing the Right of this State to it’s Western Territory as stated by the Act of Government in 1776” (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (9 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 90–91 n. 4). The Maryland laws cited by Randolph clearly established that colony’s control over Indian lands within the proprietary grant. Perhaps he meant that this right of preemption also belonged to Virginia and applied to all the territory claimed under her colonial charter. Thus the claims of New York and the land companies, which were based on purchases of Indian lands within the territory claimed by Virginia, were invalid because they had not been authorized by Virginia.

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