James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Francis Mercer, 14 November 1799

From John Francis Mercer

West River,1 14th. Nov. 1799.

My dear Sir

It is unnecessary for me to suggest the pain I feel that a renewal of a correspondence which always afforded me the highest satisfaction shoud now arise from so great a delinquency on my part. I did hope that you woud not have had occasion to remind me of the claim your friendship gave rise to,2 but my own imprudencies & those of a very near Relative, have in spite of all my exertions kept me in a state bordering on bankruptcy for the best part of my life.

An Accession of property chiefly of a nature not easily convertible into Money has not remov’d my embarrassments, & I have been oblig’d to make arrangements for the renting out of the greatest part of my Lands in Virginia & the sale of a proportion of the personal property on them. The renting of the Lands I have accomplish’d to my satisfaction—but to place me in that state of ease & independance, which it woud be unpardonable in me longer to forego, when ample means are in my power, I must notwithstanding the repugnance you will suppose, sell a parcel of human beings who have been born & bred in the family & on the soil which they will leave with the greatest reluctance. I have ad[v]ertis’d them & other property for vendue on the 10th of December, & soon after that period, (say by the 20th) I shall make you a remittance to Richmond & hope that may be made to answer Your engagements. If I do not remit the whole you may rely that I will remit all that circumstances will then permit—& that the Ballance shall not remain long unpaid. I make this reserve as I sell for half Cash, half notes at 6 Months. You will allow me to arrange the matter of Interest & you will not be dissatisfied with the settlement.

Next to the pleasure of seeing you, that of hearing from you will at all times greatly interest me, & when I make a tender of my respects to your lady she will permit me to add those of Mrs Mercer, altho’ we are both unknown to her, yet we sincerely wish her happiness And we shall feel the greatest satisfaction in seeing you both at our Mansion. Truly My dear Sir I am your sincere friend & Servt.

John F. Mercer

RC (DLC). Addressed by Mercer to JM “near Orange Court House. via Fredericksburg.” Marked “Annapolis Nov. 18,” “Orange Ct. He. 1st Decr. 99,” and in the hand of James Madison, Sr., “now in Richmond, & to be forwarded to him there.” Docketed by JM.

1Mercer, who had moved from Virginia to Maryland in 1785, had settled on West River Farm, a plantation in Anne Arundel County owned by his wife (Papenfuse, Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 2:594).

2Letter not found. Evidently JM wrote to collect a longstanding debt (see Receipt of John Francis Mercer, 11 Oct. 1783, PJM description begins Robert J. Brugger et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Secretary of State Series (1 vol. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1986—). description ends , 7:373 and n. 1).

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