James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Rinaldo Elville, 25 June 1812 (Abstract)

§ From Rinaldo Elville

25 June 1812, Bridgeport, Connecticut. Was preparing to travel to France “to follow under the Imperial and Victorious Standard—that road of Glory my Ancestors have trod before me” when the declaration of war was made public. Now considers his own country “to have the prior claim to [his] Services.” Introduces himself as a Virginian of French parents; his father served with Lafayette and Rochambeau and settled in the U.S. after the war. Was trained by his father in “Millittary studies—both in the Theory and the Practise including the Art of Gunnery—Mathematics—and some knowledge of Fortifications” as well as the classics, fencing, riding, geography, and drawing. After his father’s death he went to Europe “and there finished by Practise and Investigation what [he] already so well knew from Theory and intense application.” Knows the geography of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.1 Requests a major’s commission among the troops to be engaged first.2 Asks for 800 dollars for expenses, as compensation for giving up the chance to serve the French emperor and as a reward for the information described in the enclosed dispatch.

RC and enclosure (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, E-67:6). RC 3 pp. For enclosure (signed “Rinaldo Elvini Elville”), see n. 1.

1Elville enclosed a three-page memorandum offering JM his geographical knowledge of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, including roads, passes, strongholds, and advantageous encampment grounds as well as a description of the citadel, redoubts, blockhouses, and advanced posts, “with the best method of supplying the Invading Army with necessy. Stores—conveying of Arttillery and providing Pioneers well acquainted with the Country.” He also claimed to have a “plan for Flying Arttillery in the Winter mounted upon Sleighs so as to convey the Men with the Peice” and information about a “Slow Combustion” weapon that “will burst out and set fire to what is near it” after a delay that would allow the “undertaker of such an Enterprize” to escape. Elville assured JM: “there is no Service which you may Employ me upon but I will undertake or Perish in the attempt.” He reported that he had begun to drill and organize troops in Stratford while waiting for word of a commission. On 29 June Elville wrote to JM again to announce that he had relocated to New York and awaited a response there. Two days later, however, Elville was confined in a debtor’s prison, from which place he sent a note to the British minister demanding money (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, E-67:6; Elville to Foster, 1 July 1812 [DNA: RG 59, LAR, 1809–17, filed under “Elville”]).

2On 3 July 1812 Eustis informed Elville that JM could not recommend a commission to a stranger but would entertain letters of recommendation on his behalf (DNA: RG 107, LSMA).

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