James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Benjamin Bell, 22 December 1817

To Benjamin Bell

Montpellier Decr. 22. 1817


I have but just recd. your letter of the 1st. inst.1 My niece is disposed to part with the land in question; and I shall acquiesce in the sale on the terms to which you refer. It remains with you therefore to come down & close the bargain. Accept my respects

James Madison

Draft (owned by Mike Minor, Kaufman, Tex., 1981).

1Letter not found. Benjamin Bell and William Tapscott of Jefferson County, Virginia (now West Virginia), purchased 3,000 acres of Kentucky land owned by JM and his niece and ward, Nelly Conway Madison Willis, on 10 Apr. 1818. The land was part of a large parcel at Panther Creek purchased in the 1780s by JM and his brother Ambrose. The 1818 sale was for $6,000, with $2,000 to be paid immediately and the rest to follow in two equal annual installments. The down payment was made as promised, but over the succeeding years, despite several dunning letters from JM, only $1,000 of the remaining sum was voluntarily paid. A host of complications ensued. In 1823, Bell informed JM of competing claims on his title to part of the land, though JM was assured by his friend and agent, Hubbard Taylor, that these were not serious and were being used as an excuse for nonpayment. His patience at an end and in dire need of ready money, JM engaged attorney John H. Lee to pursue legal remedies. Lee procured a court judgement against Bell and Tapscott, but the deaths of Tapscott by 1827 and Bell by 1829 drew out the proceedings. A judgement against Bell and Mrs. Tapscott in federal court in 1828, pursued by John J. Crittenden who acted as JM’s attorney, proved equally useless, as did recourse to the chancery court in Daviess County, Kentucky. Finally JM empowered Lee to arrange a settlement with, by now, the widows of Bell and Tapscott, which gave them title to some of the land in exchange for JM’s right to sell the rest for the benefit of himself and Mrs. Willis. This Lee was able to do, and JM and his niece received $1,650 in 1832 and an additional $1,200 in 1833 (Power of Attorney to John H. Lee, 28 Jan. 1828 [Vi: Orange County Courthouse Records]; John J. Crittenden to JM, 17 Nov. 1828 [DLC]; JM to Bell and Tapscott, 19 Jan. 1823, JM to Bell, 22 Apr. 1823, and JM to Tapscott, 29 July 1826 [owned by Charles M. Storey, Boston, Mass., 1961]; Hubbard Taylor to JM, 26 May 1823 [DLC]; John H. Lee to JM, 4 Apr. 1827 [DLC: John J. Crittenden Papers]; Lee to JM, 30 July 1829, Crittenden to JM, 5 Mar. 1830, Lee to JM, 12 Nov. 1830, JM to Lee, 1 Jan. 1831, Lee to JM, 25 Apr. 1831, Aylett Hawes to JM, ca. 18 Mar. 1832, and John J. Coleman to JM, 16 June 1833 [DLC]). For JM’s and Ambrose Madison’s investment in Kentucky lands, see JM to Hubbard Taylor, 15 Nov. 1794, and Memorandum from Hubbard Taylor, 22 Aug. 1794, PJM description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (1st ser., vols. 1–10, Chicago, 1962–77, vols. 11–17, Charlottesville, Va., 1977–91). description ends , 15:377–78 and nn. 1–6, 17:575–76.

Index Entries