George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Michael Madden, 18 January 1790

From Michael Madden

Alexandria [Va.] 18th Janry 1790


My present Situation is so distressing that I Begg leave to Trouble your Excelency to Inform me if there is any probability of the Bankrupt laws being Extended by Congress to all the States in union so as I with maney others in this State who are in like difficultys may have the benefite of it.1

I have langushied in prison bounds for upwards of three years, altho I have tendred to my Creditors all the propperty that I am posessed of in the worald for a release from Confinement to no purpose—and indeed the Insolvant law in this State is at best but a Temporary releiffe as the Creditor at the end of six months may Distress the Dr as often as he may Imagain him to have aquired aney propperty worth his nottice.2

I have a wife3 and three Children Suffring with me in my present Distresed Situation allmost ready to perish if I do not obtain Some Speedy releiffe from Confinement.

Your answer to the above speedily will be a great favour done to Your very Oobedient Hume Servt4

M Madden

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

Michael Madden left Ireland and settled in Virginia before the American Revolution. During the war he served as a private in Col. Nathaniel Gist’s Additional Continental Virginia Regiment in 1777 and later in Capt. John Lucas’s Montgomery County militia company. He removed to Alexandria before 1784 and set up a mercantile business in a shop on Wolfe Street. In 1785 he and GW both held pews in Christ Church (Saffell, Records of the Revolutionary War, description begins W. T. R. Saffell. Records of the Revolutionary War: Containing the Military and Financial Correspondence of Distinguished Officers . . .. New York, 1858. description ends 285; Miller, Artisans and Merchants of Alexandria, description begins T. Michael Miller, comp. Artisans and Merchants of Alexandria, Virginia, 1780–1820. 2 vols. Bowie, Md., 1991–92. description ends 1:313; Slaughter, Truro Parish, description begins Philip Slaughter. The History of Truro Parish in Virginia. Edited by Edward L. Goodwin. Philadelphia, 1908. description ends 97–99).

Madden controlled property in Alexandria, including lots his wife inherited from her father and a parcel granted her by the town in 1765. His financial difficulties probably originated with a £245 note he negotiated with William Sydebotham of Bladensburg, Md., in November 1785, which became due with interest in September 1788. In December 1786 the Maddens mortgaged their new house and lot on Prince Street to Sydebotham to secure the debt. After their default Sydebotham brought suit against Madden in Alexandria Hustings Court and won judgment for the sale of the property, payment of the note, and court costs. Sydebotham died before the decree was executed, and his executors successfully revived the suit against Madden, who again defaulted, and in August 1795 the court sold the property at auction (Munson, Alexandria Hustings Court Deeds, 1783–1797, description begins James D. Munson, comp. Alexandria, Virginia: Alexandria Hustings Court Deeds, 1783–1797. Bowie, Md., 1990. description ends 7, 17, 18, 47, 53, 77, 83, 110, 111, 138–39. 193, 206).

1On 1 June 1789 a House committee was appointed to prepare a bill “to establish an uniform system on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States.” Not until 5 May 1792, however, did Congress pass “An Act for the relief of persons imprisoned for Debt” (DHFC description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends 3:78; 1 Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 265–66).

2The Virginia act for the relief of insolvent debtors passed 13 Dec. 1792 eliminated such actions (13 Hening 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. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends 357, 374–77).

3Madden married Hannah Ramsay, one of five daughters of GW’s cousin Ann McCarty Ball Ramsay (c.1730–1785) and William Ramsay (1716–1785), a founder and prominent citizen of Alexandria and GW’s lifelong friend. Hannah’s sisters were frequent guests at Mount Vernon, and GW contributed financially to the education of their eldest brother, William, Jr. (Papers, Colonial Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series. 10 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1983–95. description ends , 3:413; Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 2:46, 52, 108, 119, 235, 3:81, 227, 238, 312, 4:164, 206, 257, 272, 274, 5:14, 131, 273, 318, 319, 327, 364; Munson, Alexandria Hustings Court Deeds, 1783–1797, description begins James D. Munson, comp. Alexandria, Virginia: Alexandria Hustings Court Deeds, 1783–1797. Bowie, Md., 1990. description ends 193).

4On 27 Jan. Tobias Lear wrote Madden: “The President of the United States has received your letter of the 18th inst.—and directs me to inform you, that it is not in his power to give a decided Answer to your quaere, viz. ‘if there is a probability of the Bankrupt laws being extended by Congress to all the States in the Union’? as this is a subject which depends upon the Legislative body of the United States to decide upon, and therefore an opinion relating to the matter cannot be expected from the Executive” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

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