« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
A FRENCH FLEET REQUIRED.
daily exposed to destruction ; they see with what facility the British troops are removed from one part of the continent to another, and with what infinite charge and fatigue ours are too late obliged to follow. If our allies had a superior feet here I should have very little doubt of a favorable issue to the war, but without it I fear we are deceiving both them and ourselves in expecting we shall be able to keep our people much longer firm in so unequal an opposition to Great Britain. Would it not be wise and honest to lay this matter candidly before them, and with decent firmness explain how much our mutual interest requires a fleet upon the American coast superior to that of our common enemy.
I have mentioned to you my thoughts upon these very interesting subjects, trusting that the motives upon which I act (the good of our country) will induce you to pardon such a liberty in a private gentleman and render any further apology unnecessary. Ill health hindering my attendance at Richmond upon the last session of the Assembly prevents my knowing which of the Virginia delegates are now in Congress, otherwise I should only have wrote to one or two of the members, instead of addressing myself to the delegates in a letter which from the superscription may appear to have the air of an official one. I have the honor to be with the greatest respect, gentlemen, Your most obedient servant,
G. MASON. April 20.-P. S. Since the above letter was wrote, several of the enemy's ships have been within two or three miles of Alexandria ; they have burned and plundered several houses and carried off a great many slaves ; though I have hitherto been fortunate enough to lose no part of my property.'
The members of the Ohio Company proposed at this time to make another effort with the Virginia Assembly to secure their lands. Robert Carter of “Nomini” wrote to a friend,
, on this subject, April 14th:
" It is said that the House of Delegates rejected the Company's claim because their works of survey were returned by a surveyor
I Madison MSS., State Department.
[Hancock Lee] not legally appointed. Nevertheless that session established some officers' claims whose works of survey were returned by surveyors acting under no better authority than the surveyor appointed by the Ohio Company. It is expected that these cases will be relied on as precedents and the claims of the Ohio Company will be revived. This matter is of a joint concern, therefore the parties must join in presenting a petition which I apprehend should be done this approaching session, and I purpose to make some movement therein."
He accordingly wrote to Colonel Mason on the uth of May, suggesting such action, and he adds. “If this idea should be approved on and a petition shall be prepared and presented, pray have my name inserted therein for two fortieth parts, I having purchased two shares of the late Mr. Augustine Washington and Mr. Gawin Corbin, members of the Ohio Company."
The American troops, under Lafayette, Steuben, and Wayne, were in Virginia, in the spring of 1781, for the purpose of repelling the invasion of the enemy; and an act of the Assembly, authorizing the seizure of cattle for the use of the army, to supply them with provisions, was put in operation, causing some dissatisfaction. George Mason thought that the commissioners were carrying out this law in a manner that would inflict needless injury on the people and alienate them from the cause of patriotism, and he wrote to Jefferson, then governor of the State, calling his attention to the matter.
FAIRFAX COUNTY, GUNSTON HALL,
May 14th, 1781. SIR,
The order for seizing live cattle for the supply of the army is like to produce much confusion and oppression in this part of the country from the vague, and (as I apprehend) illegal instructions of Mr. Brown to his deputies, who are acting very differently in the different counties, according to each man's interpretation of instructions which no man understands. This, if not timely
LETTER TO JEFFERSON.
prevented by clear and precise orders from the executive, will in many instances occasion lawsuits, and in some, most probably, violence. The instructions I have seen from Mr. Brown direct his deputies to take a tenth part of every man's stock. The true construction of this I take to be a tenth part of every man's stock, in quantity and quality. But it would be a wanton waste of cattle, In some counties they estimate the value of a man's whole stock, and take the tenth part of that value, in beef cattle. In other counties (particularly in this) the deputy commissary thinks himself authorized to take in beef cattle the tenth part of the number of each man's stock, which would generally be near half of the value of the whole. And as, upon the common average of stocks, there is not a tenth part of them beef cattle, if the measure was to be executed throughout the State in this manner, every family would be left without beef, tallow, or leather for the ensuing year ; the quantity of cattle immediately taken would be enormous, not less, upon a moderate computation, I conceive than forty or fifty thousand beeves, and there would not be a beef left to supply the army another campaign. The only laws I know of upon which this power of seizure is founded are the two acts passed in the last May session, one “for procuring a supply of provisions and other necessaries for the army," empowering the governor and council to appoint commissioners for seizing certain enumerated articles at fixed prices, and the other an act for giving further powers to the Governor and Council,” extending the powers given by the former act to the obtaining so many live cattle as may be wanted for supplying the militia or other troops, to be valued and appraised by two disinterested persons upon oath &c; provided always that not more than one half of the bullocks and barren cows belonging to any person, fit for slaughter, shall be subject to such seizure. These two acts are continued by a subsequent session, with only an augmentation of the prices enumerated in the first act, occasioned by the depreciation of money in the meantime. But I think nothing is therein said about the price of live cattle, it being unnecessary as the price had not been ascertained by the former acts, and the cattle were to be appraised at the time of seizure. The words fit for slaughter can hardly be literally conformed to at this season of the year, and may reasonably be extended to such cattle as are fit to fatten for slaughter. But certainly the power is limited to the half of such cattle belonging to any such person, and any commissary presuming to exceed it will act contrary to law, and distress the people unnecessarily, as the one half of such cattle will afford more than an ample supply. There are also doubts with respect to draught oxen, which I am sure it was not the intention of the legislature to seize for beef, nor do they come within the description of the law. The people might as well have their waggon or plough horses taken from them as their draught oxen.
Another subject of dispute is the price of cattle. By a vote of both houses in November last the executive is empowered to pursue such measures as to them appear practicable and effectual for the laying in such quantity of beef and salt as shall be necessary for supplying the army, allowing for grass beef 24 / per pound and for salt £70 per bushel. And although from the whole tenor and style of the said vote, it is evident that it relates only to the supply of the army during the then slaughter season, and not at all to the powers, prices or valuations described in the before mentioned acts, yet some of the deputy commissaries apply it to the present seizure of live cattle, and instead of appraisement, the weight is judged by two men upon oath, and certificates given at 24 / per pound, for which they say they have late instructions. In some counties the judges fix this at what they think the nett weight of the cattle in their present poor condition ; in other counties at what they think would be the nett weight if the cattle were fat and fit for slaughter, or what they would weigh in the slaughter season next fall, as in the mean time they would not cost their owners a penny. A grass bullock which would have weighed 400 last November, will not at this time weigh 200 pounds, so that in some counties the people will get less that half what their neighbors receive, or of the real value of their cattle, besides the loss by depreciation since last November. The commissary in this and some other counties is, by these difficulties, prevented from proceeding, whereupon I promised to lay the matter before your Excellency and the council, and to communicate to them the result. Sensible of the important objects in which the time of the executive is now taken up,
I should not have troubled them with this, if I did not foresee that the purposes of the law will be in a great measure defeated, and
RAIDS OF THE ENEMY.
great confusion ensue, unless prevented by speedy and precise instructions to the deputy-commissaries so as to put their business upon a just and equal footing.
The people in this part of Virginia are well disposed to do everything in their power to support the war, but the same principles which attach them to the American cause will incline them to resist injustice or oppression. I would further beg leave to suggest that it might be better to take now only such a number of cattle as are wanted for immediate use, and suffer the others to remain longer on their own pastures, where at this season of the year they will thrive faster, upon grass alone, than fed with corn, collected in numbers in strange pastures, and a great expense be saved to the public. It will be necessary also to order that the cattle be collected in places out of the reach of the enemy, when the situation of the county will admit it. I am led to mention this last circumstance from my knowing that the place pitched upon in this county is so near the river that a party from a single vessel might carry off the cattle in two or three hours, although a considerable part of the county is out of the reach of the enemy, except in great force.
I beg the favor of an answer by the first post, or other safe conveyance, and remain with the greatest respect, Sir, your most obedient humble servant,
G. MASON. His Excellency, Thomas Jefferson, Esq. :
Governor of Virginia.'
The raids of the enemy along all the navigable waters of Virginia were constant at this period, and the residents on the Potomac, among the rest of this exposed class of the population, were in a continual state of alarm. Col. Henry Lee, father of Henry Lee, the young lieutenant-colonel of cavalry, was the county lieutenant of Prince William, and in a letter to Governor Jefferson of the 9th of April, he tells of a small schooner which a few days before had gone up to Alexandria, the raiders stealing negroes and burning houses
"MS. Letter published in American Historical Record, p. 231. Edited by B. J. Lossing.