Envisaging the West: Thomas Jefferson and the Roots of Lewis and Clark


Letter from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington

Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, December 10, 1779
Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress
Thomas Jefferson informs George Washington of a conflict in Congress over reimbursing Colonel Theodrick Bland for expenses incurred at the Barracks at Albemarle. Jefferson encloses important extracts from an act in the Virginia Assembly that ensures land issued to officers, soldiers, and sailors will remain unsettled until the veterans, or their heirs, are able to take possession.

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Williamsburg Dec 10th 1779

I take the liberty of putting under cover to your Excellency some letters to Genl. Phillips & Reidesel uninformed wether they are gone into N. York or not & knowing that you can but forward them in either case.

I also trouble you with a letter form the master of the flag in this State to the British commissary of prisoners in N. York trusting it will thus be more certainly conveyed than if sent to Mr. Adams. It is my wish the British commissary should return his answer through your Excellency or your Commissary of prisoners and that they should not propose under this pretext to send another flag as the mission of the present flag is not unattended with circumstances of suspicioun & of certain information of the situation of ourselves & our allies here might influence the measures of the Enemy. Perhaps your commissary of prisoners can effect the former method of answer. I enclose to you part of an act of Assembly ascertaining the quantity of Land which shall be al lowed

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to the officers and soldiers at the close of the war and providing means of keeping that country vacant which has been allotted for them.

I am advised to ask you Excellenceys attention to the caus of Colo: Bland late commander of the Barracks in Albermarle when that Gentle man was appointed to that command he attended the Executive here & informed them he must either decline it or be supported in such a way as would keep up that respect which was essential to his command without at the same time ruining his private fortune.

The Executive were sensible he would be exposed to great and unavoidable expence: they observed his command would be in a department seperate from any other & that he actually relieved a Majr. General from the same service. They did not think themselves authorized to say what should be done in this case but undertook to represent the matter to Congress and in the mean time gave it as their opinion that he ought to be allowed a decent table. On this he undertook the office & in the course of it incurred expences

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which seemed to have been un avoidable unless he would have lived in a such a way as is hardly reconcilable to the spirit of an officer or the reputation of those in whose service he is. Gov. Henry wrote on the subject to Congress Colo: Bland did the same but we learn they have concluded the allowance to be unprecedented & inadmissible in the case of an officer of his rank. The commissaries on this have called on Colo. Bland for reimbursements. A sale of his estate was about to take place when we undertook to recommend to them to suspend their demand. till we could ask the favor of you to advocate this matter so far with Congress as you may think it right otherwise the ruin of a very worthy Officer must inevitably follow.

I have honour to be with the greatest respect & esteem your Excellency's most obedt. servt. Th: Jefferson His Excellency Genl Washington

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An act for more effectually conveying to the Officers & soldiers of the Virginia line the lands reserved to them & for discouraging present settlements on the south west side of the Ohio river Maps: and for punishing persons attempting to prevent the execution of land office warrants.

Whereas all the lands lying between the Green river Maps: and the Tenissee river from the Alleghany mountains Maps: to the Ohio river Maps: except the tract granted unto Richard Henderson Esq and company have been reserved for the Officers & soldiers of the Virginia line on Continental and State establishment to give them choice of good lands not only for the publick bounty due to them for military service but also in their private adventures as citizens & no persons was allowed by law to enter any of the said lands until they shall have been first satisfied: and it is now represented to the Genl Assembly that some [unclear] persons are notwithstanding settling on the lands so reserved

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whereby the said officers and soldiers may be in danger of losing the preference & benefits intended for them by the Legislature.

Be it enacted by the Genl' Assembly that any person hereafter settling on the lands reserved for the officers & solders as aforesaid or who having already settled thereon shall not remove from the said lands within six months next after the end of the this present session of Assembly, shall forfeit all his or her goods, & chattels ot the Commonwealth; for the recovery of which the Attorney for the state in the county of Kentucky for the time being is here- by required immediately after the expiration of the said term to enter prosecution by way of information in the court of the said county in behalf of the Commonwealth, & on judgement being attained immedeately to issue excon[unclear] & proceed to the sale of such goods and chattels & if the person or persons so prosecuted shall

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refuse to remove from the said lands in those months after prosecution entered by the attorney the attorney shall certify to the Governor the name or names of such persons so refusing to remove, who with the advise of the Council may, & he is hardly required, to issue orders to the Commanding officer, of the said County, or to any other officer in the pay of the State, to remove such person, or persons, or any others that may be settled thereon from off the said lands by force of arms except such as were actually settled prior to the the first day of Jan. 1778. And whereas no law of this Commonwealth has yet ascertained the proportion or quantity of land to be granted at the end of the war to the Officers of the Virginia line on Continental or State establishment or to the Officers of the Virginia navy & doubts may arise respecting the particular quantity of land due to the Soldiers & Sailors from

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the different times of their enlistments.

Be it enacted that the Officers who have served in the Virginia line on Continental establishment or in the navy upon state establishment to the end of the present war: & the non commissioned officers, soldiers & sailors from either of the said establishments their heirs or legal representatives shall respectively be entitled to & receive the proportion & quantities of land felt owing; that is to say, every Colo: five thousand acres every Lieutenant Colonel four thousand five hundred acres every majr four thousand acres every capt three thousand acres every Subaltern two thousand acres every non commissioned officer who having enlisted for the war or who shall have served to the end thereof four hundred acres & every soldier and sailor under the like circumstances one hundred acres every officer of the navy the same quantity of land as an officer of equal

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rank in the army. And provided any officer soldier or sailor shall have fallen or died in the service his heirs or legal representatives shall be entitled to and receive the same quantity of land as would have been due to such officer soldier or sailor respectively had he been living.