Western Lands and the American Revolution

By Thomas Perkins Abernethy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XX
VIRGINIA AND THE WEST, 1782-1783

HAVING made his plans during 1781, Arthur Campbell proceeded during the two succeeding years to agitate for the creation of his new State. On February 19 he had a letter from William Christian in which the matter was discussed at length. The Congressional report of November, 1781, on Western land claims was the motive power for their plan. In that report it was proposed that Congress take over the country beyond the Allegheny watershed and create new States from the territory. Now, there was no precedent for such action, and the proponents of that policy in Congress certainly intended that the central authority should frame the government for the new States and take over the public lands for its own purposes. Campbell and Christian intended to forestall such a proceeding and lead the people in the organization of their own government, which was also to administer the public lands but turn the proceeds over to Congress. Thus would economic and political power be acquired by the local leaders. They proposed to hold an election in March, 1782, for delegates to a convention to meet the next month, consider the Congressional report, and decide what they would do in the circumstances. On April 20, 1782, Campbell received a letter from John Donelson, then in Kentucky, which shows that these two were collaborating in an effort to have the more distant settlements follow a course similar to that which was being pursued in southwestern Virginia.1

The connection of Christian with this movement is interesting. Being brother-in-law to Patrick Henry and closely associated with the Loyal Company interests, one would hardly expect to find him heading a secession movement. And his connection did not last long, for this communication is the only evidence which we have in his case. It is obvious from his letter that his principal desire was to forestall Congressional action when he thought it imminent, but when it became apparent that Congress was not likely to assume control of southwestern Virginia he was no

____________________
1
Christian to Campbell, Feb. 19, 1782, Draper MSS., 9DD32; Donelson to Campbell, April 20, 1782, ibid., 9DD34; C.V.S.P., III, 414; Summers, Southwest Virginia, pp. 391-397.

-258-

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