<br /> Lee Letter: n283

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Samuel Purviance, Jr.

Dear Sir,

I thank you for your favor of the 23d of April which I should have answered
before now if I had not been prevented by much business. If zeal in a
good cause may not cover small irregularities or deviations from the
strict line of Office, and regard for the public safety be chained to
the letter of business, I fear such pedantic politics will ruin
America, as they must fatally injure every country where they prevail.
The public of America is a generous public, and when appealed to will
readily distinguish things dictated by the General good tho irregularly
executed, from such as are evil in their nature and merely the
suggestions [of] folly [and] wickedness.1 I
am sure a generous Community will not su[ffer any] person to be
persecuted for the former, nor would I scruple in such a case to say as
of old Provoco ad Populum, and then look the proudest connections in
the face, trusting to the wisdom of the Object & the integrity of
design, notwithstanding the manner might be something unusual.

I find Capt. Nicholsons merit is well understood here, and therefore I hope
he will succeed in his desires.2

You have my congratulations Sir on your marriage,

for I am truly your
friend and obliged humble servant,
Richard Henry Lee


Receiver’s copy, Maryland Historical Society. Addressed: “Samuel Purveyance
Junr. Esqr. of Baltimore in Maryland. Favored by Doctor Bankhead.”

Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 1, 1762 – 1778, pp. 186 – 87.

1 The Maryland Council of Safety had condemned Purviance for his conduct in
the proposed seizure of Governor Eden and had ordered him to appear
before the Maryland Convention to answer for usurping the authority
of the council and the convention. Md. Archives, 11:372 – 82, 388. For
information on Purviance’s role in the Eden affair, see John Hancock
to the Baltimore Committee, April 16, note; and Thomas Johnson to the
Maryland Council of Safety, April 17, 1776. See also Lee to
Purviance, May 6, 1776.

In the midst of this incident, Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, the president
of the Maryland Council of Safety, made a mysterious trip to
Philadelphia, and in a letter of April 30 to Charles Carroll,
Barrister, vice president of the council, he offered a partial
explanation of his activities. “I have been present at two meetings
of our Delegates, (the last I am but this moment returned from,) to
consult upon the principal points to be discussed in Convention, and
the Delegates to attend. There will be another meeting this evening
or to-morrow, when they will be finished and agreed upon. I believe
Mr. Goldsborough and Mr. Johnson will be the Delegates. The points as
to the Governour’s staying, and representation, will be determined, I
think, as you and my brethren would wish, with the latitude of being
varied by the Convention, as circumstances may cast up …. I
have, I think, almost brought R.H.L. to shame. He has the impudence
and assurance of the devil. He at first justified Purviance, and
denied that General Lee had directed the Governour to be seized; and
brought his brother Frank to pledge his honour that the fact was not
so. I concealed from them that I had a copy of the General’s letter
in my pocket, nor do they yet know I have it. I shall this day show
it to some gentlemen that were present when they roundly asserted and
assured me that I had been misinformed.

“Colonel Harrison has written to his friends in the Committee of Safety of
Virginia, that they must apologize to our Council for the insult. We
are highly applauded, in this city, for our spirited conduct in the
late conspiracy, for such I must term it.” Am. Archives, 4th ser.
5:1146 – 47. For a discussion of Jenifer’s visit to Philadelphia and
efforts to obtain information for use in the case against Purviance,
see Ronald Hoffman, A Spirit of Dissension: Economics, Politics, and
the Revolution in Maryland (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1973), pp. 160 – 63.

2 Probably a reference to James Nicholson (1736 – 1804), who on June 6 was
appointed captain of the Continental frigate Virginia, which was
being built in Maryland. JCC, 5:422 – 23.