Date: 14 December 1820
No. 538. [2d SESSION.
LOSS OF PROPERTY AT VALLEY FORGE.
COMMUNICATED TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, ON THE 20TH DECEMBER, 1820.
Mr. RHEA made the following report:
The Committee on Pensions and Revolutionary Claims, to whom, on the 14th of December, 1820, was referred the petition of Sarah Dewees, of Chester county, Pennsylvania, and others, heirs of the late William Dewees, have had the same under consideration, and report thereon:
The petitioners state that, at the commencement of the revolutionary war, the said William Dewees was the proprietor of the estate known by the name of the Valley Forge, in Chester county, Pennsylvania; that, in September, 1777, after the British army had landed at the head of Elk river, and were on their march to Philadelphia, General Mifflin, then quartermaster general, ordered the greater part of the provisions and military stores belonging to the main army to be deposited in the houses of the petitioners, contrary to the consent of the then proprietor, and that the loss of the battle of Brandywine produced the entire destruction of the property above mentioned by the enemy a few days after that event; that, in the winter of 1777 and 1778, General Washington established his head-quarters at the Valley Forge, and remained there for more than six months, by which (as the petitioners state)
the whole of the timber belonging to the estate was also totally destroyed; that, in June, 1783, an appraisement was, on oath, made of the property destroyed by the enemy at the sum of 3,404l 3s. 4d. equal to $8,678 33, and the wood destroyed at 300l or $800, and that these accounts were submitted to the Board of Treasury about the year 1784 or 1785.
The petitioners, in their said petition, enumerate and state various applications to Congress for indemnification
on account of said losses previous to the session of Congress in the year 1818, at which session they state that Congress granted to them $8,000.
The petitioners state that they now again approach your honorable body under a firm and sincere belief that if Congress will review this case they will not themselves be of opinion that all has been done which justice, honor, and magnanimity might seem to require.
The petitioners state that they are aware of the terms of the act under, which the above-mentioned relief was
granted, but that they feel equally confident that Congress will never suffer themselves to be restrained by any phraseology, however clear, if it should militate against their justice.
The committee, in the examination of the case of the petitioners, have had recourse to the act of Congress
alluded to in the petition of the said petitioners, and observe that, on the 11th day of April, in the year 1818, was
approved an act of Congress entitled " An act for the relief of Sarah Dewees, relict and widow of William Dewees,
deceased, and the heirs and legal representatives of the said William Dewees," as follows:
" SEC. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That there be paid to Sarah Dewees, relict of Colonel William Dewees, and the heirs and legal representatives of the said Colonel William Dewees, deceased, the sum of eight thousand dollars in full of all claims the estate of the said deceased may have against the United States for the loss of property owing to its being taken for public use, and that the said sum be paid out of any money in the treasury not otherwise appropriated.
The said sum of money the petitioners are presumed to have received, and they did receive it with complete knowledge of the terms of the said act of Congress, and did receive it in full of all claims the estate of the said deceased had against the United States for the loss of property as in said act mentioned. The committee, in the examination of this claim set up by the petitioners against the United States, have had recourse, to the journals of the Congress of the Revolution, and observe that, on the 3d of June, 1784;Congress, on report of a committee, resolved, " That, according to the laws and usages of nations, a State is not obliged to make compensation for damages done to its citizens by an enemy, or wantonly and unauthorized by its own officers; yet humanity requires that some relief should be granted to persons who by such losses are reduced to indigence and want; and as the circumstances of such sufferers are best known to the States to which they belong, it is the opinion of the committee
that it be referred to the several States (at their own expense) to grant such relief to their citizens who have been injured as aforesaid as they may think requisite; and, if it shall hereafter appear reasonable that the United States should make any allowance to any particular States who may be burdened much beyond others, that the allowanceought to be determined by Congress; but that no allowance be made by the commissioners for settling accounts for any charges of that kind against the United States;" and at the same time Congress resolved " That such compensation as the commissioner may think reasonable be made for wood, forage, or other property of individuals takenby order of any proper officer, or applied to or used for the benefit of the army of the United States, upon producing to him satisfactory evidence thereof by the testimony of one or more disinterested witnesses."
This committee further report that the late William Dewees could, in pursuance of said resolution, have applied to the State of Pennsylvania (in which State he lived) for indemnification for damages alleged to have been sustained by destruction of his property by the enemy, where and at a time when these matters were more fully known,together with all attending circumstances; it appearing that he lived many years after the destruction of said property, as alleged, by the enemy; that, if he did not, in pursuance of said resolution, apply to the State of Pennsylvania for compensation for said alleged damages, it was in his own wrong, by his own neglect; and that, therefore, his representatives can have no just claim against the United States.
The petitioners state that General Washington, in the winter of 1777 and 1778, established his winter quarters at the Valley Forge, and remained there for more than six months, by which the whole of the timber belonging to the estate was also totally destroyed. On this subject the committee believe that William Dewees ought, if he did not, to have, in pursuance of the resolution alluded to, applied to the commissioner mentioned in that resolution for compensation for the alleged destruction of timber on his estate, who was empowered to make reasonable compen sation for the same, on evidence satisfactory to him; that, if William Dewees did not take the benefit of the provision of that resolution, it was his own 'neglect; and, therefore, his representatives cannot have any just claim for the same against the United States.
By the resolutions alluded to, it appears that Congress directed application to be made to the States, respectively, for compensation for damages done by the enemy to the property of individuals in the time of the revolutionary war, and that application was to be made to the commissioner for compensation for wood, forage, or other property of individuals, taken by order of any proper officer, or applied to or used for the benefit of the United States.
The petitioners allege that William Dewees, in his lifetime, and they since his decease, have been at great expense and trouble in prosecuting said claim against the United States; but William Dewees, in his lifetime, might have applied to the State of Pennsylvania for compensation for damages done by the enemy, and to the commissioner for compensation for timber alleged to have been destroyed. The petitioners have received eight thousand dollars in full of all claims the estate of William Dewees, deceased, may have against the United States for the loss of prop erty, owing to its being taken for public use. On a full view and consideration of this case of the petitioners, the committee are of opinion that the petitioners have not any just claim against the United States; and therefore submit the following resolution:
Resolved, That the prayer of the petitioners ought not to be granted.
MARCH 14, 1817.
We, the subscribers, being inhabitants of Chester county, in the State of Pennsylvania, being called upon by the widow and heirs of Colonel William Dewees, deceased, do certify and declare as follows: That we have been inhabitants and residents of that part of the county situate from three to five miles of the Valley Forge, in the said county, for the period of more than forty years; that we are, and always have been, well acquainted with the said estate, owned at the time of its destruction by the British army by the said William Dewees; that we have already certified our opinion of the appraisement formerly made by Benjamin Bartholomew and John Pawling, esquires, now deceased, of the value of the property destroyed by the enemy in the year 1777, and amounting to the sum of £3,404 3s. 4d.; the original papers and vouchers relative to this claim having, as we understand and have been informed, been destroyed in the conflagration of the Capitol, in the year 1814. We do further certify, for the causes aforesaid, that, on the arrival of General Washington at the Valley Forge, in the year aforesaid, he encamped on the land of the said Dewees, as well as on the lands of others, a considerable proportion of which was in wood; that the American army cut down the same, and used it for the purpose f building huts, for fuel, &c.; that the quantity of land, being in wood and belonging to the said William Dewees, amounted to about one hundred and fifty acres; and that the value of the timber at the time of its destruction was worth the sum of forty shillings per acre, or thereabouts.