John Ross to the Commissioners
Nantes 18th Aug: 1778
I did myself the honour to Address You, on the 16th and 23d. Ultimo1 —Not on business of my own but that which Regards the United States, and consistent with the common Rule of Regularity, claimed an Answer long since.
Mr. Delavile holder of Mr. Ceronio’s2 bills applyed to me again by letter, on last Saturday, and the bills being drawn, on public Account, shall be glad to know what Answer am to give the Gentleman.
The United States Stand (in Accounts here) indebted for a large ballance to the house of W[illing] M[orris]: and Co.—which I have represented to you and applyed for to enable me to do something towards their private concerns—but no Answer to this, neither.
The Officers of the Crown in this place, having lately, as I understand, made Sale of all the Furniture, wireing Apparel, and other effects taken out of the house of the late Mr. Thomas Morris, it is incumbent on me, in Name of Robert Morris Esqr. to Notifye Same to Mr. Lee Commercial Agent, through the Honble. Commissioners, under whose Sanctions he represents to have Acted, that he may not plead ignorance of those consequence’s, which his conduct, even with the Authority he was possessed of, has incurred to the Credit, property, and reputation of Men, injured, and insulted by the Exercise of his Power’s.
It gives me pain, I shoud be compeled, to make this a Subject of correspondence so long. Nevertheless, Indifferent and trifleing as the business and Credit of W[illing]: M[orris] and Co. may appear to your Honors or to the Man of business acting as Commercial Agent, and however much the Powers am possesed of, have been despised and rejected by the Honble. Gentlemen; who gave Sanction to Mr. Lee’s assumed exercise of a dareing unpresidented Power, I hold myself justifiable to communicate what occurrs, to the prejudice of my absent friends in this business, untill some other Person are invested with such power’s as merit the Attention of the Representatives of America.3 I have the honour to be with all due respect Honble. Gentlemen Your very obedient Serv.
Jno. Ross Esq.
RC (MH-H: Lee Papers); docketed, not by JA: “August 18th. 1778.”
1. Not found.
2. Mr. Delavile remains unidentified, but the bills were those of Joseph Ceronio of Genoa, who had been the agent of Willing, Morris, & Co. at Cape Francois since at least May 1776 (Papers of Robert Morris, ed. E. James Ferguson, Pittsburgh, 1973–, 1:172).
3. A dispute over the papers of Thomas Morris that had begun with his death on 31 Jan. accounts for the tone and contents of Ross’ letter. Because of the operation of the droit d’aubaine, the Commissioners, and Ross at the time, thought it advisable to get an order from the French government to take possession of Morris’ papers. Because William Lee and Morris had held a joint appointment to manage American commercial affairs in Europe, Lee, after obtaining the French order, went to Nantes to receive the papers and separate the portion concerning public business from that relating to Willing, Morris, & Co., with which both Morris and Ross were associated. Ross and Silas Deane, with whom Lee exchanged numerous letters on the matter, were apprehensive about the possible examination of the Willing, Morris & Co. papers by Lee; both would have preferred to have Ross authorized to make whatever inventory was needed. When Lee reached Nantes their fears were realized, for he went through all the papers and, claiming that Ross’ refusal to cooperate made any division impossible, sealed the trunk containing the papers and sent it to Paris, where, after some disagreement, it was placed under the care of Benjamin Franklin. Ross was probably informed that it could not be delivered to him without proper authorization. On 4 Sept., at the request of Robert Morris, the congress ordered the Commissioners to deliver the trunk to Morris or his agent—in this case almost certainly John Ross (Deane Papers description begins Papers of Silas Deane, 1774–1790, in New-York Historical Society, Collections, Publication Fund Series, vols. 19–23, New York, 1887–1891; 5 vols. description ends , 2:344–346 and passim; in particular see Ross’ letter to Deane of 3 March and Franklin’s to Ross, apparently not sent, of 26 April; JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 12:879). For another letter on the same subject and in essentially the same tone, see Ross to the Commissioners, 8 Oct. (ViU: Lee Papers).