Adams Papers

Wilhem & Jan Willink to John Adams, 25 November 1784

From Wilhem & Jan Willink

Amsterdam 25 Nov: 1784.


We apply to your Excellencÿ in behalf of an unfortunate young man, being a Citizen of Massechusetts New England called Sir Jonas Hartwell, who was gone to Spain to settle his affairs, and had received for his account from Boston the Brig remittance Cap: John Ashton loaded chiefly with a cargo of tobacco to the consignation by his absence of Mss. Widow Birmingham, at its arrival Mr. Hartwell came from Bordeaux to Bayonne, went to Bilbao on a business, and was taken by the Inquisitors and carried in to Logroño, all his effects were seised on by this tribunal & Mss. Birmingham compelled to deliver upon oath all his propertÿ, even that she remained creditor to a large sum, his crime should consist, in having been Roman Catholic, he recanted & became a Protestant, this was related to us bÿ Cap: Ashton, who very fortunately sett of, and is arrived here with his ship, we were so struck by this relation, that we directly thought it incumbent to our dutÿ to advice your Excellency thereof, because we could not conceive, how a free Citizen to the united States was liable to be taken as a Subject by His Roman Catholic Majesty’s inquisitors for the Cause of Religion, & this American having no person there, who can claim him, and therefore stranger to every bodÿ should be forced or to forsake his religion, or perhaps suffer death, convinced as we are of your good heart, we dare Confide, your Excellency shall not permit this hardship to one of your Countrÿmen and neighbours, & shall interest himself as He will think most adapted to his situation, we should rejoice, that we had been the cause of his deliverÿ, & that we had contributed to the benefit of one of the subjects to the united States.1

We hope to hear from your Excellencÿ on the subject & that he’ll permit us to remain constantely, / Sir. / Your most Ob: Humble / Servants.

Wilhem & Jan Willink2

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “John Adams Esqr. / Paris.”

1Jonas Hartwell, a Massachusetts merchant who had long resided in Spain and France, was arrested by the Inquisition at Bilbao, imprisoned, and stripped of his property, including $30,000 from the sale of the cargo of tobacco, for speaking contemptuously of Catholicism. Friends of Hartwell alerted the American commissioners to his seizure, and on 15 Oct. Benjamin Franklin wrote to William Carmichael on behalf of JA, Thomas Jefferson, and himself to ask the American chargé d’affaires at Madrid to intercede with Spanish officials to gain Hartwell’s release and the restoration of his effects. Carmichael, who had already begun making inquiries into Hartwell’s situation, used Franklin’s letter as the basis of a memorandum that he addressed to José de Moñino y Redondo, Conde de Floridablanca, Spanish prime minister and foreign minister. Although Carmichael pressed the matter with Floridablanca for months, the Inquisition was not to be rushed. Hartwell died early in the spring of 1785 still in custody (Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789, description begins The Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States of America, from … 1783, to … 1789, [ed. William A. Weaver], repr., Washington, D.C., 1837 [actually 1855]; 3 vols. description ends 3:285–287, 294–295; Franklin, Writings, description begins The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Albert Henry Smyth, New York and London, 1905–1907; 10 vols. description ends 9:275–276; Carmichael to Franklin, 4 April 1785, PPAmP:Franklin Papers).

2JA replied on 11 Dec. 1784 (LbC, APM Reel 107), thanking the Willinks for the information about Hartwell and advising them that the commissioners had already acted on his behalf and expected his release soon. JA further remarked of Hartwell’s difficulties, “it is to be hoped that his Example will deter other Americans from rash Conversions, and then they will be in no Danger of the Indignation of the Inquisition for Supposed Apostacies.”

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