Alexander Hamilton Papers

Conversation with George Beckwith, 15 June 1791

Conversation with George Beckwith1

June 15th. 1791.

Conversations with a gentleman in Office

Mr. —— I believe I told you during the winter, that Colonel Smith went to England on private business altogether, in part for his Father in Law the Vice President, and he had other personal objects in respect to our funds.2 Whether it was conceived in London that Mr. Smith had political objects there or not, I cannot say, but after certain explanations, he had a conversation of some length with Lord Grenville,3 the general scope of which was pleasing and promising; it placed in a decided light, its being the determination of your Cabinet to enter on the consideration of Commercial subjects between the two Countries, and after declaring that Mr. Elliot had declined his appointment as Minister to this Country,4 his Lordship informed Colonel Smith, that it was the determination of Administration to have a Minister here at a very early period; his Lordship then asked Colonel Smith what sort of Minister would be most pleasing to America? who replied,  5 One part only of this conversation was of a nature to excite some regret, or rather of doubt on our part; Lord Grenville turned the conversation on our present war with the Savages in the Western Country; his Lordship said he was sorry to find from our newspapers, it was more than insinuated that Great Britain indirectly encouraged those depredations; his Lordship disclaimed this in its utmost extent, observing that it had already proved injurious to your Commerce, and if protracted would become infinitely more so; that he hoped the idea of totally extirpating those nations was not seriously entertained in the States as Great Britain could not view this with indifference. Colonel Smith said to this, that those Savages had committed a variety of depredations, and that The States were compelled to make War on them, in their own defence or words to that effect; to which his Lordship replied, he hoped The States would consider of it.

This part of his Lordship’s conversation, is liable to two interpretations; the one, conveys the idea of its being merely the wish of your government, that those hostilities should be brought to a close, as they injure your trade, to a certain extent; the other, goes further and suggests its being your intention to take a certain part in the progress of this business.

I feel no difficulty in declaring it to be my opinion, that it is our interest to make peace with the hostile Indians, whenever we can do it on proper terms, but in the present condition of affairs, we have no other part to take but to proceed, our very safety requires it, and I should feel extremely concerned, if a fair prospect of a happy settlement of the affairs of the Two Countries, should be prevented by a consideration of this comparitively trivial nature.

The conversation6 then turned on a late application from Mr. Key, the Collector of the Customs at Alburgh;7 Mr. —— said, I have received a letter from Mr. Key,8 he had no authority whatever for the application You mention, and I have reason to consider him as one of those busy characters, who are anxious to shew their own consequence;9 I have written to him10 in such terms, as will I trust obviate any sort of inconvenience in the discharge of his duty. I understand that the place fixed upon by law for the Custom house is at least thirty miles from Pointe au fer,11 being situated at the mouth of Onion river; I am not acquainted with the country myself, not have I any plans of it; I expect to hear from Mr. Key in a few days.

Some circumstances relating to the conduct of persons in the neighbourhood of Pointe au fer were then mentioned to Mr. ——12

D, PRO: F.O. description begins Transcripts or photostats from the Public Records Office of Great Britain deposited in the Library of Congress. description ends , Series 4, Vol. 12, Part II.

1This document was enclosed in a letter Beckwith wrote to Lord Grenville, July 31, 1791. An account of the same conversation was forwarded by Lord Dorchester to Grenville on July 27, 1791 (Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario). The two records of the conversation are the same with the exceptions indicated in notes 5 and 6. Although in his letter to Grenville Beckwith identified his informant only as “a gentleman in office,” Dorchester wrote in the margin opposite the remarks of Beckwith’s informant “supposed 7,” the code number for H.

Beckwith also enclosed in his letter to Grenville of July 31, 1791, an account of a conversation which he held with H on July 12. This account has been printed under that date.

4Presumably Andrew Elliot. See H to George Washington, April 11, 1791.

5Beckwith left the space blank in his letter. The account of this conversation which Lord Dorchester forwarded to Grenville on July 27, 1791, supplied the missing words as follows: “His Lordship then asked Colonel Smith, what sort of minister would be most pleasing to this country, who replied, that an English gentleman would be preferred, or words to that effect” (Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa).

6Although the remainder of Beckwith’s conversation with H on this date was not reported by Beckwith in his letter to Grenville, it was included in the account of July 27 which Dorchester forwarded to Grenville (Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa).

7The Senate, meeting in special session in March, 1791, had appointed Stephen Keyes collector of customs at Alburg in northwestern Vermont.

8Letter not found.

9The application mentioned by Beckwith must have been that mentioned in the following summary of a letter from an English official:

“Sends letter from Mr. Keyes, living at Burlington Bay, to which he has deferred giving an answer until he is directed by Lord Dorchester. The place called “Port of Alburgh” is on Caldwell’s Manor and within the post at Dutchman’s Point. Letter enclosed from Keyes, that he had received a commission from the President of the United States as officer of Customs with directions to establish the office at the Port of Alburgh, which is within the British garrison.” (Brymner, Canadian Archives, 1890 description begins Douglas Brymner, ed., Report on Canadian Archives, 1890 (Ottawa, 1891). description ends , 288.)

10Letter not found.

11Section 8 of “An Act giving effect to the laws of the United States within the state of Vermont” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 198 [March 2, 1791]) specified that Alburg was to be the site of the custom house in Vermont.

The post at Pointe-Au-Fer, one of the western posts held by the British in violation of the treaty of peace of 1783, was on Lake Champlain.

12The British were disturbed not only by the establishment of the United States customs house at Alburg but also by the fact that Vermonters had settled on the Chazy River, only eight miles from the post of Pointe-Au-Fer.

Index Entries