Alexander Hamilton Papers

Treasury Department Circular to the Collectors of the Customs, [13–16] May 1793

Treasury Department Circular
to the Collectors of the Customs1

Treasury Department, May [13–16] 1793


It being necessary in the present state of War among the principal European powers, that all ships and vessels belonging to the citizens of the United States, should be furnished as soon as possible with sea letters, for their more perfect identification and security, you will find within this inclosure  2 copies of two several documents of that kind, signed by the President of the United States, and undersigned by the Secretary of the Department of State, which have been received from that Department for the purpose of being transmitted to the several Custom-houses. One of each of these letters is to be delivered to every ship or vessel, being actually and bona fide, the property of one or more citizens of the United States, after the captain shall have duly made oath to the effect, and according to the tenor of the certificate printed under that which is in Dutch and English, the substance and purport of which oath is comprised in the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th, lines of the said printed certificate. To this the captain is to be duly sworn before some officer qualified to administer oaths, such as a justice of the peace, an alderman, or any superior judicial officer, preferring the Mayor, chief Burgess, or other officer (if any there be) who is the chief Magistrate of the city, town or borough in which the issuing Custom-house is situated. The certificate is then to be signed by the Magistrate, and the public seal (or if he has no public one his private seal) is to be affixed. The blanks are to be filled up, both in the English and in the Dutch copies of the sea letter, by the Collector, and in both the English and Dutch copies of the certificate by the Magistrate or Judge.3 The English language may be used in filling the blanks in both the English and Dutch papers. The blanks in the two papers vary, owing to a little difference in the words which bound them. This is produced by the want of a perfect similarity between idiom of our language and that of the Dutch; wherefore the following instruction to fill the Dutch copy is to be precisely followed, in regard both to the sea letter, and the certificate annexed thereto.

The first blank after the word “aen” and before the word “schipper” is to be filled with the name of the Captain, (say John Thomas, or whoever may be the Captain.)

The second, after “genaamt” and before “van de” with the name of the vessel, (say the Juno, or whatever may be the name of the vessel.)

The third, after “van de” and before “van” is to be filled up with the word “port.”

The fourth, after “van” and before “groot” is to be filled with the name of the port to which the vessel belongs (say Philadelphia, or whatever may be the port in the United States.) This, in the case of American built ships, is always painted on their sterns.

The fifth, after “groot” and before “tonnen” is to be filled with the number of tons in the vessel’s certificate of Registry, (say 150, or whatever may be her measurement.)

The sixth, after “haaven van” and before “gedestineert” is to be filled with the port of the United States in which the vessel is at the time, which will be the port of   in which you (the issuing Collector) have authority.

The seventh, after “naar” and before “en” is to be filled with the port of destination (say Cadiz, or whatever it may be.)

The eighth, after “met” and before “omte” is to be filled with the names of the articles composing the cargo (such as flour, pickled fish, tobacco, staves, boards, and bricks, or whatever the lading of the vessel may consist of.) You will be careful to include each species of article, the design being to exhibit to the belligerent powers such articles as by the laws of War are deemed contraband; and the Government being desirous to act fairly in this particular. Indeed the safety of the vessel and other parts of the cargo will probably require exactness in this particular.

The ninth, after “door” and before “tot” with your own name and style of office, viz. Collector of the Customs.

The tenth, after “tot” and before “den” with the name of your port, viz.

The eleventh, after “den” and before “dag van” with the day of the month on which you shall issue the sea letters respectively.

The twelfth, after “dag van” and before “en” with the name of the month in which you shall issue the said sea letters.

The thirteenth, after “en” and before “negentig” with the word “three.”

Below the signature of the President, and likewise below the undersigning of the Secretary of State, you are to write the word “countersigned” and to add your name thus—Countersigned

The blanks in the English copy of the sea letter will be filled substantially with the same names of vessels and persons, dates of time and place, &c. though some parts of the mere wording will vary a little from the difference in the nature of the two languages, as before observed.

The blanks in the certificate remain to be noticed.

The first of those blanks after the word “stad” and before the word “te,” is to be filled with the word “of” and with the name of the city, town, or borough, whose chief or other Magistrate administers the oath, and in which place the issuing collector’s office is situated, namely

The second, after “schipper” and before “van,” with the name of the Captain, “John Thomas,” or as in the sea letter.

The third, after the word “van” and before the word “voor,” with the name of the place to which the vessel may belong, and which (if she be a registered vessel) is always painted on her stern.

The fourth, after “genaamd” and before “groot,” with the vessel’s name, (Juno), or as mentioned in the sea letter.

The fifth, after “omtrent,” and before “lasten,” with a number equal to half the number of tons, the Dutch last being equal to two of our tons. Thus, for the vessel mentioned in the sea letter, the blank would be filled with “seventy five.”

And, the sixth and last blank, being that after the last word “den,” in the printed certificate, will be filled with the same words, which will follow the word “of,” at the end of the English copy, which written words will mention what public seal (or private one) is affixed to the certificate. The manner of filling the blanks in the other sea letter, that which is in French and English, will be indicated by what precedes and follows in each case. You will only observe, that in the French counterpart, the word “navire” is in each case used for “vessel,” while in the copy in English a blank is left, wherever that word is used in the French, to be filled with the denomination of the particular kind of vessel, as whether ship, brig, snow, sloop, &c. &c.

You will be pleased particularly to observe, that these sea letters are to be issued to all vessels, bound to foreign ports, which are, really and bona fide, wholly the property of one or more citizens of the United States, including those which are registered as ships built in the said States, and foreign built ships owned on the 15th of May, 1789, by the citizens thereof, and foreign built ships, since actually and truly acquired by the said citizens.

No vessel in which any foreigner is interested wholly, or even in part, directly, or indirectly, either by holding the legal title to her, or by any trust, or other device, is entitled to the benefit of one of these documents; and you will take the most especial care to prevent deceptions and collusions in that respect.

Some delay has necessarily arisen in making the arrangements of so nice, new, and important a business.

You will acknowledge the receipt of all the sea letters you shall receive from time to time, and you will keep a record thereof, and of your disposition of them, shewing the names of the vessels, (with their masters and owners) for which they were issued, the ports of the United States to which the vessels shall belong, the date at which you issue them, the officer before whom the Captains shall be sworn, the burdens or tonnage of the vessels, and the ladings on board them. Of these you will be pleased to make an abstract by way of return, up to the last day of every revenue quarter, and to transmit the same to this Office, with a note of the sea letters, received and issued during such quarter, and of the quantity remaining on hand.

These documents being of great importance to the United States, not only as they regard the benefits to be derived from a state of peace by the owners, navigators and builders of ships, but also as they affect the importation of our supplies, and the exportation of our produce at peace charges, you will execute the business in relation to them with proportionate circumspection and care.

I am, Sir,   With consideration,   Your obedient servant,

A Hamilton

LS, dated May 14, 1793, to Otho H. Williams, Office of the Secretary, United States Treasury Department; copy, dated May 16, 1793, to Nathaniel Fosdick, RG 56, Letters to and from the Collector at Portland, National Archives; copy, dated May 16, 1793, to Nathaniel Fosdick, RG 56, Letters to Collectors at Small Ports, “Set G,” National Archives; copy, dated May 13, 1793, to John Lamb, Bureau of Customs, Philadelphia; copy, dated May 13, 1793, to John Lamb, RG 56, Circulars of the Office of the Secretary, “Set T,” National Archives; copy, dated May 13, 1793, to John Lamb, United States Finance Miscellany, Treasury Circulars, Library of Congress; copy, dated May 13, 1793, to John Lamb, Office of the Secretary, United States Treasury Department; copy, dated May 14, 1793, to Otho H. Williams, RG 56, Circulars of the Office of the Secretary, “Set T,” National Archives. Copies of this circular were also issued from the office of the commissioner of the revenue over the signature of Tench Coxe (LS, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress).

1For background to this letter, see Thomas Jefferson to H, May 8, 1793; H to Jefferson, May 9, 1793.

2In the original documents, words pertinent to the particular collector to whom each circular was sent were inserted in the spaces left blank in the MS.

3The form for the certificate and sea letter, with the blanks filled in by Joseph Hiller, collector of customs at Salem, Massachusetts, is printed below. The material supplied by Hiller is indicated by italics.

“DOEN TE WEETEN dat by deezen vryheiden permissie gegeeven werd aen Herbert Woodberry Schipper en Bevelhebber van het Schip (of vaartuig:) genaamt Leopard van de Port van Salem groot 156 Tonnen of daar omtrent, leggende teegenswoordig in de Haaven van Salem gedestineert naar West Indies en beladen met Dry Goods Candles, Lumber Fish & Soap omte vertrekken, en met zyn voornoemd Schip of vaartuig deszelfs gemelde reize voort te zetten, zodanig Schip of Vaartuig gevisiteert zynde, en de voornoemde Schipper of Bevelhebber onder Eede, voor den daar toe gestelden officier verklaart hebbende dat het gemelde Schip of vaartuig aan een of meerder onderdanen, volk, of Ingezeetenen van de Vereenigde Staaten van America, toebehoort, enaan hem (of hun:) alleen. “BE IT KNOWN, That leave and permission, are hereby given to Herbert Woodberry master or commander of the Brigantine called Leopard of the burthen of one hundred fifty six tons or thereabouts, lying at present in the port of Salem bound for West Indies and laden with Dry Goods Candles, Lumber, Fish & Soap to depart and proceed with his said Brigantine on his said voyage, such Brigantine having been visited, and the said Herbert Woodberry having made oath before the proper officer, that the said Brigantine belongs to one or more of the citizens of the United States, and to him or them only.
In Getuigenis Waar Van ik deese teegenswoordige met myne naam hebbe onderteekent, en het Zeegel van onse Veereenigde Staaten van America daar aan gehegt, en bet Zelve doen contrasigneeren door Joseph Hiller Collector of the Customs tot Salem den 18 dag van June in het yaar van onzes Heeren Christi, een duysend seven hondert en three negentig. In Witness Whereof, I have subscribed my name to these Presents, and affixed the Seal of the United States of America thereto, and caused the same to be countersigned by Joseph Hiller, Collector of the Customs at Salem the eighteenth day of June in the Year of our Lord Christ, one thousand seven hundred and ninety three.
Go: Washington
By the President
Thomas Jefferson
Countersigned.   Jos. Hiller
“ALDER Doorluchtigste, Doorluchtigste, Doorluchtige, Grootmachtigste, Grootmachtige, Hoogh ende welgeboorne, wel Edele, Erentfeste, Acht baare, wyze, voorsienige, Heeren, Keizeren, Koningen, Republiquen, Princen, Fursten, Hertogen Graeven, Baronnen, Heeren, Burgemeesteren, Scheepenen, Raden, mitsgaders, Rechteren, Officieren, Justicieren ende, Regenten aller goede steeden en plaatzen, het zy geestelyke ofwaereldlyke die deeze opene Letteren zullen sien ofte hooren leezen: Doen wy Burgemeesteren en Regeerders der Stad of Salem te weeter dat Schipper Herbert Woodberry van Salem (voor ons compareerende) by solemneelen Eede verklaart heeft, dat het schip genaamd Leopard groot omtrent Seventy Eight lasten t’welk hy thans voert in de Verenigde Staaten van America t’huys behoort, en dat geen onderdaanen vandenteegenwoordige oorlogende moogendheeden daar in direct of indirect eenig deel of gedeeite hebben: Soo waarlyk helpen hem God Almagtig: En terwyl wy den voorz. Schipper gaarne gevorderd zagen in zyne wettigen zaaken zoo is ons verzoek, aan alle voornoemde en een yder in’t byzonder alwaar den voornoemde schipper, met zyn schip en lading aankomen zal hem alle bystand gelieven te verleenen, en behoorlyk te behandelen vergunnende hem ophet betaalen der gewoonlyke Toolen en ongelden in het heen en weeder vaaren der havenen stroomen en gebied te laaten passeeren vaaren en frequenteeren, omme zyn handel te dryven alwaar en in wat manner hy zig zal geraadenvinden en best oordeelen zal, war aan wy ons gaarne willen schulig agten.
   “Des t’oirconde hebben het zelve bekragtigt met het zegel van den.
   “the said Justice Isaac Osgood.
“MOST Serene, Serene, most Puissant, Puissant, High, Illustrious, Noble, Honourable, Venerable, wise and prudent, Lords, Emperors, Kings, Republics, Princes, Dukes, Earls, Barons, Lords, Burgomasters, Schepens, Counsellors, as also Judges, Officers, Justiciaries and Regents of all the good cities and places, whether Ecclesiastical or Secular, who shall see these patents, or hear them read. We Issac Osgood Justice of the Peace make known, that the master of the Brigantine Leopard appearing before us, has declared upon oath, that the vessel, called the Leopard of the burthen of about one hundred & fifty six tons, which he at present navigates, is of the United States of America, and that no subjects of the present belligerent powers have any part or portion therein, directly nor indirectly, so may God Almighty help him. And, as we wish to see the said master prosper in his lawful affairs, our prayer is, to all the before mentioned, and to each of them separately, where the said master shall arrive, with his vessel and cargo, that they may please to receive the said master, with goodness, and to treat him in a becoming manner, permitting him, upon the usual tolls and expences, in passing and repassing, to pass, navigate, and frequent the ports, passes and territories, to the end to transact his business, where, and in what manner he shall judge proper: Whereof we shall be willingly indebted.
   “In Witness and for cause whereof we affix hereto the Seal of the said Justice Isaac Osgood.”

(DS, RG 36, French Spoilation Claims, National Archives.)

On the reverse side of this certificate and sea letter is a certificate in French and English guaranteeing that the ship for which the certificate was issued was the property of American citizens and that the captain of the ship would “keep and cause to be kept by his crew on board, the marine ordinances and regulations, and enter in the proper office a list signed and witnessed, containing the names and surnames, the places of birth and abode of the crew … and of all who shall embark on board … whom he shall not take on board without the knowledge and permission of the proper officers; and in every port or haven where he shall enter … he shall shew this present leave to the proper officers, and shall give a faithful account to them of what passed and was done during his voyage, and he shall carry the colours, arms, and ensigns of the United States during his voyage.”

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