From Edmund Randolph
Philadelphia, May 7th. 1794.
I beg leave to inclose to you a letter from Mr. Hammond, of the 6th. instant, which I received this morning. The second paragraph, respecting the vessel, is the only one, which requires to be answered.1 The subject of this, depending on the knowledge of the facts, which can be best obtained by the Officers under the direction of your department, you will oblige me by taking it up, and after satisfying yourself of the proper step, and communicating it to the President, to notify his determination to Mr. Hammond. I trouble you on this occasion, on account of my immediate departure to meet Mr. Jay,2 and the urgency of Mr. Hammond.
I have the honor, Sir, to be with respectful esteem Yo. mo. ob. servt.
LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 6, January 2–June 26, 1794, National Archives.
1. George Hammond’s letter concerned an alleged insult by a Philadelphia mob to a group of British officers who were French prisoners on parole. On May 2, 1794, Hammond had informed Randolph that a group of British naval and army officers who were on their way from India had been captured by a French squadron and brought as prisoners into Norfolk where they were released on parole. On May 2 the officers arrived in Philadelphia aboard the Swift Packet, a vessel owned by an American citizen. “As these Gentlemen,” Hammond wrote, “have the permission of the owner of the Swift Packet to prosecute their voyage in her from Philadelphia to any other place, they are desirous of proceeding in her without delay to England, if the President will have the goodness to grant his permission for her clearing out from the port of Philadelphia. As this vessel is, according to her register and other papers, which are deposited in the Custom House of Philadelphia, American property, I must, Sir, think the President will be so obliging as to grant the permission required, for the prosecution of her voyage to England. In which case, I will engage that she shall depart in ballast, and shall have nothing more on board than the baggage of the passengers, and a quantity of provisions and sea-stores sufficient to their support in their passage to England” (ALS, RG 59, Notes from the British Legation in the United States to the Department of State, Vol. 1, October 26, 1791–August 15, 1794, National Archives).
On May 6, Randolph informed Hammond that the President, “compelled by considerations, imposed by the embargo,” had refused to grant the passport (LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 6, January 2–June 26, 1794, National Archives). In the meantime, on May 5, a Philadelphia mob, responding to rumors that the British had treated the American flag with “indignity,” insulted the British officers and damaged the schooner on which they were quartered in the Philadelphia harbor (William Rawle to H, May 8, 1794).
On May 5 Hammond wrote to Randolph: “In consequence of the gross manner in which the British Officers who are mentioned in my letter of the 2nd curt. have been this morning insulted by certain inhabitants of this City, in consequence of the threats of personal violence that have been thrown out against them, and in consequence of the seizure this Evening, effected by a tumultous collection of the people, of the vessel for which I on Saturday last solicited a permission to depart, and which upon that account I considered to be peculiarly under the safeguard of this government, it becomes my duty, as his Britannic Majesty’s Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States, to desire to be informed explicitly whether any measures will be pursued by the general Government for punishing the outrages above recited, and for securing from future injury the officers to whom I have alluded …” (copy, New York Historical Society, New York City).
On May 6, Hammond again complained to Randolph. The second paragraph of his letter, to which Randolph called H’s attention, reads as follows: “… With respect to the vessel which has been seized by the tumultous assemblage of some of the inhabitants of this city, it is necessary for me to remark to you that, as she was engaged by his Majesty’s Consul at Norfolk [John Hamilton] for the express purpose of conveying the Officers in question to Philadelphia in the first instance, and afterwards (if the President had condescended to grant a permission to the effect) to some part of his Majesty’s dominions, she cannot be regarded strictly as a private merchant vessel, but in some measure as in the service of the British government: I therefore, Sir, entertain the hope and the persuasion that the executive government of the United States will direct her to be immediately restored to the commander of her in the condition, in which she was at the period of her unauthorized capture. This being a point of some urgency, I shall be much obliged to your, Sir, if you will favor me with your answer upon it, with as little delay as may be convenient …” (ALS, RG 59, Notes from the British Legation in the United States to the Department of State, October 26, 1791–August 15, 1794, National Archives).
2. John Jay, Envoy Extraordinary to Great Britain, was about to sail for England.