From William Ellery
[Newport, Rhode Island] June 30, 1794. “Your letter of the 9th of this month1 relative to a representation made to you by Messrs. Bourne & Malbone2 concerning certain vessels employed in bringing fire wood from Long island has been handed to me.… For your own part you confess you do not perceive a good ground for the doubt they entertain as to the sense of the law; neither could you undertake to interfere by any direction with the practice which appears to have obtained in this particular. On my part, the sense of the law is manifest. What then ought I to do? Can it become me to undertake to relax the execution of a law where you cannot direct, and which doth not admit even a slight color of doubt as to its construction? If in past any particular inconveniencies attended the practice on the law in question, if thereby the price of fuel was sensibly raised and material dissatisfaction was created among the citizens at large, and if no danger to the revenue would attend a different practice I conceive it would be my duty to make this known to you or the Comptroller;3 but not to suspend the course of the law. Upon the complaint of masters of vessels employed as aforesaid that they were obliged to go 15 or 20 miles to clear out at Sagg harbour I wrote a letter to the Comptroller dated July 2nd 1793 setting forth the complaint, and mentioning that there had been instances of goods being smuggled from Long island sound, and on the 23d. of August received this answer, ‘It is clear that the district of Sag harbour if not in relation to the district of Newport a district in the same or an adjoining State on the Seacoast or on a navigable river: of course all vessels bound from one to the other of said districts whether with or without cargoes are subject to the regulations contained in the 16th. & 17th. Sections of the Act for regulating the Coasting trade.’4 This shows a coincidence of opinion as to the sense of the law. Inconveniencies without doubt attend the entry and clearing of our wood vessels at Sag harbour; but like inconveniencies attend the entry & clearance of vessels employed in foreign trade belonging to ports in this district other than the Port of Newport.…”5
LC, Newport Historical Society, Newport, Rhode Island.
1. Letter not found.
2. Benjamin Bourne and Francis Malbone were Federalist members of the House of Representatives from Rhode Island.
3. Oliver Wolcott, Jr.
4. “An Act for enrolling and licensing ships or vessels to be employed in the coasting trade and fisheries, and for regulating the same” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 305–18 [February 18, 1793]). Section 16 of this act provided that “the master or commander of every ship or vessel. licensed for carrying on the coasting trade, and being destined from any district of the United States, to a district other than a district in the same, or an adjoining state, on the sea-coast, or on a navigable river, shall, previous to her departure, deliver to the collector residing at the port where such ship or vessel may be, if there is one, otherwise to the collector of the district comprehending such port, or to a surveyor within the district, as the one or the other may reside nearest to the port at which such ship or vessel may be, duplicate manifests of the whole cargo on board such ship or vessel.…” Section 17 provided that “the master or commander of every ship or vessel, licensed to carry on the coasting trade, arriving at any district of the United States, from any district, other than a district in the same, or an adjoining state on the sea-coast, or on a navigable river, shall deliver to the collector residing at the port where she may arrive, if there be one, otherwise to the collector or surveyor in the district comprehending such port, as the one, or the other, may reside nearest thereto … and previous to the unlading any of the goods brought in such ship or vessel, the manifest of the cargo (if there be any) certified by the collector or surveyor of the district from whence she last sailed.…”
5. On March 2, 1795, “An Act relative to the passing of coasting vessels between Long Island and Rhode Island” became law (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 426). This act reads as follows: “That coasting vessels going from Long Island in the state of New York to the state of Rhode Island, or from the state of Rhode Island to the said Long Island, shall have the same privileges as are allowed to vessels under the like circumstances going from a district in one state to a district in the same or an adjoining state.”