Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to Benjamin Lincoln, 22 January 1795

To Benjamin Lincoln

Treasury Department January 22nd 1795


Inclosed I transmit to you, the Copies of three several petitions of Jacob Quincy, and John McCalpin to the Judge of the District Court of the District of Maine.1

I have therefore to request that after maturely considering the facts stated in the said Petitions and the suggestion concerning your Deputy2 you will be pleased to inform me, whether what is alledged did happen and also what is the usage in similar cases at the Port of Boston.3

I am with great consideration   Sir   Your most Obedt Servant

A Hamilton.

Benjamin Lincoln Esqr.
Collector. Boston.

Copy, RG 56, Letters to the Collector at Boston, September 25, 1789–January 31, 1795, National Archives; copy, RG 56, Letters to Collectors at Small Ports, “Set G,” National Archives.

1David Sewall.

2Benjamin Weld.

3On February 2, 1795, Lincoln wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury answering H’s letter printed above. Lincoln’s letter reads: “… Having considered the facts stated in the petitions and having inquired of Mr Weld relative to the suggestions respecting him—Permit me to observe that probably the facts stated by Mr. Quincy claimant of the Schooner Sally are well founded for the vessel Arrived in this port in March last & left it without entering or clearing. He represents that the master and owner were informed that the vessel must return to Portland for papers. He doth not say from whom he had this information. He probably did receive such advice for the idea had obtained so generally that our most attentive Citizens who had not the Laws, were led thereby into errour. Of this the treasury department seems to have been advised and the comptroller by his circular letter of the 29th of August last to the Collectors Naval officers & Surveyors in a very clear & concise manner opened this business & directed that notice should be given for the government of the owners and Masters of vessels in the Coasting trade & fisheries thereon. I caused several hundred of hand bills to be printed & disposed among the concerned.

“Respecting the facts in Mr Quincys other petition I find that Mr. Weld my Assistant perfectly recollects the transaction and that his advice was as the amount of the Cargo, foreign produce, did not amount to 800 Dollars a clearance was unnecessary and that he always made it his invariable practice to inform such people that they must however at all time have a manifest on board.

“I do not learn from any thing which has fallen under my notice that Mr Quincy has omitted in representation any material fact saving that the Certificate did not accompany the Tea. Indeed the facts in general seem to be substantiated by the representations made by McCalpine.

“I find by the books in this office that on the 25th. of march last a temporary Licence was granted to the Schooner Nancy John McCalpine Master. I am a stranger to the private transaction between him and Benja. Aldin which seems to have been an act of great indiscretion and a total want of knowledge in the business of the Custom-house. A want of information seems to have been the source which originated the evils under which he now labours.

“You ask what is the usage in similar cases at the port of Boston. In answer I am constrained to say quite different now from what it was last spring. The receipt of the Comptrollers letter aforesaid placed in some respects the matter on new grounds. We had found it exceedingly difficult to beget in the minds of the people an attention to the law & to bring them at once to submit to order. Hence we found our selves necessitated to grant indulgences, perhaps, such as should have been avoided. But on the receipt of the Comptrollers Letter, wherein the same rule is laid down for the government of ye whole, and notice thereof given to the people interested they are brought to exercise that attention which gives safety to the public & ease to their officers.” (LC, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.)

Oliver Wolcott’s circular of August 29, 1794, reads in part: “It is understood to be the opinion of some of the Officers of the Customs, that the penalties imposed by the 6th Section of the Act concerning the Enrolling and Licencing of Vessels, do not extend to the case of a Vessel which may depart from a Port of the United States with a Licence which shall have expired during the absence of such vessel from her proper District…. This opinion being erroneous and having a tendency to create embarrassments in the Execution of the law, requires to be corrected …” (LS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford). Section 6 of “An Act for enrolling and licensing ships or vessels to be employed in the coasting trade and fisheries, and for regulating the same” stated that after May 31, 1793, all ships or vessels “twenty tons or upwards … found trading between district and district, or between different places in the same district, or carrying on the fishery, without being enrolled and licensed … such ship or vessel, if laden with goods the growth or manufacture of the United States only (distilled spirits excepted) or in ballast, shall pay the same fees and tonnage in every port of the United States, at which she may arrive, as ships or vessels not belonging to a citizen or citizens of the United States, and if she have on board any articles of foreign growth or manufacture, or distilled spirits, other than sea-stores, the ship or vessel, together with her tackle, apparel and furniture, and the lading found on board, shall be forfeited …” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 307–08 [February 18, 1793]). Section 14 of the same act reads: “That the master or commander of every ship or vessel licensed for carrying on the coasting trade, destined from a district in one state, to a district in the same, or an adjoining state on the sea-coast, or on a navigable river, having on board, either distilled spirits in casks exceeding five hundred gallons, wine in casks exceeding two hundred and fifty gallons, or in bottles exceeding one hundred dozens, sugar in casks or boxes exceeding three thousand pounds, tea in chests or boxes exceeding five hundred pounds, coffee in casks or bags exceeding one thousand pounds, or foreign merchandise in packages, as imported, exceeding in value four hundred dollars, or goods, wares or merchandise, consisting of such enumerated or other articles of foreign growth or manufacture, or of both, whose aggregate value exceeds eight hundred dollars, shall, previous to the departure of such ship or vessel from the port where she may then be, make out and subscribe duplicate manifests of the whole of such cargo on board such ship or vessel, specifying in such manifests …” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 309).

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