Alexander Hamilton and Richard Harison
to Richard Bayley1
New York 19th. July 1796.
We have looked into the Act to prevent the bringing in & spreading of Infectious Diseases in this State.2 By one of its provisions every Vessel arriving from parts beyond Sea, having on Board forty passengers, is subject to Quarantine of Cause, & may be removed to the place assigned for the same. We think that where the numbers of passengers is so great, the Health Officer may take a reasonable Time to satisfy himself as to the Danger of Infection from such Vessel—And of Course any prudent arrangements may be made in the Interim by Consent of parties. The Captain or owners of the Vessel would be subject to the Charges of Quarantine—other Expences must be provided for in some other Manner.3
We are respectfully, Sir, Your Obedt Servts.
Dr Richard Bayley
Health Officer &ca.
Copy, Municipal Archives and Records Center, New York City.
1. Harison was United States attorney for the District of New York. Bayley, a physician, was health officer of the City of New York.
2. The act was passed on April 1, 1796 (New York Laws, 19th Sess., Ch. XXXVIII).
3. On July 18, 1796, the ship Nancy arrived at New York from Newry, Ireland, with four hundred and fifty immigrants on board. A yellow fever epidemic, which was generally thought to have originated on foreign ships, had begun in the neighborhood of the docks in June. A paragraph in The [New York] Minerva, & Mercantile Evening Advertiser, July 19, 1796, on the Nancy’s arrival, expressed the hope that “those, whose business it is, will not forget the melancholy fate which attended the emigrants who landed in this city about this time last year.” This was followed by a statement that “… measures are taking by the Health officer and other public characters to prevent the immediate landing of the Irish Emigrants in this city as their introduction at present might be attended with injurious consequences to themselves and the inhabitants.”
On the same day Bayley wrote to Mayor Richard Varick asking if the City of New York would support the immigrants while they remained in quarantine (ALS, Municipal Archives and Records Center, New York City). Bayley’s letter to Varick and the letter printed above were read to the Common Council on July 19, “Whereupon the Board determined to grant the Sum of 800 Dollars.…
“The following Case was then stated for the Opinions of Messrs Hamilton, Harison & Troup.…” (Minutes of the Common Council of the City of New York [New York, 1917], II, 263.)
“A Vessel lately arrived in the Port of New York with Four hundred and fifty Emigrants from Newry in Ireland on Board—it is supposed that it will be dangerous to permit them to land in the City, and that it is proper the Vessel should perform Quarrentine, but many of these Emigrants are unable to support themselves, and without some Assistance will probably suffer for Want of Necessaries. Your opinion is therefore requested—
“(1) Whether the Corporation of the City of New York are by Law bound to provide for and support persons in such Circumstances
“(2) If the Corporation is not who is bound to support them, and
“(3) What will be prudent for the Corporation to do in the present Case all Circumstances considered” (copy, Municipal Archives and Records Center, New York City).
The opinion of H, Harison, and Robert Troup, dated July 21, 1796, was read on July 25 (Minutes of the Common Council, II, 264). The opinion reads: “In answer to the questions annexed we are of opinion that whilst the Emigrants are performing quarantine, on board their Vessel the Corporation are not bound to support them—But they must be provided for by the owners or master of the Vessel, or themselves, according to the nature of the contract under which they embarked for America; Yet if the Corporation should cause any of them to be landed under any restraints or in any place except such as they themselves shall assign before their Quarantine is performed We think the Corporation would then be bound to support the persons landed. Considering, however, the present situation of the City—the distress to which those may be reduced on board of the vessel who are without the means of comfortable subsistence—the injury which may thereby be done to the health of the others—and the consequent danger of having the quarantine, at least in some degree, eluded—We do not hesitate to say it will be prudent in the Corporation to contribute to the support of the Emigrants whilst they shall continue on quarantine” (DS, Municipal Archives and Records Center, New York City). See also Goebel, Law Practice description begins Julius Goebel, Jr., ed., The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton: Documents and Commentary (New York and London, 1964– ). description ends , forthcoming volumes.