Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Alexander Hamilton, 20 April 1790

From Alexander Hamilton

Treasury Department April 20


I have the Honor to enclose you Copies of certain Communications which have been made to me, respecting the Detention of the Registers of Vessels of the United States in some of the Islands of his Christian Majesty, in order that such Measures may be taken as shall appear advisable, towards preventing in future a Practice which has a tendency either to interfere with the Policy of our Laws, or to prevent the Sale of our Vessels to the Inhabitants of those Islands. I have the honor to be Sir Your most obedient Servant,

A. Hamilton Secy of the Treasury

FC (DNA: RG 59, MLR); at head of text: “Copy” at foot of text, before signature: “(Signed)” docketed with full date, followed by: “(No. 1).” Another FC (DNA: RG 59, PCC No. 120). Enclosures: (1) William Lindsay to secretary of the treasury, collector’s office, Norfolk and Portsmouth, 19 Feb. 1790, reading in part: “A Captain John Brown of this Port having obtained a Register at this Office for his Sloop Polly found it to his advantage to dispose of his said Sloop in Port au Prince. On his arrival there and prior to the sale he lodged his Certificate of Registry in the Office of the Admiralty, agreeably to the Laws of the Port. And it appears from the French papers inclosed and copy of a letter from a respectable Gentleman of Baltimore then in Port au Prince that on application for his register he was refused and the same unjustifiably withheld from him. I therefore wish for your opinion whether from these circumstances he is not entitled to have his Bond cancelled.” (2) David Plunket to Moses Myers, Port au Prince, 16 Jan. 1790, informing him that Capt. Brown, the bearer, had sold his sloop; that the judge of the admiralty there had “detained his Register agreeable to a former regulation of Marbois” that Brown on his return would enter a formal protest; and that he hoped notice would be taken of “so unwarrantable a step” on the part of the admiralty court. (3) John Nivison to Josiah Parker, 16 Feb. 1790, stating the facts related to him by Capt. Brown, one of Parker’s constituents, about the detention of the certificate of registry and reading in part: “Captain Brown hopes your representation to the Secretary will have such effect as to obviate further trouble on the subject, by procuring an order to the Collector directing that no suit shall be instituted on the Bond, which will otherwise be certainly done. On this occasion I am informed by Capt. B. that the same political motives operate with the French to preserve the Sloop’s Register that influenced our Government to require a return of it. The Sloop became a french bottom, and if such registers were delivered out of the Office, it might be made use of by the same Sloop or some other of like dimensions in prejudice to the French Flag. We wish the return of the Register to prevent its application to any other vessel.—In consequence of these circumstances Capt. Brown’s case is particularly hard. He must either lose the sale of his vessel for which purpose she was built, or he must suffer under his Bond. I hope his affidavit and the other papers so clearly prove that there was an anxiety on his part to comply with our law and not the least design of fraud, that he may be relieved and put to no further trouble or expence. If entire relief cannot be granted, perhaps possibly the Register might be secured after a proper representation from the French Consul, and in that case a suspension of the Suit might be serviceable. You see the Federal powers are much dreaded.” (4) Affidavit of John Brown before John Nivison, notary public for Norfolk, Va., 16 Feb. 1790, affirming his sale of the sloop Polly, his request for the return of the certificate of registry, and his petition to the admiralty court of Port au Prince, accompanied by English translations of his petition to the court, the findings of the king’s attorney, Bourdon de la Milliere, and the order of the court rejecting the petition, signed by Philippes de la Marniere. Copies of all of the foregoing are in DNA: RG 59, MLR, together with a copy of the French text of Brown’s affidavit and the accompanying papers, all bearing numbers 2 to 6 and having notations of the dates (16 Jan. and 16 Feb. 1790) in TJ’s hand. See TJ to Bourne, 24 Aug. 1790.

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