Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from David Humphreys, 2 November 1790

From David Humphreys

London Nov. 2nd. 1790


The vessel, in which I have engaged my passage, attempted to go down the river at the time appointed: but contrary winds have prevented, so that she cannot before this evening reach Gravesend. For which place I shall proceed immediately by land.

I have the honor to enclose a Paper containing a translation of the Correspondence between the King of France and his Ministers, consequent to the Proceedings of the National Assembly of the 20th of October; and which correspondence gave rise to the reports of their resignation, mentioned in my last.

Before I left this for the Continent, I intended to have stated some facts relative to the Commerce between the U.S. G. Britain, and particularly respecting the fishers of the latter. But my time has been so short, and my opportunities of gaining good information on these heads so few, that I dare not hazzard the imperfect remarks I had collected:—especially as Mr. Johnson, in his double capacity of Consul and Merchant, must be able to give you much clearer Statements, and more authentic Documents. I will only ask your indulgence for a few detached hints.—All articles which one purchases here by retail, I know by experience, are raised 25 pr Cent by the rumours of, and preparations for war. The favorable manner in which the expectation of war and the augmentation of the premium of Insurance affect the American Shipping, is very apparent. The value of some Commodities of the U.S. is likewise much enhanced by the trouble in the North of Europe; as for example, the demand for and price of pot and pearl ashes. In the year past, the Merchants of America have derived unusual emoluments from the rate of Exchange between that Country and this: and I was glad to find, a much smaller number of Bills (drawn in the midst of the high prices of wheat) have gone back protested, then could possibly have been expected.—The Irish are apprehensive that an Embargo will be laid on the exportation of salted Provisions; in which case, they foretell that the U.S. will supply those Markets where they have been accustomed to vend that Staple Article, and that, the U.S., having once taken the trade from Ireland, will forever keep possession of it, to the utter ruin of that devoted Country. Indeed, it appears to me, if our Countrymen could once gain the point, by Contract or otherwise, of supplying the French and other Navies with salted Provisions, they would not easily, or, by an ordinary competition, lose that advantage. Such a Market, well-opened, would be a great resource of wealth to the eastern and middle States. Some of which produce no other article, by any means, equal in its extent or value. Even the Western Settlements might hereafter profit by driving their Beef-Cattle to Sea-ports for exportation.

In general, I have said nothing of the Irish, because their Politics, notwithstanding the independent Spirit that reigns among individuals, follow exactly those of the English Cabinet.

The Prince de Ferstenbourg has arrived here as Ambassador Extraordinary from the Emperor to announce, in form, to this Court, the election and coronation of that Sovereign. And, as a ludicrous contrast, about the same time, Six Cherokee Chiefs arrived at the office of the Secretary of State; as Ambassadors from a Nation, which (according to the English printed annunciation) has 20,000 men in arms ready to assist G. Britain against Spain. Nor is this force all—they have 30,000 more capable of being called into immediate Service; besides Alliances with several other formidable Tribes, from which astonishing aid is expected. This account, preposterous as it is, which has run through all the Papers, is very well calculated for this meridian of political Ignorance; and you will readily recollect, is in the same style with the menaces of Russian auxiliars, who were to demolish the poor Americans at a blow, in the late war. These Indians (the same, I imagine, who were at Halifax when I left America) have come in a lucky time for themselves, to receive presents, and to be courted by great attentions. They were brought on shore at Portsmouth by the Admirals’ Barge, and will be entertained in a very expensive manner. They are attended by one Bowles, who according to the best of my recollection, was sent from New Providence, two or three years ago, by Lord Dunmore with arms and horse- furniture for a Regiment, and with a few men to aid him in spiriting up the Savages bordering on the frontiers, to commit hostilities against the People of the U.S.—Governor Walton, at Augusta, last fall, put into my hand a letter from the Spanish Governor of the Floridas to the Executive of Georgia, giving a narrative in detail of the transactions and projects of this same Bowles. I think a Copy of that Communication is in the war office; and that Mr. Baldwin, a Representative in Congress from Georgia, can give farther accounts of this adventurer.

Of foreign News we have little that is important; if we except an uncredited whisper, that a Change has taken place in the Spanish Ministry.

In France some good friends to the Revolution begin to fear that the peccant humours of the State have arisen to such a height, that it will be necessary to let them off by bleeding, either in a civil or foreign war.—Much to be depricated as both sides of the alternative are, if either be inevitable, the latter is doubtless to be preferred. Here the Paragraphists and minor Politicians keep repeating projects of a Counter-revolution, and accounts of disorders committed there. But were the barriers of order in one Government broken down to make room for the substitution of those of another, in this Country, inconceivably greater enormities would be perpetrated. Revolution is a civil game there, to what it would be here. A Class of People here, and no inconsiderable one in point of numbers, is ripe for every scene of horrors. There are now upwards of 2000 Convicts ready for transportation to Botany-Bay. Yet the number of Desperadoes, and the instances of outrages against Society seem not to be diminished, by these means, or by the bad Subjects, who are engaged for the Navy and Army. Several intentional fires have lately happened in this Metropolis; and two days ago four Men were convicted of having been instrumental in them, for the sake of plunder. Here Man, from want, depravity and despair, wars against humanity. It seems to me, in passing the streets, eagerness and distrust are often painted on the countenances of the multitude. This is the Nation from whose morals and connections the U.S. are happily separated.—But in forming a general estimate of the degeneracy of character, I advert to very different Classes, and different circumstances, from those I have mentioned. It would take up too much time, as well as be foreign to my duty to enter into that discussion. With sentiments of the highest esteem & respect I have the honor to be Sir, Your most obedient & Most humble Servant,

D. Humphreys.

RC (DNA: RG 59, DD); at head of text: “(No. 5)”; endorsed by TJ as received 4 Jan. 1791 and so recorded in SJL. FC (DNA: RG 59, DD).

Humphreys was correct in assuming that the Indians in London were the same as those that had appeared at Halifax. They were led by William Augustus Bowles (1763–1805), an unscrupulous adventurer who served in the Maryland Loyalist Regiment during the war, being cashiered at Pensacola in 1778 and then, having been reinstated, lived as a half-pay officer among the Creeks. Bowles’ adventures and international intrigues are so hidden in the archives and in the murky depths of his own character that scholars are in doubt about his ultimate aim. He may have intended to establish an independent state or to throw his influence to Spain or to England. His main object probably was to serve himself first of all and to identify himself with whatever side promised to aid him in this, though there is no evidence that he was ever friendly toward the United States. In the present instance he took a small party of Creek and Cherokee Indians from the Bahamas in May 1789, intending, so he said, to go to England. In July 1790 he and his party turned up in Quebec, claiming that McGillivray had lost influence among the Indians, being suspected of holding a commission from the Spanish government, and that he himself had been deputed to convey an address to the crown. Bowles addressed himself to Dorchester, stating that the Indians were alarmed by recent actions of Spain, and that they held the Americans as their enemies. He also stated that the Creek and Cherokee tribes had enrolled some 20,000 fighting men, that his embassy to England would determine the manner in which the Indians would act in future, and that British “interest in that Country will be either entirely lost or permanently fixed” by the outcome. Clearly Bowles, after wandering around for a year, had leapt into action when the Nootka Sound crisis brought the possibility of war, though he told Dorchester he had come to Canada to offer his services after learning of a rumored attack by Americans on the western posts. Dorchester was skeptical and told Bowles that he could neither advise him to proceed to England nor to return home. He also pointed out very bluntly that the adventurer had “chosen to come [to Quebec] very much out of his way, without producing any Authority, and without assigning any satisfactory reason”; that if the attack had taken place when he heard the rumor in the Bahamas in 1789, the fate of the posts would have been decided before his arrival; that even if he had arrived in time, his presence in Canada could have been of no service either to Great Britain or “to the Nations, of whom he stiles himself the Representative”; and that if Dorchester had had any business to conduct with the Creek and Cherokee tribes, he possessed means of carrying it on and “could not by any means have employed Mr. Bowles for that purpose.” He also told Bowles that “In London it would be thought very extraordinary that Six young Men should be sent to carry a Letter, that they should wander about so long, and so far out of the way.” But in the end he advanced £100 to replenish their exhausted funds (Bowles to Dorchester, 7 July 1790; Dorchester to Bowles, without date, but ca. 10 July 1790; Bowles to Dorchester, 14 July 1790; Dorchester to Bowles, without date, but ca. 15 July 1790; Bowles to Dorchester, 16 July 1790, enclosing copy of address of Creek Indians to the king, 7 May 1789 and copy of address of Cherokee to the king, 6 May 1789; Bowles to Dorchester, 23 July 1790; and Dorchester to Bowles, undated, but ca. 24 July 1790, stating that he could interfere no further, that he and his followers would have to decide for themselves what to do; and that he was directing £100 to be given them as a mark of the king’s friendly regard—all enclosed in Dorchester to Grenville, 26 July 1790, PRO: CO 42/68, f.279–81, received 3 Sep. 1790).

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