Thomas Jefferson Papers

I. William Green to the Secretary of State, 23 May 1791

I. William Green to the Secretary of State

London the 23d. of May 1791.


I had the honour to address a letter to you on the 21st. of last January, concerning the conduct of the British Administration, with respect to the Brigantine Rachel, Nicholas Duff Master, belonging to the port of New York. I should not have sollicited the trouble of your attention to that detail from me, although both Vessel and Cargo were my own; if Mr. Johnson the Consul of the United States for this port had conceived his intervention warrantable, at the time of her arrival: but, as he had just then only received a notification of his own appointment, without any official Instructions for his line of conduct, he did not think it right without these to interest himself upon the business, until the pressing necessity of National Circumstance compelled him. From that moment I have been silent, unless with him; and he has had the goodness since to act with such energy of Public Spirit, as it is hoped will meet your approbation, although it has had no effect towards procuring redress.

This vessel is now in the seventh Month of her detaintion, since she left New York, three months on her first arrival, and four on her outward passage. She has been pillaged of a part of her Cargo, and the remainder is to be subject to an arbitrary fine. A very heavy Expence and Loss have been incurred, and yet no offence has been committed, except that of landing an English made fowling piece, part of the baggage of Mr. Knox, the Consul for Dublin, who came to England with me a passenger in the vessel.

Under the auspices of Mr. Johnson, I have nearly compleated the proofs of a damage, which I have sustained, as a Citizen and Subject of the United States, of somewhat more than Two hundred thousand Dollars, for which, notwithstanding the Treaty of Peace, I am not permitted to plead in a British Court of Justice; a lawful impediment being put in my way, as an American Creditor, to annul my claim against British Debtors. This business alone brought me to Europe last fall; but, as it is nearly accomplished, I shall embark shortly to return, when I shall be permitted to lay these proofs before you, for your inspection. I have the honour to be, with the greatest respect, Sir, Your most obedient, humble servant,

William Green

RC (DNA: RG 76, Great Britain, unsorted papers); at head of text: “(Duplicate)”; endorsed by TJ as received 20 Aug. 1791 and so recorded in SJL.

William Green, a merchant and native of England, became a naturalized citizen in Rhode Island in 1786. He later established himself in New York and engaged in the East India trade. In 1788 he dispatched a vessel and cargo from Philadelphia for Bengal. Under contract with John Buchanan and Robert Charnock, British merchants located at Ostend, Green shipped East India goods to his partners which, because of their bankruptcy and his own arrest and imprisonment at their suit, resulted in losses which he estimated at this time at £49,969.6.7¾ sterling. Among the proofs that he was gathering was an itemized statement of his losses, certified by a committee of Americans in London (Samuel Broome, John Browne Cutting, and Duncan Ingraham). In submitting his proofs to Johnson, Green declared that these “gentlemen of probity and experience and capacity … sat for several days as a Committee upon the investigation of the business under your auspices.” Green claimed that he was denied recovery of his property “by the extraordinary doctrine of Jurisprudence as delivered by that Oracle of Law, Lord Kenyon, whereby not only every British subject, but even every foreigner residing in England or in any Part of the British Dominions are declared to be absolved from every Debt which they owed to Mr. Green, and to be exempt from any responsibility to him for any property which he has placed in their hands.” Claiming that he had embarked his fortune “as a Commercial Capitalist under the Flag and Protection of the United States of America,” he submitted proofs to Johnson because of their magnitude, because his case affected the political interests of the United States, and because he hoped Johnson would “frame such a Report of the Circumstances and Truths of the Case as may accompany my application to Congress for redress and relief” (Green to Johnson, 25 June 1791, with enclosed notarial proofs and itemized account of losses; DNA: RG 59, London; T-168/5). Johnson made no report, but Green continued his efforts by appealing both to TJ and to his successor, Edmund Randolph. Both sympathized with him for his losses, but declined to commit the government to his case (see Editorial Note, note 70).

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