Thomas Jefferson Papers

Enclosure B: Joshua Johnson to the Commissioners of the Customs, 4 March 1791

Joshua Johnson to the Commissioners of the Customs

London, 4 Mch. 1791. Yesterday, Nicholas Duff, commander of the brigantine Rachel, New York, the property of subjects of the United States, informed him that the vessel was seized on the 2d at the Mother Bank by the collector and comptroller by the Commissioners’ direction. “Annext your Honours will find a statement of all Captain Duff’s Proceedings, and as his Case is peculiarly hard, and he has done nothing with intent of fraud, but his putting into an English Port was to pay respect to the Laws of this Country, and to liberate his Bail in a Prosecution … which your Honours has ordered to be quasht, I humbly beg that your Honours will be pleased to take this matter into your immediate Consideration, and give Orders for the liberation of the Brig Rachel, and her Cargo, that Captain Duff may proceed for New York, and that you direct the Comptroller, and Collector at Portsmouth to make Compensation for the detention.—Should your Honours desire any farther Explanation to the facts stated, I will with pleasure attend you.”

Tr (DNA: RG 76, Great Britain, unsorted papers); docketed by Remsen. Tr (PRO: FO 4/10, f. 42). The annexed papers were: (1) Memorial of Jacob Wilkinson, London, to the Commissioners of the Treasury, 22 Oct. 1790, stating that Rachel’s cargo from New York consisted of pearl and potash, staves, and pig iron consigned to him; that, since the vessel was French built but American property, she could not be given entry; and that, inasmuch as this arose from ignorance of the owner and as such merchandize does not pay duty, he asks that it be allowed entry as if imported in an American bottom. (2) Affidavit of William Green, 4 Mch. 1791, sworn before Robert Smith, stating that he was a New York merchant residing at present in Great Portland street; that the brandies and Geneva on Rachel were shipped by Theodore van Moorsel & Co. of Ostend by order of Jacob Wilkinson for the account of William Green; and that neither the whole nor any part was intended for any port in the British dominions. (3) Affidavit of Nicholas Duff, sworn before Robert Smith, 4 Mch. 1791, stating that Rachel, commanded by him, arrived in London on 22 Oct. 1790; that he presented her register and papers to the collector of customs but was refused entry because she had been built in France, though she had long been owned by American citizens, registered under laws of the United States, and admitted several times to ports in England and Ireland; that she remained in London from that date until 17 Jan. 1791 while the Commissioners of the Treasury were deciding whether she could enter; that, when she was finally denied entry, the consignee directed him to proceed to Ostend and deliver the cargo to Theodore van Moorsel & Co., who, on the consignee’s order, laded her with brandies and Geneva for shipment to New York on the account of William Green; that, having been prosecuted by the Commissioners of Customs on complaint of one of their tidewaiters and obliged to give bail in the amount of £500 “because he had landed without sufferance an English gun made by Mortimer in Fleet street, in order to have it repaired, and because he had turned the said Officer out of his Cabin, who attempted to make it a Cooking place for his provision, he was … permitted by the Consignee to put into Portsmouth” in order to take up his bail; that, on arrival, he informed the Commissioners of Customs and asked that “he might be permitted to compromise the matter with the Officer who had preferred the Complaint against him and proceed on his way to New York”; that the Commissioners, on or about the 24th of February granted his request “and the matter was accordingly compromised … at a very heavy and ruinous expence” to himself; that when this was done he immediately demanded the liberation of Rachel and his register and papers which the collector had taken away from him but was refused, that official saying he had sent them to London and was awaiting the Commissioners’ instructions; that he was put off with this answer from day to day until the 2d of March when Rachel was seized and taken into Portsmouth harbor; and that no part of the cargo had been intended for English ports but was destined for New York and he had been ordered to proceed there “with all possible dispatch,” stopping only at Teneriffe to take in wines. (Trs of all in DNA: RG 76, Great Britain, unsorted papers; other Trs in PRO: FO 4/10, f. 43–9, as enclosed with the above letter in Johnson’s letter to Stephens of 25 May 1791, the whole being docketed: “Copy sent to the Treasury March 25th”; see Enclosure o below.)

Index Entries