From Martin de Villeneuve
chez Mr. john Codeman
boston 19. Xbre 1791
Permettez moi de rappeller à votre souvenir l’audience que vous eutes la bonté de me donner Lors de votre Cejour à paris sous la recommendation du Comte de Montmorin, et la visite que j’ai eu L’honneur de vous faire Lors de mon passage dans votre bonne ville accompagné de Mr. J. FitzSimon, pour vous prier, Monsieur, de m’assurer Si l’article XIII. de la Convention Consulaire entre Le roi et Les etats unis, que vous avez Signé Le 14 novembre 1788. Laisse aucun doute pour accorder entre deux negotiant françois la liberté de traduire Leurs différents dans aucune Cour de Ce pays, Comme Le pretend defendre ici, Mr. Le Consul de france avec Lequel je suis en difficulté à Cet Egart, pour avoir fait Saisir le depart d’un batiment appartenant à un françois sans son authorité et par la voix judiciaire americaine. Cependant il est prouvé que Mr. Le Consul de France c’est trouvé present à des jugemens rendus devant la Cour de Cette province entre Sujets françois.—Je suis avec respect Monsieur Votre très humble et très obeissant Serviteur,
Martin De Villenuve
RC (DNA: RG 59, MLR); endorsed by TJ as received 27 Dec. 1791 and so recorded in SJL.
This letter was an outgrowth of a dispute between Villeneuve and Michel Barriou, two French merchants from Bordeaux who were then residing in Boston. The dispute began a week before the present letter was written when Villeneuve sought payment for goods that Barriou had sold on his account. After rejecting an offer by Barriou to refer the matter to Philippe de Létombe, the consul de france in Boston, Villeneuve obtained an order from the Suffolk County Court of Common Pleas that summoned Barriou to appear before it to answer charges that he owed Villeneuve the sum in question and that authorized Villeneuve to seize a brigantine owned by Barriou as security for the latter’s appearance in court. Barriou protested to Létombe that Villeneuve’s resort to the Massachusetts court violated a 1778 edict of the king governing the authority of French consuls in foreign lands as well as Article xii of the 1788 consular convention between France and the United States, both of which, he claimed, required disputes between French citizens in a foreign country to be settled by a French consul. Létombe accepted Barriou’s contention and ordered Villeneuve to bring his complaint against Barriou before the French consular court in Boston. Villeneuve refused to obey Létombe’s order, claiming that the royal edict and the article of the Franco-American consular convention cited by Létombe did not give French consuls jurisdiction over purely commercial disagreements between French subjects, and sought to elicit TJ’s support for his claim. But TJ, who with respect to Article xii had long since accepted the view that “for the encouragement of commerce it is become usual to permit, by Convention, foreign merchants of the same country to refer their disputes to a judge of their own,” scrupulously refrained from answering either this letter or one on the same subject that Villeneuve wrote him three days later, thereby tacitly expressing his support for Létombe’s jurisdiction in this case (TJ, Observations on the Contre-Projet, [ca. 16 Sep. 1788], Document xiii in group of documents on the consular convention of 1788, at 14 Nov. 1788; Villeneuve to TJ, 22 Dec. 1791; see also Létombe to Bertrand, 31 Dec. 1791; same to Thevenard, 31 Dec. 1791; same to La Coste, [June 1792], all in Arch. Aff. Etr., Corres. Consul., B I, 210/476–504, 518–26).