Thomas Jefferson Papers

Memorial from George Hammond, 2 May 1793

Memorial from George Hammond

The undersigned, his Britannic Majesty’s Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States of America, has the honor of submitting to the Secretary of State the following particulars relative to the capture, in the Bay of Delaware, of the British ship Grange commanded by Edward Hutchinson and bound from this port to Liverpool.

On Thursday the 25th. of April last at 11 o’clock A.M. as the Ship Grange, having a Delaware pilot on board, was lying at anchor near the Buoy of the Brown in the Bay of Delaware, a Frigate appeared off the Capes under British colours, which she continued to display until she approached within half a mile of the Grange, at which time they were struck, the colours of France hoisted in their place, and the frigate proved to be the French frigate Embuscade——Bompart Commander. On the Grange’s shewing the colours of her nation, the frigate fired a shot over her as a signal to surrender, which Captain Hutchinson immediately obeyed. The Captain of the frigate then sent his boat with thirty or forty men, who took possession of the Grange as a prize to the French Republic, and sent the crew prisoners on board of the Frigate. The Grange arrived in the harbour of this city Yesterday Evening, but her crew still remain in confinement on board of the Embuscade.

From this statement, corroborated by the annexed affidavit of the Pilot, and the affirmations of Two respectable passengers on board of the Grange, it is manifest that the French frigate Embuscade captured the British Ship Grange, as she was lying at anchor within the territory and jurisdiction of the United States, in direct violation of the Law of Nations. The Undersigned therefore can entertain no doubt that the executive government of the United States will consider this infringement on its neutrality and this aggression on its jurisdiction as a sufficient ground of compliance with the requisition which the Undersigned has now the honor of formally and respectfully making—that the executive government of the United States will adopt such measures as to its wisdom may appear the most efficacious for procuring the immediate restoration, to the agent for the owners residing in this city, of the British Ship Grange, and for obtaining the liberation of her crew now illegally and forcibly imprisoned on board of the French frigate l’Embuscade.

Geo. Hammond

Philadelphia 2d. May 1793

RC (DNA: RG 59, NL); in the hand of Edward Thornton, signed by Hammond; at foot of first page: “The Secretary of State”; endorsed by a clerk as received 2 May 1793 and so recorded by TJ in SJL. FC (Lb in PRO: FO 116/3). Tr (same, 115/2). Tr (same, 5/1). PrC of Tr (DLC); in a clerk’s hand. PrC of Tr (DNA: RG 59, MD); in the hand of George Taylor, Jr.; lacks final page. Tr (Lb in same, NL). Tr (DLC: Genet Papers). Tr (same); in French. Tr (AMAE: CPEU, xxxvii); in French. Enclosures: (1) Affidavit of Gilbert Macraken, Philadelphia, 2 May 1793, stating that he was a pilot from Lewes, Delaware, who had been hired by Captain Edward Hutchinson on or about 18 Apr. 1793 to guide the Grange from Philadelphia to the sea; that Captain Hutchinson at length ordered the Grange to “proceed to the Anchorage within Cape Henlopen, and wait there for a fair wind, to carry him clear off the coast”; that at about 5:00 A.M. on the 25th, while the Grange lay at anchor “in about thirteen fathom water, within about a mile to the westward of the Buoy of the Brown, with the Light house on Cape Henlopen in view, at the distance of about twelve miles, and bearing South and by East half East from them, and Cape May bearing to the southward of East,” a large ship hove in sight flying English colors; that this ship struck English colors when it came within about two miles of the Grange and then hoisted French colors when it was within hailing distance, leading Captain Hutchinson to hoist English colors; that the French ship then fired a shot over the Grange, took possession of it with a boarding crew, declared it to be a prize of the Embuscade, and took aboard all the officers and crew except for the steward; and that the Embuscade brought the Grange up to Philadelphia, where it was in possession of a prize master and several crewmen from its captor. (2) Affidavit of Joshua Sutcliff, Philadelphia, 2 May 1793, of the same general import as No. 1, but adding that at about 11:00 A.M. on 25 Apr., with the pilot still on board and no colors flying, the Grange was lying at anchor “near the Buoy of the Brown a sand Bank in the Bay of the River Delaware” when it was approached from the sea by a frigate flying English colors and seized as a prize of the French Republic; that only after being taken to the frigate did the crew learn that it was the Embuscade, commanded by Citizen Bompard; that the Grange had not sailed past the spot in Delaware Bay where she was captured; that her captain, officers, and passengers believed themselves to be on neutral ground under United States protection; and that, contrary to reports, no alterations had been made in the Grange’s name on its stern or in its registry certificate. (3) Affidavit of George Dillwyn, Philadelphia, 2 May 1793, of the same general import as No. 1, but adding that the Grange was anchored “within about a Mile of the Buoy of the Brown” and first sighted the Embuscade at about 10:00 A.M. on 25 Apr.; that he and the other three cabin passengers (including his wife) remained on board the Grange and received civil treatment from the French until the 28th, when the French captain allowed them to go ashore with their effects; and that he did not “discover that Captain Hutchinson had provided any false papers whereby to impose [the Grange] on Strangers as an American Vessel” (MSS in DNA: RG 59, NL, in various clerical hands, signed by the respective deponents, and attested by Mayor Matthew Clarkson of Philadelphia; PrCs of Trs in DLC: TJ Papers, 85: 14697–703, in various clerical hands; Trs in Lb in PRO: FO 116/3; Trs in same, 5/1; Trs in DLC: Genet Papers; Trs in AMAE: CPEU, xxxvii, in French). Memorial enclosed in TJ to Edmund Randolph, 2 May 1793, TJ to Jean Baptiste Ternant, 15 May 1793, TJ to Gouverneur Morris, 13 June 1793, and TJ to Thomas Pinckney, 14 June 1793; enclosures transmitted in TJ to Ternant, 3 May 1793.

The capture in Delaware Bay on 25 Apr. 1793 of the Grange, an English merchant ship, by the Embuscade, the French frigate that had brought Edmond Charles Genet to Charleston, was the first French challenge to the neutrality policy of the Washington administration to come to the attention of the Secretary of State. Although TJ privately exulted at the scene that occurred in Philadelphia on 1 May when the Grange was brought up the Delaware flying French colors (see TJ to James Monroe, 5 May 1793; TJ to John Wayles Eppes, 12 May 1793), Hammond’s prompt protest forced the President and the Cabinet to begin the task of formally defining the maritime limits of the United States.

Despite the pleasure Hammond took in the Proclamation of Neutrality as a sign of “the determination of this government to entangle itself in no new or closer connexion with France, and consequently to observe as strict a neutrality as might be consistent with its existing engagements,” the British envoy decided to take advantage of the Grange case to test the Washington administration’s commitment to a truly neutral foreign policy, hoping “to ascertain the real views of the government by the manner in which it might regard this aggression on its territory” (Hammond to Lord Grenville, 17 May 1793, PRO: FO 5/1). Recognizing the gravity of the issues raised by the British minister, TJ submitted his memorial to the President almost immediately upon receipt of it and at the same time asked Attorney General Edmund Randolph to report on it to the Cabinet the following day. There is no record of the report Randolph presumably made to the Cabinet on 3 May, but perhaps it was not entirely coincidental that on that day TJ referred Hammond’s representation to the French minister with a request for any information he could provide respecting the British minister’s complaints (Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 125; TJ to Edmund Randolph, 2 May 1793; TJ to Jean Baptiste Ternant, 3, 7 May 1793). In the absence of any response from TJ to these complaints, Hammond on 8 May reiterated his requests for the restoration of the Grange and the liberation of her crew, and on the following day Jean Baptiste Ternant submitted an official French response to TJ in the form of a report by Antoine René Charles Mathurin de La Forest, the French consul general in Philadelphia. Although La Forest conceded the accuracy of Hammond’s account of the circumstances of the capture of the Grange by the Embuscade, he denied that the seizure violated American neutrality on the grounds that it took place in a section of Delaware Bay that was not part of American territory—a contention that rested, in turn, on the lack of a universally accepted standard in international law for determining territorial jurisdiction over a bay (Memorial from Hammond, 8 May 1793; Ternant to TJ, 9 May 1793, and enclosure; Philip C. Jessup, The Law of Territorial Waters and Maritime Jurisdiction [New York, 1927], 355–82, 388–91, 395–7). Washington thereupon instructed TJ to refer these French claims to the Attorney General for a legal opinion and to submit Hammond’s counterclaims to the consideration of the Cabinet. Randolph held that the United States exercised jurisdiction over all of Delaware Bay, thus taking the first official step in the definition of the nation’s maritime limits, and that the capture of the Grange therefore violated American neutrality. TJ took the same position in letters to the British and French ministers that were approved by the President and the Cabinet—a stance applauded by Hammond as an expression of American determination to steer a genuinely neutral course in the current European conflict and one which led Genet, Ternant’s successor, to accept American jurisdictional claims over Delaware Bay and arrange for the release of the Grange as a gesture of good will to the United States government (Edmund Randolph’s Opinion on the Grange, 14 May 1793; TJ to Hammond, 15 May 1793; TJ to Ternant, 15 May 1793; Hammond to Grenville, 17 May 1793, PRO: FO 5/1; Genet to TJ, 27 May 1793; Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 132, 138–41; Thomas, Neutrality description begins Charles M. Thomas, American Neutrality in 1793: A Study in Cabinet Government, New York, 1931. description ends , 91–9). But the relative ease with which the Grange incident was resolved did not prove to be typical of the successive disputes over neutrality that preoccupied the Secretary of State for the remainder of his climactic year in office.

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