Thomas Jefferson Papers

Memorial from George Hammond, 21 June 1793

Memorial from George Hammond

The Undersigned, his Britannic Majesty’s Minister plenipotentiary to the United States, has the honor of representing to the Secretary of State that the suit (the particulars of which he stated in his letter of the 5th. curt.) instituted in the federal district Court of Pennsylvania by the owners of the British Ship William of Glasgow captured by the Schooner le Citoyen Genêt, has been this day terminated by the declaration of the Judge that his court had no jurisdiction in questions of that nature.

The owners of this vessel having failed in their endeavors to obtain legal redress, in consequence of the incompetence of the Court to afford it, it becomes the duty of the Undersigned to submit to the Secretary of State the annexed protest of the Master and part of the crew of the Ship William, and the affidavit of the pilot who was on board of it at the time of the capture.

From these papers it is manifest that the British Ship William was taken (according to the protest of the Master at the distance of two miles from the shore of the territory of the United States and according to the deposition of the pilot at the distance of not more than five miles at the utmost from it) within the territory and jurisdiction of the United States. The Undersigned therefore entertains no doubt that the executive government of the United States will consider the circumstances of this capture as an aggression on its sovereignty, and will consequently pursue such measures as to its wisdom may appear the most efficacious for procuring the immediate restoration to its rightful owners of the British Ship William thus illegally taken, and now lying as a prize in the port of this city.

21 June 1793.
Geo. Hammond

RC (DNA: RG 59, NL); in Edward Thornton’s hand, signed by Hammond; at foot of first page: “Mr Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 22 June 1793 and so recorded in SJL; with later notations by TJ, the last line being in a different ink:

“Ship William. taken by the Citoyen Genet. proscribed before <Aug. 7.> within limits.”

FC (Lb in PRO: FO 116/3). Tr (same, 115/ 2). Tr (same, 5/1). Enclosures: (1) Deposition of James Legget, John Whiteside, James Rumsay, and James Manson, being respectively master, chief mate, second mate, and boatswain of the William, Philadelphia, 18 May 1793, protesting that at 4 p.m. on 3 May 1793, while on a voyage from Bremen to Maryland and “being then about two miles off the Light house at Cape Henry in five fathom water and as near the shore as the pilot on board judged it proper to go,” the William was fired upon and captured by the privateer Citoyen Genet, commanded by Pierre Johanene from Charleston, and declaring that the William was sent, under a prize master and seven men from the captor, to Philadelphia, where the deponents, having previously been transferred to the privateer, arrived on 14 May 1793 and were set on shore alternately one by one until being united this day. (2) Deposition of Benedict Wheatley, St. Marys County, Maryland, 18 May 1793, stating that on 3 May 1793, an hour after he had been taken aboard the William as pilot and brought the ship within the mouth of Chesapeake Bay no more than “five miles at the utmost” off the lighthouse on Cape Henry, it was fired upon and taken as a prize by the schooner “Cincanatus,” a privateer with four guns commissioned at Charleston by the French ambassador, that its captain was said to be French and the seven or eight members of its crew of about fifty men who boarded the William appeared to be American or English, and that the captors said they were not authorized to take prizes less than nine miles from land (PrCs of Trs in DLC: TJ Papers, 89: 15355–7, 15369–71, with notarization of Asheton Humphreys of Philadelphia, dated 23 May 1793, subjoined to No. 1, and attestations of St. Marys County Justice of the Peace Mordecai Jones and County Court Clerk Timothy Bowes, dated respectively 18 and 20 May 1793, subjoined to No. 2, all in a clerk’s hand; PrCs of other Trs in same, 15365–7, 15358–9, in clerical hands; Trs in NNC: Gouverneur Morris Papers; Trs in DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 3d Cong., 1st sess.; PrCs in PRO: FO 97/1; Trs in Lb in DNA: RG 59, DL). See also Memorandum to George Washington, [11–13 July 1793].

TJ submitted Hammond’s letter to the President on 22 June 1793 and evidently received his sanction of the step he had immediately taken, upon receiving it earlier that day, to prevent the captors of the William from disposing of the vessel before the Washington administration could act on the British minister’s complaint about its capture in American territorial waters (see TJ to Henry Knox, 22 June 1793; Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 187). For the antecedents, see Hammond to TJ, 5 June 1793, and note.

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