From Tobias Lear
Augt 14th. 1793
By the President’s command T. Lear has the honor to transmit to the Secretary of State the enclosed letters and papers from the Judge of the District of Rhode Island relating to the Ship Catharine. After the Secretary shall have considered the enclosed documents the President wishes his opinion of the measures which should be taken on the subject.
RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as a letter from George Washington received 15 Aug. 1793. Recorded in SJPL under 15 Aug. 1793. Enclosures: (1) Judge Henry Marchant to Washington, Newport, 3 Aug. 1793, stating that on 31 July, a day after the Catharine, Captain William James Davis master, an armed British merchant ship bound from Jamaica to New Brunswick, anchored here, some of its passengers who appeared to be gentlemen told two local gentlemen that during its voyage this ship had boarded an American sloop and plundered it of considerable property; that after takingthe deposition of one of these passengers, Richard Birch, he consulted about it with the United States district attorney, who advised him to have Davis served with a warrant for piracy; that Davis had evaded service of this warrant by sailing away despite being fired upon by the fort; and that the President’s thoughts on this matter were needed (RC in DNA: RG 59, MLR; endorsed by George Taylor, Jr.). (2) Marchant’s warrant to the marshal or deputy marshal of the District of Rhode Island, 31 July 1793, authorizing the arrest of Captain Davis on a charge of piracy for stopping an unnamed American sloop off Cape Hatteras on or about 20 July and plundering it of three or four large bags of money and other American property to the value of $2,000; with a subjoined note of 1 Aug. 1793 by Deputy Marshal Jabez Champlin stating that Davis was not in the district. (3) Deposition of Richard Birch, Newport, 31 July 1793, describing, as a British passenger aboard the Catharine, the stopping and plundering of the American sloop; adding that Davis had left untouched a cargo of coffee belonging to the American captain and that the money he took had belonged to the sloop’s French passengers; and noting that on 26 July Davis had admitted to an officer from the British frigate Boston that the money was French property and had given him a large bag of it for the commander, Captain Courtenay, who was related to Davis, while retaining about $2,000 for delivery to the proper authorities in New Brunswick or elsewhere. (4) Deposition of Dr. John Harris, Newport, 1 Aug. 1793, containing an account, as a passenger aboard the Catharine, of its encounter with the American sloop similar in import to that of No. 3, but adding that Davis planned to share some of the $2,000 with his crew; with an addendum of 3 Aug. 1793 stating that Davis had not followed advice to take out a commission before leaving Jamaica and that the master of the American sloop was Captain Mackay. (5) Deposition of Mary Fitch, Newport, 1 Aug. 1793, containing an account, as a passenger aboard the Catharine, of its encounter with the American sloop similar in import to those of Nos. 3 and 4, but adding that Davis had delivered $850 of the plundered money to the Boston. (6) Deposition of Joseph Fitch, Newport, 2 Aug. 1793, containing an account, as a passenger aboard the Catharine, of its encounter with the American sloop similar in import to that of No. 5 (Trs in same; certified by Marchant). (7) Manifest of the cargo and passengers’ baggage aboard the Catharine, Newport, 31 July 1793. (8) Customs certificate, Kingston, Jamaica, 21 June 1793, stating that the Catharine, a registered, armed British ship with a cargo of rum, fruit, and a coach bound for New Brunswick, had given bond of £2,000 to land its cargo at no European port north of Cape Finisterre except in Great Britain. (9) Clearance form for the Catharine, 21 June 1793 (Trs in same; certified by United States Customs Collector William Ellery). (10) Marchant to Washington, 3 Aug. 1793, stating that several hours after swearing out his deposition Birch returned to him with the British vice consul Mr. Moore; that both complained Birch had not been legally summoned before being put under oath; but that after he explained why the summons had not been served Birch signed a slightly altered version of the deposition and Moore indicated that Davis would appear before Marchant and give his side of the story (RC in same).