Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from George Hammond, 7 November 1793

From George Hammond

Lansdown near Philadelphia 7th: Novr. 1793


In a letter, which I had the honor of addressing to you on the 6th. of September, I acquainted you with my having received information, that in the course of the last five or six weeks, antecedent to that date, a privateer, named the Industry, had been illegally fitted out in the port of Baltimore. As you never controverted my assertion, nor required from me any evidence to substantiate it, I concluded either that you regarded my assurance as a sufficient proof of the existence of the fact, or that you were yourself possessed of other testimony, by which it was confirmed. You will therefore, Sir, judge of the surprize and concern, with which I learnt that this privateer, having captured a British ship, attempts have been made, to invalidate the evidence of its illegal equipment, and thereby to retard or prevent the restoration of the prize it had made. The principal circumstances of this transaction, I shall endeavor to relate with as much brevity as possible; and shall rely on the justice of the executive government of the United States for speedy and substantial redress.

This privateer was one of two vessels which, in consequence of a positive requisition from the Secretary of war, a member of the executive Council of Maryland (named Kelty) was appointed to examine, and to endeavor to discover whether the information, that had been given to the Secretary of war, of this vessel’s arming for hostile purposes, in the port of Baltimore, had been well-founded. The intelligence obtained by that person, (Kelty) on his arrival at Baltimore, was certainly deemed sufficient to warrant the immediate forcible seizure and dismantling of this vessel: Although, on the following day, he was induced to restore her, to allow her to be refitted, and to proceed to sea, with a more complete equippment, than any former privateer of a similar description had ever received.

Within a few days after the departure of the Industry from Baltimore she captured the British ship Roehampton, and sent her into that port as a prize. On the arrival of the Roehampton, Mr. Thornton, his Majesty’s Vice-Consul for the state of Maryland, esteemed it his duty to ascertain the fact of the illegal equippment of the privateer the Industry: And unquestionable evidence was obtained—that material alterations had been made in her form, solely for hostile purposes; and that she had received additions to her force much beyond the measure of her former strength. A requisition was therefore made to the Governor of Maryland, accompanied by depositions of these facts, and on the authority of this testimony which placed the privateer in a predicament similar to that of the vessels proscribed by the Presidents instructions, the release of the Roehampton was demanded. The Governor, in his answer of the 18th. of September, refused all interference on the ground—that this evidence ought to have been produced, when the owner of the vessel was present to controvert it—that it was now taken in a manner generally supposed illegal—and that even if admitted in its fullest extent, it did not appear sufficient to authorize his interposition. In the mean time, in order to prevent the precipitate sale of the vessel, and that no measures might be left untried for its recovery, a suit was instituted on behalf of the British owners in the Admiralty Court. It was presumed from the new point of view in which the circular instructions had placed all questions of this nature, that the Judge of that court might be induced to vary his former decision—or that at least in a cause which involved a breach of the law prior to any capture, and within the territory and judicial cognizance of the United States, an enquiry demanded by the owners might be instituted to invalidate or to establish their assertions. The Judge however continued in the opinion that the Admiralty Court had no jurisdiction, and, as a consequence of that sentiment, refused to hear the evidence which was offered. The suit was dismissed: and, as the last resource, application was once more made to the Governor for the provisional detention of the Roehampton, until the determination of the executive government could be obtained. The testimonies already adduced were thought to be sufficient grounds for this requisition at least, even if they had been considered as inadequate to procure her entire restitution. But this request was also refused, because “no testimony was offered in addition to that, which in the Governor’s letter of the 18th. of September did not seem to him sufficient to authorize an interference”: when in reality no other could be produced than such as the same letter had pronounced to be ‘generally supposed illegal.’ After these repeated ineffectual attempts to preserve the Roehampton to her original proprietors, that vesel was of necessity abandoned, was immediately exposed to sale by the French agent, and purchased by a citizen of the United States.

On the propriety of the conduct observed by the Governor of Maryland it is not my intention to offer any animadversions, but I shall content myself with submitting to you, Sir, that evidence which he has thought proper to reject, but which, as contained in the depositions inclosed, will I doubt not appear to the wisdom of the federal executive government to contain as complete a body of proof, as can be expected, of the privateer the Industry having received in the port of Baltimore such repairs, and such augmentation of force (nearly double to her original equippment) as could be intended solely for the purpose of offensive hostility—and consequently she falls under the description of privateers proscribed by the President’s instructions.

After this statement of facts it only remains for me to express my hope, that the executive government of the United States will adopt such measures, as may be the most efficacious, for procuring the recovery of the ship Roehampton from the American citizen to whom, after having been illegally captured, it has been sold, under the authority of a tribunal possessing no legal authority—and for restoring it to its real owners, subjects of Great Britain.

Before I conclude this letter, it is necessary for me to observe that the delay which has arisen in submitting to you the subject of it, has been occasioned by my separation from the members of the executive government, (resulting from the melancholy situation of Philadelphia) by my ignorance of your actual residence, and by my desire of accompanying it, by any oral communication, through which it may be elucidated, or the decision upon it expedited. I have the honor to be with sentiments of great respect Sir Your most obedient humble Servant

Geo. Hammond

RC (DNA: RG 59, NL); in a clerk’s hand, signed by Hammond; at foot of first page: “Mr Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 7 Nov. 1793 and so recorded in SJL. Tr (PRO: FO 5/1). Tr (Lb in DNA: RG 59, NL). Enclosures: (1) Deposition of Warren Lisle Nicoll, Baltimore, 15 Sep. 1793, stating that the schooner Industry arrived in Baltimore with the French fleet from Cap-Français with no more than four guns mounted on its deck, which lacked waist and quarter boards and was surrounded by a low gunnel and railing; that the blacksmith John McClarity told him about having made iron work for some carriages for the ship and about several cannon being brought to and mounted on it; that King, the plumber, informed him about having made a considerable quantity of lead bullets for the schooner; that a considerable number of sweeps of twenty-two or twenty-three feet long were altered and shortened for rowing purposes and, according to McClarity, were sold to the captain by Christian Draybourge of Baltimore; and that the schooner left the shipyard with fourteen guns mounted. (2) Deposition of Benjamin Baker, Baltimore, 12 Sep. 1793, stating, as a ship carpenter, that the schooner Industry was brought to his wharf and shipyard sometime between 6 and 12 Aug. 1793 mounting either four or six guns; that thereafter the ship’s waist was planked up and port holes cut in it; that about six gun carriages were made for it by French workmen in his yard; that trucks for the carriages were made by a Baltimore turner named Myers; that ring bolts and other iron work for the carriages and port holes were made at a blacksmith’s shop in his yard; that the upper works done on the ship at his yard were only needed for armaments; that when the Industry left his yard after two weeks of work it had mounted four six-pounders, eight four-pounders, and two howitzers; and that the captain declared in his hearing that it was not a privateer (Trs in same, in Edward Thornton’s hand, No. 2 being undated, with his notations at foot of No. 1 that the original sworn before him had been forwarded to Governor Thomas Sim Lee, and at foot of No. 2 that an attested copy had been sent to Governor Lee and that the original had been sworn and signed before Justice of the Peace Presbury and forwarded to Phineas Bond; Trs in same, MLR, endorsed by Henry Knox, No. 2 being partially dated; Trs in PRO: FO 5/1, No. 2 undated; Trs in Lb in DNA: RG 59, NL, No. 2 undated). (3) Deposition of John McClarity, Baltimore, 21 Oct. 1793, stating that he made for the privateer Industry at the wharf where it lay iron work for four gun carriages, four iron cranes for the sweeps, stanchions for the waist and quarter nettings, and clamps for two howitzers fixed at its stern; that Draybourge sold a number of sweeps for which the deponent made cranes; that he made twenty pound weight of langrage for the Industry; and that his bill for all this work was settled by a Baltimore merchant named Vouchez. (4) Deposition of Benjamin King, Baltimore, 21 Oct. 1793, stating, as a plumber, that he sold to the captain of the privateer Industry a quantity of sheet lead, about sixty pound weight of leaden bullets, and a vice; and that his bill was settled by the Baltimore merchants Zacharie, Coopman & Company. (5) Deposition of Michael Ballard, Baltimore, 21 Oct. 1793, stating, as a tinman, that he made for the privateer Industry some ladles and 144 cannisters filled with pieces of old iron; and that his bill was paid by Zacharie, Coopman & Company (MSS in DNA: RG 59, NL, in Thornton’s hand, signed by the deponents, with No. 5 subjoined to No. 4; Trs in PRO: FO 5/1; Trs in Lb in DNA: RG 59, NL).

The requisition from the secretary of war was a 6 Aug. 1793 letter in which Henry Knox instructed Governor Thomas Sim Lee of Maryland to suppress “two french Privateers fitting out at Baltimore, the one a Brig to mount fourteen Guns, and the other a Virginia Pilot boat” (W. H. Browne and others, eds., Archives of Maryland, 72 vols. [Baltimore, 1883–1972], lxxii, 345). For the investigation carried out pursuant to this letter in Lee’s absence by Maryland councillor John Kilty, see enclosure listed at TJ to Hammond, 14 Nov. 1793. The instructions of the President forbidding the original arming or equipping of any belligerent ships in American ports for military service are contained in Rules on Neutrality, 3 Aug. 1793. Governor Lee’s answer of the 18th. of September informed Edward Thornton, the British vice-consul at Baltimore, that although he did not comply with Thornton’s request for the release of the Roehampton because of his failure to prove that the Industry “had made any material military equipments in Baltimore,” he had forwarded copies of the vice-consul’s letter and supporting depositions to Knox and left it up to the President to resolve the case (MdAA: Letterbooks of Governor and Council). The 2 Oct. 1793 letter in which Governor Lee denied Thornton’s request for the provisional detention of the Roehampton after the United States District Court in Maryland had declined to take jurisdiction over the case is in same. a tribunal possessing no legal authority: the French consular admiralty court in Baltimore in which F. Moissonnier, the French vice-consul for Maryland, had condemned the Roehampton as a lawful prize (TJ’s second letter to Zebulon Hollingsworth, 14 Nov. 1793).

TJ submitted this letter and its enclosures to the President, who returned them this day (Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 248).

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