Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Monroe, 22 May 1801

From James Monroe

Richmond 22d. May 1801.


I was requested by the General Assembly at its last Session to transmit to the President of the United States, a copy of my communication to it, with the documents accompanying it, relative to the conduct of the Britith Consul at Norfolk, who was charged with having received a man of a Magistrate of the Borough of Norfolk, said to have confessed himself one of the Mutineers on board the British ship Hermione; and sending him to one of the British islands to be punished for that offence. The object of the proposed communication to the President was that I should request him to cause such enquiry to be made into the transaction by the competent authority, and such redress given, in case it appeared that the charge alledged was true, as the laws of nations and of the United States warranted. I have now the honor to transmit you a copy of the communication and documents referred to which I do in full confidence you will pay the subject the attention to which its delecacy and importance entitle it. As the act which is imputed to the Consul, and the proceeding of the Legislature of this Commonwealth respecting it were in the time of your predecessor, I thought it consistent with propriety to submit the case to him, as soon as circumstances would permit, after the resolution of the General Assembly made it my duty to communicate on the subject with the President of the United States. But as the term of the late President expired soon afterwards, it is probable it was not in his power to fulfil the expectation of the Commonwealth, in respect to the important object submitted to his considerations. I transmit you a copy of my letter to him that you may know what ever has occurred on this Subject.

With great respect I have the honor to be Sir &c.

Jas. Monroe

FC (Vi: Executive Letterbook); in a clerk’s hand; at head of text: “Thomas Jefferson, President of the U States.” Enclosures: (1) Extract from Monroe’s message to the legislature, 1 Dec. 1800, reporting an investigation made by his order into the delivery in April 1800, without requisite judicial and diplomatic process, of a sailor from the United States frigate Constellation into the custody of the British consul at Norfolk for trial and execution under British jurisdiction; this “extraordinary” handing over of a person entitled to the protection of the laws of Virginia and the United States “excited the astonishment” of the governor, who submits papers relative to the inquiry and suggests that the General Assembly make provision for the punishment under Virginia law of any such actions in the future (Tr in DNA: RG 59, MLR, filed with Enclosure No. 4 listed below, as are Enclosures 2–3; in a clerk’s hand). (2) Extract of minutes of the Virginia House of Delegates, 14 Jan. 1801, with the report of a committee stating that John Hamilton, the British consul, acted without authority in asking for the surrender of Hugh Jones, the mariner; the House resolving that the governor should refer the matter to the president, since the United States has judicial power in cases involving foreign consuls, and resolving also that provision should be made against similar infractions in the future (Tr in same; in a clerk’s hand, attested by William Wirt; with notation of the concurrence of the Virginia Senate on 22 Jan. 1801). (3) Reports and supporting documents from George Hay, whom Monroe commissioned to investigate the matter, and Philip Norborne Nicholas, attorney general of Virginia, concerning the surrender of Jones by Thomas Truxtun, captain of the Constellation, to Dr. John K. Read, alderman of the Borough of Norfolk, Read’s ordering of a transfer of custody to Hamilton, and Hamilton’s arranging for the transport of Jones to Jamaica, where he was tried and hanged; documenting also an instance in which Read had another suspected Hermione mutineer jailed subject to Hamilton’s orders (in same; partially Tr and partially printed copies). (4) Monroe to John Adams, 9 Feb. 1801, informing him of the inquiry and providing documentation pursuant to the resolution of the General Assembly (Tr in same; in a clerk’s hand).

The most controversial case of an accused participant in the 1797 mutiny aboard the British frigate hermione involved Jonathan Robbins, who was executed in Jamaica after the Adams administration granted the request for his extradition (Vol. 31:181–2n; Notes on a Cabinet Meeting, 16 May 1801).

On a letter from Meriwether W. Jones to James Madison of 10 July 1801, recommending John K. Read for appointment, TJ wrote the following: “There is not a man in the US. who deserves countenance less than Dr. Reade. he is now under prosecution by order of the legislature of Virginia. Th:J.” (RC in ViU, with note in TJ’s hand at foot of text; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser. description begins J. C. A. Stagg, ed., The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, Charlottesville, 1986–, 8 vols. description ends , 1:395–6).

Index Entries