Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Joshua Barney, 5 June 1801

From Joshua Barney

Paris the 5 June 1801


In 1793 I was captured by the British in Virtue of the famous orders of June & Novr. against the Americans, and carried to Jaimaica, where I was imprisoned, and tried for my life for having defended my property from plunder, and the flag of the US, from insult, I was acquitted on trial, and returned to America in April 1794, after having had my Ship and Cargo condemned amounting to 72000 Dollars, of which I was proprietor with Mr. John Hollins of Baltimore, my fortune was then reduced to about 25000 dollars which was owing me by the republic of france for provisions sold them at St Domingo—My family was large, I had no other resource after having been plunder’d by the british, than in the payment of this debt, I arrived from Jamaica in philadelphia, in May 1794, in June the president of the US named me to the Command of One of the frigates which was to be built, but as it was absolutely necessary to recover my payment from france, and no other means left but that of making a Voyage to Europe, from what Mr. Fauchet the Embassador told me—I decided to demand of Mr Knox secretary of War, the liberty to be absent for a time in order to make the Voyage for the recoverment of that Sum, this was denied me, which Obliged me to demand my dismission, & I came to france with Mr. Monroe; when Mr. Monroe was received by the National Convention I was directed by him to present the flag of the US, which was received with acclamations of Joy, Several of the members knowing me, imediately demanded that I should be employed in the Navy of the Republic as Capitaine de Vaisseau, being Obliged to quit the service of the US to make this Voyage, I accepted that which was offer’d me, Seeing that my Country whom I had served so faithfully was at peace in appearance with all the world, for the treaty with England was then signed; from that time untill the month of August 1798 I was employed in Activity as Chef d’Escadre commanding all the Marine forces in the leeward Islands, but when I saw that there was likely to be a difference between the US and france I withdrew from Activity, and returned to Europe to render count of my Mission, from that period I have remained making it my study to acquire all the Knowledge possible in the Marine tacticks, in order to be again of Service to my Country if required, in Novr. last, the moment I knew that the treaty between france and America was signed, and the news that a republican was respected in the US, and that every thing announced your Nomination to the Presidency, resigned my Commission, with intention to return home to my Native Country, When it is considerd what was the general opinion in America in June 1794, my taking a Commission at that time in the Service of france cannot be but honorable to me, I have been carressed and promoted in Rank here, but I love my Country for whom I have so often fought, and am again ready to sacrafice my life for her, under your Administrat[ion.] I therefore Offer you my services in any Manner you may be pleased to employ me, and shall be doubly happy if my experience during the whole of the American War, and Seven Years of this can be rendered Utile in serving my Country.

I have the honor to be Your Obt Servt.

Joshua Barney

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); frayed at edge; at head of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr. President of the United States.” Recorded in SJL as received 10 Sep.

Joshua Barney (1759–1818) went to sea as a youth and first took command of a ship at the age of 15, when the captain of a merchant vessel died during a transatlantic voyage. During the American Revolution Barney was an officer in the service of the Continental Congress and Pennsylvania, and in 1783–84 he commanded the ship that brought dispatches from Benjamin Franklin and the American peace commissioners at Versailles. After the war he engaged in various business ventures. In 1814, charged with the defense of Chesapeake Bay, he attempted to repel the British attack on Washington (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; Vol. 6:253; Vol. 7:15).

Barney was captured by the british in October 1793 on the return leg of a trading voyage from Baltimore to Saint-Domingue. Earlier that year he had forcibly retaken his ship after it was captured by British privateers, and in February 1794 the admiralty court in Jamaica tried him for piracy and attempted murder in that incident. The court acquitted him of the charges, but upheld the second seizure of his vessel and its cargo (Louis Arthur Norton, Joshua Barney: Hero of the Revolution and 1812 [Annapolis, 2000], 116–23).

To present the flag: Barney commanded the commercial ship on which James Monroe traveled to France as minister plenipotentiary in 1794. He was present when Monroe made his ceremonial appearance before the Convention in Paris after their arrival, and Monroe asked Barney to make the presentation of an American flag, crafted of silk with silver stars and gold fringe, to the French government, an event that had symbolic significance and political consequences (Ammon, Monroe description begins Harry Ammon, James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity, New York, 1971 description ends , 116, 119–21; Vol. 28:578–9n). Barney received a commission as capitaine de Vaisseau (post captain) in the French Navy in 1795, but at the lowest tier of that rank. He resigned to take command of his own small privateer fleet, but then accepted a new French naval commission at the highest level of capitaine de vaisseau, equivalent to a commodore. He took a squadron (escadre) to the West Indies and used Saint-Domingue as his headquarters (Norton, Joshua Barney, 133–49; Vol. 29:347, 586, 587n).

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