Thomas Jefferson Papers

Petition of Nathaniel Ingraham, 27 January 1803

Petition of Nathaniel Ingraham


[on or before 27 Jan. 1803]

The humble petition of Nathaniel Ingraham Mariner of Bristol in the County of Bristol in the State of Rhode Island & Providence Plantations, Sheweth

That in January in the Year of our Lord 1801, an action was brought against your Petitioner in the District Court for Rhode Island District by John W. Leonard, who sued as well for the United States as for himself, to recover certain penalties incurred by the Petitioner as Master of a certain vessel called the Fanney, under the acts of Congress against carrying on the Slave trade. That at November turm of said Court following the cause was tried and a verdict given by the jury against your Petitioner for the sum of Fourteen Thousand &   Dollars, and Judgment rendered accordingly for that sum with costs; that on the sixth Day of April AD. 1802 Execution having issued against your Petitioner upon said Judgment, he was thereupon committed to Jail in Bristol in said District. That on the voyage in which your Petitioner violated the Law as above stated the vessell was taken by the British, and together with the Cargo and your Petitioners adventure being all the Property he possessed, was condemned at New Providence, and totally lost. Now your Petitioner would humbly represent that he is so far from possessing means to discharge the amount of said Execution that he is utterly destitute of property for the support of himself and family from day to day. That in this his indigent situation and confined upon said Execution to Jail, his family would suffer the miseries of the most extreme poverty and the want even of food for the sustentation of life, but for the charity of friends and the scanty relief afforded by their own labour. That his family consists of a wife and five Children and an aged Mother who looked up to your Petitioner as their only hope and support, and have now no other prospect of relief from their distresses but in his liberation, But tho his own sufferings may be considered as the necessary consequence of his violation of the Laws. Yet theirs, tho they are innocent are not less severe, that for him & them there is yet hope in the clemency of the President of the United States, to whom your Petitioner emboldened by misfortune applies himself for Mercy and humbly supplicates for himself and his wretched family, that the President would be pleased to commiserate his condition, pardon his offence, and release that part of said penalty which is due to the United States. And your Petitioner as in Duty bound will ever pray—

Nathanl Ingraham

We the Subscribers, whose names are hereunder written, certify that the Facts stated in the within Petition, are correct. We deplore the unhappy circumstances under which the Petitioner labours, and sincerely join with him in his Prayer for relief. We are certain that it is absolutely impossible for him ever to pay the fine imposed upon him; and there remains but the alternative, either to remit his fine, and restore to his distressed family their only support, and to the community an active and useful Citizen; or enforce the rigor of law against the unhappy delinquent, and oblige him to waste away an useful life in the depth of solitude and misery and plunge a virtuous and unoffending family into distress.

Joseph Reynolds. Justice S. Court.
John D’Wolf. Just. Inf. Court.
Amos Hail Do. Do. 
Jos. Whitmarsh. H. Sheriff Co. Bristol.
William Bradford. Late Senator Congress.
Samuel Allen. Just. Inf. Court.
John Brown. Late Repr. Congress.
Joseph Rawson. Justice Peace
Barnard Smith. Ditto 
John Champlin. Merchant.
Daniel Bradford Jur. Justice Peace.
Tho. Church Merchant
William Hunter. Counsel. at Law
Nicho Peck Merchant.
Isaac Manchester Merchant
Jeremiah Diman 2d Do.
Charles Collins Do.
Charles D’Wolfe Do.
James Allen Do.
Hersey Bradford Do.
Benj Bosworth 2d Do.
John W. Bourn Do.
Joseph Smith, Junr. Do.
William Gardner. }
Caleb Gardner

I know not the Petitioner but am well informd. he is a proper object of Clemency

Constant Taber

MS (DLC: TJ Papers, 122:21038); undated; in an unidentified hand, signed by Ingraham; certificate on verso signed by all; at head of text: “To the President of the United States.” Recorded in SJL as received 27 Jan. 1803 and “petn. fine for negro trade.”

acts of congress against carrying on the slave trade: in 1794, Congress passed “An Act to prohibit the carrying on the Slave Trade from the United States to any foreign place or country.” The act made any vessel built or outfitted in the United States that engaged in the international slave trade subject to seizure, prosecution, and condemnation in any federal circuit or district court. Persons owning or abetting such ventures were subject to fines of $2,000 and any United States citizen taking persons on board their vessels to be sold as slaves were liable to a fine of $200 for each slave received. Monies received as a result of the act were to be divided between the United States and the person or persons bringing the suit against the accused. The act was strengthened in 1800, subjecting owners of condemned slave ships to fines equal to double the amount of their share in the vessel, while citizens voluntarily serving on such vessels were liable for up to $2,000 in fines and two years imprisonment. Vessels commissioned by the United States were authorized to seize ships found in violation of the act, with the proceeds from the sale of condemned vessels to be divided among the officers and crew of the vessel making the seizure. Federal district and circuit courts also received specific cognizance “of all acts and offences against the prohibitions” contained within the act. An additional act, passed 28 Feb. 1803, prohibited the importation of “any negro, mulatto, or other person of colour, not being a native, a citizen, or a registered seaman of the United States” into ports where state laws prohibited such importations, thus making violations of the state law a violation of federal law as well. Federal customs and revenue officers were “enjoined vigilantly to carry into effect the said laws of said states, conformably to the provisions of this act” (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States…1789 to March 3, 1845, Boston, 1855-56, 8 vols. description ends , 1:347–9; 2:70–1, 205–6; D. Kurt Graham, To Bring Law Home: The Federal Judiciary in Early National Rhode Island [DeKalb, Ill., 2010], 116–20).

Many of the subscribers above had a direct or indirect interest in the Rhode Island slave trade. As state and federal representatives, William Bradford and John Brown were active supporters of the trade, and Bradford’s sons-in-law, Charles Collins and James D’Wolf, were among the state’s leading participants. The D’Wolf, Champlin, and Gardner families had long and substantial involvement in slave trading. Nine of the subscribers were also directors of the Bristol Insurance Company, a firm incorporated in 1800 that supplied marine insurance on many slave vessels and their cargoes (Peter J. Coleman, The Transformation of Rhode Island, 1790–1860 [Providence, 1963], 51–7, 211–12; Jay Coughtry, The Notorious Triangle: Rhode Island and the African Slave Trade, 1700–1807 [Philadelphia, 1981], 37, 45–9, 94, 205, 209–10, 225–6, 262–85; Warren, R.I., Herald of the United States, 8 Jan. 1802).

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