Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Edmund P. Gaines, 23 July 1807

Washington Capitol Hill, July 23d. 1807.


In compliance with the request contained in your note of this date, on the subject of the 1st. complaint mentioned in the memorial from Tombigby—“that I had stopped a vessel having a legal permit,” I have the honor to state that, A few days before I left Fort Stoddert, a coasting vessel arrived with a cargo of Merchandize accompanied by a regular certified manifest, from the Custom House, N. Orleans,—by which it appeared that a part of the Cargo was shipped by Messrs. Thomas & Co. of that place and consigned to Thomas, one of the said firm,—a part to the Commanding officer, Fort Stoddert,—and the residue to J Kennedy; all to be delivered as per Manifest, at Fort Stoddert. The Master of the Vessel took the oath required by law, and obtained a permit to land his cargo,—the public goods were discharged. The packages of Merchandize consigned to Thomas, and to Kennedy were Inspected on board the vessel. The master, and Kennedy (Thomas being absent) having reported that these packages were to be delivered at Mr. Kennedys’ Store 16 miles higher up the river. The vessel accordingly sailed,—but before she got out of sight Mr. Thomas arrived and proposed to make oath that he had good reasons to believe Kennedy was endeavoring to swindle him out of his goods (the truth of which I was afterward convinced of) and he insisted on receiving them according to their consignment. I instantly determined that, the consignee had a right to demand his goods at the port of destination, in all cases, whether fraud had been meditated or not.—and the Inspector not being present I authorised Sergeant Lewis, who was then off duty to act as Inspector, and bring back the Vessel, in consequence of the master, having, contrary to Law, made a false report.

When the Vessel was brought back, the master, who speaks little or no english, came with his interpreter to my office,—expressed regret that he had acted improperly, and assured me that he had done so through the advice of Mr. Kennedy—as it had been, and still was, his wish to deliver the goods at Fort Stoddert. They were accordingly delivered, perfectly to the satisfaction of Mr. Thomas, and as I believe, the master of the vessel,—and without the least injury to the legal interests of Mr. Kennedy.

As respects Ensign Small, who I left in command at Fort Stoddert,—I know but little. He had been with me but a few days, when I received orders from the Secretary at war “to leave the Command with the most suitable character there, and repair to N. Orleans,—thence to Richmond.” Ensign Small was the only officer for duty on the River (a Sebastian being in arrest). I waited only until I took inventories of, and receipts for the Military Stores, which, with the books and papers, I turned over to Mr. Small. with respect to Passports, I refered him to the Act of Congress in relation thereto,—and added, that since the troubles of Burrs Conspiricy, I had deemed it expedient, previous to granting a passport to a Stranger, to require a line of recommendation from some one who knew and suggested to him, verbally, the same plan. Captain Few is deemed a good Citizen,—but he might have been unknown to Mr. Small, who, tho sufficiently intelligent to make a good officer, yet is inexperienced in military duty, and perhaps not entirely void of undue passions & prejudices, which indeed are too often attached to the Character of his countrymen—He is from Ireland.

The 2nd. charge in the memorial “that I arrested Colo. Burr, militarily,” is perfectly correct,—if my voluntary performance of that act, uninfluenced by any other person, must necessarily be deemed a military arrest. At the moment I learned that Burr, was in the country, I proposed to send a guard with Majr. Perkins, provided he would make the arrest, but he positively refused thus to act. Since seeing your remark on that subject,—and comparing it with those of the Counsel, on the part of the U States, at Richmond,—I am led to believe that a misunderstanding has taken place. I have since examined a copy of my Statement to the Secretary at war, and find nothing calculated to produce this effect.—Except in mentioning Majr. Perkins, I observed, what I was happy to have it in my power to say, “that the public were greatly indebted to him for the Seizure of Burr”,—for he first discovered that Burr was in the country and traveled 26 miles at night when the road and weather were very bad, to advise me thereof, under the expectation that I had received authority to arrest the fugitive.

I must beg your forgiveness for intruding these Explanations. I did not until lately suppose they were at all necessary,—but it appears to me now, that without them, a misconception, which may be taken advantage of by Burr’s party, would be suffered to exist,—and all my communications on the Subject might be Supposed affected, and inconsistent.

I have the honor to be with the greatest respect and Esteem, Your obliged Servt.

Edmd. P: Gaines

Captain 2nd. U.S. Inf.

DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

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