James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John E. Caldwell, 2 June 1802

From John E. Caldwell

City of Santo Domingo 2d. June 1802.


A few days after I had received from Mr. Lear a commission of the President of the US. dated the 26th. January 1802—appointing me Commercial Agent of the US. for the city of Sto. Domingo &c.,1 General Kerversau,2 who commands the Spanish part of this Island, returned from an expedition against the blacks; he having been absent from here for several weeks past. I lost no time in waiting on him, in order to be informed whether the permission he had given me (when he first landed here with the European troops) to exercise, until further orders, the functions of my office at Sto. Domingo, would be withdrawn, or continued. He invited me to exhibit to him the commission I had lately received; which I did. Two days after I received from him a letter dated the 9th. Prairial, of which the inclos⟨ed⟩ (marked No. 1.) is a copy.3 The substance & style of that letter appearing to me extraordinary & inconsistent with the dispositions that General had before manifes⟨ted⟩ I immediately waited on him for an explanation. I then told him that I had thitherto considered his first permission, & his tacit approbation since then a sufficient reason for me to continue the function⟨s⟩ of the office I held; that I had always been ready to cease exercising them, whenever I should apprehend that exercise to be obnoxious to the Government of that country. He answered me that he had received orders from the General in chief of the Island respecting all foreign agents, which orders he would shortly communicate to me: that he considered my mission to be to Toussaint, & that the manner in which my Commission was worded (not having mentioned the name of the Government of the country to which I was sent) was a deep Jesuitical finesse of the Secretary of State. To that & some other similar observations I was convinced a reply by me would be useless & improper. I therefore confined myself to saying to him that I should ask him for a passport to leave the country, & I retired. I shortly after wrote to him for that passport; the next day he sent me two; one for the Cape, & the other for the United States; both accompanying a letter of the 11th. Prairial (1st. June) of which the inclosed marked No. 2. is a true copy.4 I sent him back the passport for the Cape, and kept the other, of which I send you also the inclosed copy.5

You will please to Observe that a vessel, just then arrived from the cape, had brought a confirmation of the account of Mr. Lear’s departure, with a relation of many unpleasant circumstances that took place there previous to it.

I have taken passage on board an american vessel bound to St. Thomas, which sails tomorrow. From thence I shall shortly return to the United States. I have the honor to be with due respect, Sir, Your most obedient & humble servant

John E. Caldwell

P. S. On returning to Genl. Kerversau the passport for the cape—I wrote to him, that I would have it well understood that my accepting of the passport for the United States should not imply the inference drawn in his last letter to me, nor bear any consequence unfavorable to my appointment for this place, in any respect whatever.

John E. Caldwell

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