James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William C. C. Claiborne and James Wilkinson, 17 January 1804

From William C. C. Claiborne and James Wilkinson

New Orleans January 17th. 1804


No alteration has taken place since our last, of which you have a duplicate under cover, excepting the receipt of the necessary orders, for the delivery of all the Spanish Posts in upper Louisiana,1 and at Nachitoches and it’s dependencies.

But we have to apprize you of an unexpected occurrence of a most unpleasant nature. Early yesterday morning we were formally advised by Mr. Daniel Clarke, of the arrival of a vessel at the Balize, with a body of troops from St. Domingo; in consequence of which the enclosed order was dispatched to the Commanding Officer at Plaquemines,2 and we addressed the letter of which you have a copy under cover No. 1. to the French Prefect,3 who a short time after called on us in person, and informed us he had been previously apprized of the circumstances reported by us, but having received no official report on the occasion, he did not feel himself authorized to reply to our application. He spoke much at this interview, without expressing to us a single determined sentiment respecting the future disposition of these people, but laboured obviously to establish the general principle of a right of asylum.

On being asked specifically whether he would supply this vessel’s company with fresh provisions, he declined it on the ground of impracticability, arising as we understood out of the nature of the climate. But he expressed the wish that we should suspend all proceedings, until we received official information of the arrival, and the circumstances attending it, and, in the mean time requested we would take no steps without consulting him, to which we assented.

This morning we have received the enclosed deposition from a man of character of this place, who arrived the night before the last from the Island of Cuba;4 in consequence of which we addressed the letter No. 2. to the Prefect,5 and now wait his answer with great solicitude, as we entertain no doubt that these fugitives are suffering exquisitely from famine and disease, and should the Prefect fail either in means or disposition, to relieve those sufferers,6 we shall consider it our solemn duty to the character of our Country and the claims of humanity, to interpose our authority and rescue these unfortunate persons from destruction, providing at the same time against the introduction of disease into the Province, and for the conveyance of the armed force to some other place. Accept assurances of our great respect, and high consideration.

William C. C. Claiborne

Ja: Wilkinson

P. S. On reperusing the above letter, we find that we omitted to mention, that at our interview with the Prefect, we informed him of the orders which had been given to the Commanding Officer at Plaquemines, and he expressed his approbation of, and thanks for so much thereof, as related to the supply of provisions &c. to his unfortunate countrymen.

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