James Madison Papers

To James Madison from George W. Erving, 2 March 1805

From George W. Erving

Private. No 30

March. 2. 1805

Dear Sir

Having lately had much communication with Baron Jacobi upon the subject of the papers inclosed,1 who has shewn me his instructions from the king of Prussia by which it appears that he is Extremely solicitous to procure the most accurate information respecting the origin progress & treatment of the yellow fever, & of Every circumstance connected with it; I thought it might be well in a public view to manifest the utmost attention to his application, & as an individual to reciprocate the friendly sentiments & the wishes for a perfectly good understanding & friendly intercourse between the two countries, which he has taken occasion in the conversations produced by the subject herein referred to Express as the sentiments of his government, as well as his own.

Mr Purviance being Extremely unwell was the reason of Baron Jacobi’s applying to me on this subject;2 The communication therefore seemed to be in some sort official; & on that account I have thought it proper to inclose to you the letter which I have taken the liberty of writing to Dr Rush;3 that you may do herein whatever you deem fit, Either by suppressing my letter promoting the object of the Enquiry in another & more effectual Mode & causing the result to be transmitted thro our minister here, or by leaving it to take its chance in its present form. I am Dear Sir Very respectfully & faithy your obliged & obt st

George W Erving

I annex an Extract of a letter of this date which I have written to Mr M. & for which purpose I have borrowed the Cypher of Mr P.4 The matter therein referred to I very much fear is connected with no friendly views towards us; this however is at present merely my own conjecture; I shall not fail to seek correct information by Evry practicable means & if I can collect any thing important & authentic communicate it to you as soon as possible.5

RC (DNA: RG 59, CD, London, vol. 9). Cover marked “Private”; docketed by Wagner. For enclosures, see nn. 3–4.

1The enclosures have not been found but presumably dealt with Prussian concerns regarding the prevention of yellow fever (see n. 3 below). Baron Konstans Philipp Wilhelm von Jacobi-Kloest (1745–1817) was Prussian ambassador at Vienna in 1790, at London from 1792 to 1816, and was the Prussian representative at the Congress of Rastatt in 1799 (Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Memoirs of the Prince de Talleyrand, ed. Albert de Broglie, trans. Raphaël Ledos de Beaufort [5 vols.; London, 1891–92], 2:251 n. 1).

2On 10 Dec. 1804 Erving told James Monroe that John Henry Purviance’s “present state of health is so bad as almost entirely to disqualify him from business,” adding that bad weather and physical complaints had confined Purviance indoors, which “may have rather promoted the disorder upon his nerves” (DLC: Monroe Papers). On 2 Mar. 1805 Erving wrote Monroe that he had been to see Purviance and that “his health does not improve; but as he thinks himself is rather worse; yet his disorder appears to be Entirely nervous” (NN: Monroe Papers). On 4 Mar. 1805 Armstrong forwarded to Monroe a letter from Erving, commenting that he supposed it “relates to the ill state of health of Purviance; who, it is said, is deranged and quite unfit for business,” and adding that the French government no longer displayed any interest in U.S. negotiations with Spain (ibid.). In 1819 John Quincy Adams described Purviance, who by then was a clerk and translator in the State Department, as being in “always feeble” health and having “turns of melancholy sometimes to the degree of mental derangement” (MHi: Adams Papers [microfilm ed.], reel 6, diary entry 22 Mar. 1819).

3Erving presumably enclosed his 1 Mar. 1805 letter to Benjamin Rush transmitting a letter to Rush from Prussian minister Baron Jacobi-Kloest asking for information about yellow fever. After sending the information, Rush received a gold medal from the king of Prussia (Butterfield, Letters of Benjamin Rush, 2:896, 897 n. 5, 918).

4The appended extract (1 p.; in code; decoded interlinearly by JM, and decoded here, with punctuation added, by the editors; for the code, see PJM-SS, description begins Robert J. Brugger et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Secretary of State Series (9 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1986–). description ends 4:352 n. 1) is taken from Erving to Monroe, 2 Mar. 1805 (NN: Monroe Papers), and states: “It is certain that they have a very formidable expedition fitting out here for South America or for Mexico but to what particular point it is to be directed I have not been yet able to discover. I suspect Vera Cruz. There is an extraordinary degree of anxiety to learn something about your proceedings. I profess on all occasions perfect ignorance. If I should obtain any information respecting the expedition which I can rely on I shall suppose it may be useful to communicate it to you and with this view have borrowed of mister Purviance your cypher.”

5Erving’s dispatch was received at Washington about 2 May 1805 (Anthony Merry to Lord Mulgrave, 2 May 1805 [UkLPR: Foreign Office, ser. 115, 14:85–86]).

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