James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Anthony Merry, 28 March 1805

To Anthony Merry

Department of State March 28th. 1805


In Proportion to the Frequency of Outrages committed since the Commencement of the present War by British armed Vessels upon the Vessels of the United States, they have in few Instances only been presented to your Attention. The Representations which have been so repeatedly addressed to your Government with a View to a general Remedy, and the Use we have made of Agents, employed in some of the Scenes of most frequent Complaint, to claim Redress in a uniform Manner from the proper Authorities, have led to this Forbearance to resort to your particular Interposition. I am very sorry to be obliged to remark that our reasonable Expectations of a general Remedy from your Government have not yet been fulfilled; and that Cases are occurring of a Nature which will not permit me to spare you the Trouble which I now give you. One of these Cases is the very injuriou<s> Treatment of the Brig Cynthia received from the Commander of a British Public Ship as declared in the inclosed Statements of the Captain of the Cynthia;1 and another the Impressment, the Details of which are also inclosed, of Four Men from the Brig Betsy,2 which beyond all Doubt was a Briti<sh> one, under the singular Circumstance of a studie<d> Concealment of her Name, thereby to cut off from the unfortunate Persons, deprived of their Liberty, the Hope of regaining it by the Report to be made through the Means of the Master of their Ship on its Return to the United States. You will observe, Sir, in perusing the inclosed Documents, that both the Cases are marked alike by several Circumstances of Enormity. In each Case the impressed Men were Citizens of the United States and produced documentary Proof of the Fact; and in each the Number of Men taken bore so great a Proportion to the whole Crew as to induce the Master to request that his Vessel might be taken Possession of by the British Officers, her safety after such a Deprivation being imminently endangered.

The immediate Object of laying these Incidents before you, is that of obtaining a proper Interposition with the Superiors of the Officers complained of, such as I am persuaded you will readily employ, and such as may have the Effect, without a circuitous Application in London, to liberate the Men and restrain in Future the Perpetration of Acts so immediately leading to Consequences injurious to the friendly Intercourse between the Two Governments, which is so valuable to both. Permit me to add that the distinguishing Marks given by the American Master as applying both to the Frigate and her Commander in the Case of the Betsy may enable his Superior to identify him, towards which the Names of the impressed Men, and the Place of the Impressment may also be subservient. I have the Honor to be &c

(Signed) James Madison

Tr and Tr of enclosures (UkLPR: Foreign Office, ser. 5, 45:145–57); letterbook copy and letterbook copy of enclosures (ibid., ser. 115, 14:45–54). Tr and Tr of enclosures, marked “Copy” and “Triplicate,” enclosed in Merry to Mulgrave, 30 Mar. 1805, ibid., ser. 5, 45:141–42. For enclosures, see nn. 1–2.

1The enclosures (10 pp.) are copies of the 8 and 14 Dec. 1804 declarations of Capt. John H. Andrews of the Cynthia, owned by Thomas Perkins of Salem, Massachusetts, that he sailed with a cargo of salt fish, meat, cheese, vegetables, barrel staves, hoops, and house hold goods on 15 Nov. 1804 bound for Martinique. On 14 Dec. the Cynthia was pursued, shot at, and brought to by the British naval brig Curieux, Capt. George E. B. Bettesworth; after examining them, Bettesworth claimed that the descriptions in the protections of Cynthia’s crewmen were inaccurate and he removed the men. When Andrews said that he could not sail without a crew and refused to leave the Curieux, Bettesworth ordered four men from the Curieux’s sick list aboard the Cynthia. Andrews attached a list of the four men taken as well as the attestation of mate John Shelling and sailor John Cummons to his complaint. The declaration was signed on 6 Nivose an 13 (27 Dec. 1804) by under-commissary of maritime administration Lewis [sic] Agnes, colonial prefect Pierre Laussat, and notary public Durand at St. Pierre, Martinique, and certified on 12 Feb. 1805 by Ezekiel Savage, notary public of Salem.

2The enclosures (12 pp.) are copies of the 4 Feb. 1805 deposition, sworn to before notary Maltby Gelston of New York, of Capt. Henry White of the Betsey that in October 1804 off the eastern end of Haiti, he had been brought to by the captain of a British frigate who sent a crew on board to impress seamen Thomas Knapp, John Evans, John Blume, and Joseph S. Worthy, and the 15 Feb. 1805 deposition by White and mate Henry Keeler, also sworn to before Gelston, relating more details of the incident, stating that the British officers refused to reveal the name of the vessel or their captain, that the captain seized the men from the Betsey saying he would take whomever he wanted and did not care to what country they belonged. They said that one of the British sailors had told Keeler the vessel was La Française. In a description of the incident in the 15 Mar. 1805 Philadelphia United States’ Gazette, the British ship is called La Franchesse, Capt. John Murray. It was probably the thirty-six-gun Franchise.

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