James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William C. C. Claiborne, 9 December 1805 (Abstract)

From William C. C. Claiborne, 9 December 1805 (Abstract)

§ From William C. C. Claiborne. 9 December 1805, New Orleans. “The enclosures Nos. 1. 2 & 31 will present you with copies of the Several Letters, which have passed between Govr. Folch and Myself, relative to the exaction of Duties at the Town of Mobile on American Vessels, and the late Military Movements in West Florida. The Enclosure No. 4 is a copy of a Letter from me to Mr. Brown the Collector of this Port, and that No. 5 of his answer.2 Governor Folch proposes to put the American Trade on the Mobile, on the Same footing in which the Spanish trade is placed on the Mississippi; But inasmuch as Foreign Vessels with Negroes on Board, cannot be permitted to pass New Orleans, I fear the Governor will Seize upon this circumstance as a pretext for continuing at Mobile the present regulations. In this event, I solicit your instructions how to act. A continuance of the duty of 12 per ct, amounts very nearly to a prohibition to our Citizens, of the Navigation of the Mobile Waters; and cannot but prove ruinous to our Settlements on the Tombicbee.

“Mr. Graham Supposes that at Pensacola and its Dependencies, there are about 800 Troops and at Mobile 150. He represents the Fort below Pensacola, called the Barances, which defends the entrance to the Bay as already Strong, and undergoing considerable improvements, but that the Fortifications near the Town are in a State of Ruin. The Fort at Mobile has lately been repaired, and in the opinion of Mr. Graham is a regular work, and capable of making a good defence; It is Supported by about 32 Pieces of Heavy Can’on. Mr. Graham States that on Dauphin Island near the mouth of Mobile, the Spaniards are about to erect a Block House, and from thence to Pensacola at convenient distances, they propose rearing Signal Posts to convey intelligence. Mr. Graham understood that more Troops were expected at Pensacola; report Said 2000, and that new Barracks were to be erected, but the truth of this, he much doubts.

“At Baton Rouge I presume there are about 200 Men. I shall Set out on Tomorrow for the County of Atakapas, on the Business which I communicated to you in my last Letter.3 It is not probable that I shall be absent from the City more than 15 or 16 days.”

RC and enclosures (DNA: RG 59, TP, Orleans, vol. 7). 3 pp.; in a clerk’s hand, signed by Claiborne; docketed by Wagner, with his note: “Proposal to Govr. Folch about opening the Mobille.” For surviving enclosures, see nn. 1–2.

1Enclosure No. 1 has not been found but presumably was a copy of Claiborne to Vicente Folch, 31 Oct. 1805, enclosed in Claiborne to JM, 31 Oct. 1805. Enclosure No. 2 (4 pp.; marked “Copy / translation” by Claiborne; docketed by Wagner) is Folch to Claiborne, 28 Nov. 1805, replying to the two points in the latter’s 31 Oct. 1805 letter. Folch stated that he would be willing to suspend the duties paid by American ships passing Mobile, ad interim, pending royal approval, provided that Spanish ships passing to Baton Rouge should not be detained or charged duties; that the Treaty of San Lorenzo stated that Spain should receive most-favored-nation status, therefore vessels sailing from New Orleans to West Florida should receive the same drawbacks granted merchandise sailing to other foreign ports; that if the United States had a right to use of the waters of Mobile river and bay, Spain should have the same right to the Mississippi; that the treaty nowhere exempted U.S. ships from paying duties in Spanish ports; and that Claiborne’s argument that international law gave the United States such a right was refuted by the fact that all ships passing through the Oresund paid duties to Denmark, and those passing through the Dardanelles paid duties to the Ottoman Empire. In reply to Claiborne’s objection to Spanish troop movements, Folch stated that they had occurred in response to the disruptions of good order caused by the Kempers at Baton Rouge and by another disruption at Mobile caused by U.S. citizens from the Tombigbee River region; he reminded Claiborne that in 1804 a detachment of U.S. troops had arrived at New Orleans from Philadelphia, that another had come down the Mississippi bringing artillery, that another had “traversed the whole Indian Nation of Creeks to come to Fort Stoddart,” and that in none of these instances had Folch objected to Claiborne, since they all occurred within U.S. sovereignty, and that Claiborne might follow his example and not inquire into movements occurring in territory under Spanish sovereignty. Enclosure No. 3 (4 pp.; in a clerk’s hand, signed by Claiborne) is a copy of Claiborne to Folch, 9 Dec. 1805, stating that while he regretted that he and Folch interpreted international law differently, he was pleased to find that the situation might be resolved to their mutual satisfaction and that Folch was willing to put U.S. trade on the Mobile on the same footing as Spanish trade on the Mississippi; that Spanish vessels were never detained at New Orleans provided it was manifest that the cargo was destined for a Spanish port and not for New Orleans; that this being the case, he presumed Folch would suspend the orders in effect at Mobile, adding that Folch would understand “that no foreign Vessel with negroes on board, will be permitted to pass the First Military Post on the Mississippi,” but that this would not injure Spanish trade, since if the inhabitants of Baton Rouge wanted blacks, the Mississippi was not the route by which they would introduce them. Claiborne added that no distinction was made with regard to drawbacks between Spanish and any other foreign ports; that Congress had legislated that “no Drawback shall be allowed on Goods exported to the Territories of any foreign power adjoining those of the United States”; that since this was a general regulation, he believed it could not be used by Folch as justification for keeping the orders at Mobile in force; that he had assumed Folch had not objected to U.S. military movements because there were too few troops to excite alarm and because any explanation that might be desired “was long since given … unsolicited” to Casa Calvo; that he appreciated Folch’s courtesy in explaining the movements; and that he trusted his desire for an amicable adjustment of any misunderstandings would be a prelude for “a long and honorable Peace” between their two countries.

2Enclosure No. 4 (1 p.; docketed by Wagner) is a copy of Claiborne’s 7 Dec. 1805 letter to William Brown, collector at New Orleans, asking first, if any Spanish vessel passing to or from Baton Rouge had been detained or required to pay duties at New Orleans, and second, if any drawbacks were granted on merchandise exported from the United States to the territory of any foreign power adjacent to U.S. territory. Enclosure No. 5 (1 p.; docketed by Wagner) is a copy of Brown to Claiborne, 7 Dec. 1805, stating that no such detention had occurred, but that ships with slaves on board would not be allowed past the first military post on the Mississippi even if bound for a Spanish port, and that no drawbacks of the type described could be granted.

Index Entries