James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Josiah Blakeley, 1 November 1801

From Josiah Blakeley, 1 November 1801

St. Iago de Cuba 1st. Novemr. 1801


A few days ago I received your Circular of first of Augt. 1801, to the Consuls & Commercial Agents of the U. States It contained directions respecting Prise Vessels purchased in foreign Ports. Many Prizes being been brought into this Port & Purchased by the Americans, I was very glad of these directions.

Capt. Jeremiah Tatam who had his Vessel taken into Barracoa, by a Spanish Privateer, obtained an order here to receive his Vessel again—But no damages.

More than an month ago, by an order from the Intendant at Havannah, my person was Arrested—Books & Papers all Siezed, and Stores locked up, and Guards placed over them. I was conducted to prison, from which I now write. I have not yet been informed why this took place. At the time nine Vessels were here under my Charge. The Cash found in my house was taken away. The detention, disappointment, loss and vexation to the Capts. of those vessels, and my Correspondents, is immense. Some of the goods belonging to others have been given up. Some are yet detained.

My total ignorance of the Cause of such very extraordinary treatment has prevented my Writing you before to inform of my Situation; by the Questions which have been put to me, only can I conjecture.

In March or april last, the Ship Prudence of Boston, Capt. Rogers, last from another Island, at which S⟨he⟩ had Sold her Cargo, came to this Port for a Cargo of Molasses. ⟨No⟩ molasses could be had. She then left this for a port near Havan⟨nah⟩ in search of molasses. When Arrived near Havannah, the Ship was boarded by the officiers, who demanded wherefrom. She a⟨nswer⟩ed from St. Iago de Cuba. Not having entered or cleared at ⟨this⟩ Port, She could shew no such Papers; and was instantly Siezed⟨; all⟩ her Papers taken possession of, among which ’tis said, was found the Sales of Goods, landed from the Ship at this place. No suc⟨h⟩ goods had been entered. This sale ’tis said, was made by on⟨e⟩ Peter Lay, who as he spoke three Languages did much business for me; he also did business for himself, & many others. But ⟨’tis⟩ said, he signed this Sale, as done by me. If any goods were lan⟨ded,⟩ or Sold from Sd. Ship, I knew nothing of, nor had I any thing ⟨to⟩ do with the business. Mr. Lay having long since left this Isl⟨and,⟩ I can get no information from him on the Subject.

My Books & papers have been critically examin⟨ed⟩ by the officers here, who have reported that they can find no su⟨ch⟩ sales in my Books or papers, nor even the name of such a Ship They declare that by all the evidence they can get, I am whol⟨ly⟩ innocent not only of that Charge, but of ever attempting in the ⟨least⟩ degree to defraud the Customs. Thus the Custom house offic⟨ers⟩ have declared.

With the Governour here, and all the first Peopl⟨e⟩ of the City, I have lived not only in habits of friendship, but of i⟨ntim⟩acy. They all appear distressed at my situation, and say, they will at all times certify to the Strick propriety of my conduct⟨,⟩ both as a merchant & resident. Not a Single Inhabitant here has ever made the least complaint of my conduct, since among them.

If Capt. Rogers landed, or sold goods, from his Ship Prudence at this place, as in fact I knew nothing of it, how far I can be implicated by a Signature said to be done for me, particularly when such act was illegal, I should think must depend upon Circumstances, which cannot apply in this case.

As I have been presented with no charge whatever, the whole of what I have written may be foreign to the real cause of my being thus situated. ’Tis probable the Mail which is to arrive from Havannah fifteen days hence, will bring dispatches concerning me. Being impatient to inform my Government of my situation, I have troubled you with the foregoing, which is all I know of the Subject. I have forwarded to Havannah my Protest against the Usage I have received. The Americans being permitted free access to my apartment, and I permitted by the Governour here, to continue the functions of my office, I continue to execute the duties of it.

The damages to me, and my Correspondents being immense, the best informed Lawyers here say, large damages can be recovered of the Intendant, but situated as I shall be with him, ’tis not probable I can obtain relief, but through the demands of my Government. Soon as I can obtain any official Charges or legal statment of this business, I will forward to you copies of the same. From the officers of Government, and the Inhabitants of this place, and part of the Island, I have experienced politeness and friendship, for which I render the homage due. But from ⟨the⟩ Nation do we not receive many insults? In these seas our Flag is constantly insulted by their Privateers. When I menti⟨on⟩ the Treaty, their officers affect to treat it with the greatest contempt, saying, it does not extend to the Colonies &ca. Possibly ⟨the⟩ Intendant at Havannah is highly displeased at some of the Protests I have made against the cruel treatment, some of ou⟨r⟩ Vessels have experienced. In them I only declared the truth, ⟨and⟩ the rights of our Nation. No doubt but modesty ever accomp⟨anies⟩ true greatness of mind. But the Spanish Colonies, being who⟨lly⟩ Cloathed and in a great degree fed by our Nation, should she like the tyger be suffered to cripple the hand whose bounty feed⟨s⟩ them? Has not the second nation on the Globe in commercia⟨l⟩ tonnage, and the first in exports for the Necessaries of life, a ⟨right⟩ to demand with firmness, the respect due to her Flag, & Citizen⟨s⟩ Conscious that the sentiment is produced by facts worthy the [. . .]ence, I indulge a pride in my nation, feel a confidence in it⟨s⟩ Government, and a Security in the Justice, and abilities of th⟨ose⟩ by whom it is administered.

About fifteen American Vessels now in this Port ’tis as many as the trade of this place requires. With Sentiments of great respect & esteem, I am Sir your most obedt. Serv⟨ant⟩

Josiah Blakeley

Consul of the U.S.

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