James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Tobias Lear, 17 January 1802

From Tobias Lear, 17 January 1802

No: 19.

Cape François, January 17th: 1802.


Since I had the honor of addressing you, under date of the 11th. of December, I have had the satisfaction to receive your letters of the 26th. of October and 21st. of November; both of which came to hand by the same vessel.

Nothing could have been more gratifying to my feelings than the President’s approbation of my conduct since I have been here; and I pray you will have the goodness to assure him, Sir, that the same motive which induced me to accept the appointment which he was pleased to offer, will be my ruling principle while I may remain in office. To render a service to my Country, and to give all the aid in my power to his administration, which I beleived to be founded in justice, and with a view to promote the best interests of our common Country, my honest exertions shall never be wanting.

I shall endeavour to pursue, with justice, the principle respecting individual claims in this Country, which the President has been pleased to approve of, and which is to be admitted into the instructions by which I am to be governed.

The Commission for Mr. Dandridge, as Commercial Agent at Port Republican, which you mentioned to have been enclosed in your letter, was not sent. I have, however, informed him of his appointment, and I presume he will make arrangements to enter upon the duties of his Office the moment he receives his Commission. In the mean time, I have desired Mr. Linn, whom Mr. Ritchie left in charge of the office, and whose conduct, I am informed, has given satisfaction, to continue to discharge the duties of it, until Mr. Dandridge shall arrive at Port Republican.

I have not observed that the change made in the Passports given to French Citizens bound from the United States to this Island, has been particularly noticed, or attended with any extraordinary effects. Those who are naturalized Citizens of the U. States, and produce to me evidence thereof on their arrival, are, at my instance, permitted to come on shore without delay; but the others, with very few exceptions, are kept on board the Vessel in which they arrive, for one, two or three weeks, according to the pleasure of the Governor, or according to the circumstances which may attend their coming here. Some are not permitted to land; but are obliged to go off again by the first Vessel that will take them to the U. States; or are put in prison until a convenient opportunity offers to send them off. And indeed, many who are ultimately permitted to remain in the Island, are confined for some time after their landing. The most rigid scrutiny is made into their Characters—their past conduct with respect to this Island, and the motives which induced them to come here. I have remonstrated against their being detained on board the Vessels which bring them, so long as two or three weeks, as has been the case in some instances, the business of the Vessel being thereby interrupted, and the Voyage retarded; but as there is no alternative but for them to remain on board, until their Characters, motives &c. have been investigated, or to go into a prison, the Captains have, generally, been prevailed upon, by the passengers themselves, to permit them to remain on board. I beleive the greater part, if not the whole of the French passengers who have arrived here for the last 3 or 4 months, have had passports from the Commercial Agents of the Fr. Republic in the U. States, and some of them from the Marine department in France; yet they do not facilitate their landing. While on the subject of passengers, I will observe, that it had formerly been a practice with the Government here, to put any passengers, whom they wished to send out of the Island, on board the first American Vessel that sailed, without giving any previous notice to the Captain, or making any provision for the Voyage. In the single instance of this kind of imposition, which I have been informed of since I have been here, I remonstrated strongly against it; and was assured that more attention should be paid to our rights, and that no person shd. be forced as a passenger upon a Vessel. Application shd. first be made, and the Captain or Agent of the Vessel might take or refuse them, as they shd. think proper.

I have received the National Intelligencer down to the 5th. of December, and am informed by Mr. Purveyance, the Collector of Baltimore, that he has orders to forward them by every opportunity. The Copy of Laws passed at the last Session of Congress, has also been received.

With your Letter of the 26th. of October, I received Mr. Hart’s papers respecting his claim upon the Government here, and shall not fail to give it due attention.

Having thus gone through the points touched upon in your letters, I shall give a detail of such circumstances here as may be important or usefull to communicate.

On the 2d. of December we had received, from St. Croix, the first certain accounts of peace. We had a report to the same effect, by way of Martinique, as early as the 23d. of November, but it was not credited. This intelligence gave a severe check to the activity of commerce, which had begun to revive since the restoration of tranquility in this quarter of the Island. The reports wh. prevailed, that the French were coming out with a large force to restore everything to its former state, and reduce the blacks again to slavery; have created great alarms in the minds of many; but there does not appear to be any Active measures taking by the Governmt. to make an opposition to France. Their declarations are that this is a French Colony, and that the Governmt. of France have the right of regulating it as they please; But I presume that any attempt to reduce the blacks again to slavery wd. be productive of the most destructive effects. From everything I can learn, and from every observation I can make, I have no doubt but the French will be received here with cordiality, if they conduct themselves with common prudence and moderation; but it is much to be feared that they will be urged to violent and ill judged measures, by the eagerness of those who formerly held property in this Island, and their wish to have it restored to them again with all its appendages; and with this disposition is also mingled some proportion of resentment against the blacks. Other nations who have Colonies in the W. Indies will also urge, by every means in their power, the reduction of the blacks here to slavery: But I hope the true interest of the French Nation will be better understood than to suffer them to adopt violent Measures before they try conciliatory means. The Island now begins to flourish. The laws & regulations to enforce labour, are as rigid, as any that can be made. The Proprietors of Estates give one fourth part of the proceeds to the cultivators, with which they cloath and feed themselves. The other 3/4 are for the Proprietor, from which he also pays the Expences of the Estate. At present they pay no direct tax. The imposition of a fourth of the produce is abolished. The Present Authorities, I presume, could enforce more severe laws, with less resistance, than could be enforced by half the French Armies. The Armies might destroy the Blacks, and in the event of a contest, they probably wd. do it; for I do not beleive they wd. ever again submit to the yoke of slavery: but before they could be extirpated, they wd. kill all the whites in their power, and lay waste all the property that could be destroyed. It certainly could not be for the Intent of the Fr. Republic, or of the owners of Estates, that this desolation shd. take place; but other nations who have Colonies in the W. Indies might expect to reap an advantage from it, as it wd. give a greater value to their possessions.

Upon the official accounts of Peace being received at Jamaica, the Governor of that Island sent an order for all British Subjects to leave this Island immediately. This created a great alarm among them for their personal safety; but upon applying to Govr. Toussaint, he assured them they might depend upon protection as long as they wished to remain in the Island to settle their business & carry off their effects.

In the English Papers wh. brought us the first certain accounts of Peace, were many observations respecting this Island, and positive Assertions that the French were coming out here with a large force to restore everything back to its former state. This latter intelligence was endeavoured to be concealed, lest it shd. excite disturbances among the Citizens; but it found its way abroad, through some imprudent persons residing here, and many were so indiscreet—indeed wicked—as to boast of it and threaten the blacks with its effects. This occasiond the address of the Governor, which you will find in the enclosed Gazette; and in consequence thereof several Frenchmen have been taken up and confined in prison. Among them was M. de Grasse, Son of the late Count de Grasse. This Gentleman arrived here about 4 or 5 months ago, from Charleston, S.C. to look after an Estate which he has in the Island. He was not received with cordiality, and I beleive nothing induced the Govr. to permit him, to reside on this Island, but his being a naturalized Citizen of the U. States, and Genl. Christophe engaging for his good conduct. On the evening of the 9th. instant he was arrested by order of Genl. Christophe—put into close prison and confined in Irons. Upon being informed of the circumstance I called upon Genl. C. the next morng.; but he was gone into the Country, and did not return until the Evening, when I saw him. I enquired into the cause of M. DeGrasse’s confinemt. and assured the Genl. that I shd. claim him as a naturalized Citizen of the U.S. if the nature of his case allowed of such interference. He informed me that he was taken up and confined in consequence of orders recd. from the Governor—and that information had been given to him (Genl. C.) from several quarters, and upon which he could rely, that M. de Grasse had been extremely imprudent and open in his declarations respecting a force wh. wd. come from France to restore everything here to its former state, and the blacks to slavery. He observed also, that if the language was held, and shd. be credited by the black Citizens, it wd. not be in the power of the Government here to restrain them, however desirous they might be to do it, and the consequences might be dreadful. He added that he felt particularly mortified at the Conduct of M. de Grass as he had himself become in a manner answerable for him. I found, from this explanation, that I could render him no service by claiming him as a Citizen of the U.S, but I requested that his situation might be ameliorated, which the Genl. very readily promised should be done; and he urged that M. deGrasse shd: go back again to the US. as soon as possible. The next morning M. de Grasse was released from his unpleasant situation and put into the civil prison, where he was as well accommodated as he could be, under confinement, and yesterday he embarked on board the Ship Tillman for Charleston. I saw him several times during his confinemt. and he appeared to be very grateful for what I had done for him; and expressed a strong desire to return to the U.S. He requested me to ask the General’s permission for him to go out of prison the day before he was to sail, in order that he might settle some affairs here. I promised to do so; but upon mentioning the matter to some of his friends, particularly to M. Grochan, his brother in law, a respectable merchant here, he begged I wd. not ask the permission; for he knew he had been very imprudent, and he feared that he might, when out, commit himself further. He said he had long ago advised Mr. de Grasse to go to the U.S. under an apprehension that he might be involved in some disagreeable circumstance here—that he had given him (Grochan) his power to transact his business, and that his affairs wd. be rather benefitted than injured by his doing nothing in them himself. I, however, asked the General, agreeably to my promise to M. deGrasse; but he declined acceding to my request, upon the ground that his orders from the Governor respecting persons of this description, were very pointed.

Another naturalized Citizen of the U.S. by the name of John Baptiste Lemonier, is also in prison on the same account. This man has resided in the Island for some years past, and never, to my knowledge, declared himself a Citizen of the U.S. When he was arrested he wrote to me (enclosing a passport given by Mathew Clarkson, Mayor of Philada. in 1795, mentioning him as a Citizen of the U.S) and demanding to be claimed as an American Citizen. I went to Genl. Christophes to enquire into the cause of his confinement &c. and he assured me that it was the same for which M. de Grasse has been confined; and therefore I could not be of any service to him.

I have thought it proper to go into a detail of the circumstances of M. de Grasse, as it might be supposed that his being a naturalized Citizen of the U.S. shd. have exempted him from this treatment, or at any rate, that it shd. have been incumbent upon me to remonstrate against it in high terms; but upon the best view I could take of the case, I acted as I conceived to be my duty to my Country, and in a way that enabled me also to be useful to Mr. De Grasse. Indeed I conceive the present to be a very critical moment in this Island. The passions are awake, and it would not be a difficult matter to bring them into action. I do not beleive that the persons or property of the Americans wd. be intentionally injured; but in a conflict they wd. be involved in the general Calamity.

The Governor left this place for Port Republican before the news of Peace arrived; I have therefore had no opportunity of seeing him since that event. I shd. before this, have gone to that part of the Island; but as it is probable that the first interesting intelligence either from the U.S. or from Europe, wd: come to this port, I have thought it my duty to remain here; and also as I could not think, at present, of making any important arrangements respecting our Commerce to the Island. He is now at the City of Santo Domingo.

The Assembly of the Island was called together on the news of peace, and are now in Session at Port Republican; I have not yet been informed of the object or result of their deliberations.

I have now the honor to enclose a Schedule of the American Vessels which have arrived in this Port from the time of my entering upon the duties of my office to the last day of December. I have delay’d the transmission of it a few days, in hopes that I might be enabled to add thereto a specific list of their Cargoes inwards & outwards, with the value or amount, as I have employed a person to take the same from the Books of the Custom House; but it is not yet finished. For my own satisfaction, as well as to send to you, I should have been glad to have had documents of a similar kind for the whole of the past year; but, (as I observed to you in a former letter) never having received a single official paper from the Consular Office here, I am not able, without great trouble and expence, to obtain them; I therefore give up the idea. I really wish that the Captains were obliged, by a law of our own Governmt. to deliver such papers to the Commercial Agents in foreign Ports, as wd. enable them to form full and accurate Statements of the nature and amount of our trade to the different ports of the world. As the manner now stands, it is left optional with them, whether they will call or not upon the Agent or Consul; And there are many Captains who are pleased with the opportunity of shewing that they have no dependance upon the public Officer of their Country. For my own part I have no cause to complain on this head; I have received from them all the attention I could expect; and indeed it has been in my power to have compelled them, by the Orders of this Governmt. to have been very particular in their communications; but I felt a delicacy in using a power of that kind, unless vested in me by my own Governmt.

The allowance of twelve Cents per diem is certainly very inadequate to the support of a man in almost any Country—and it is well known that in the West Indies, ten times that sum will hardly provide the necessary support, care and attendance of a sick man; but as the law respecting Consuls &c. limits the expence to the above sum, I have in no instance chd. more to the U. States; but from my own pocket I have paid, in several instances, a dollar per day for the care and attendance of a sick sailor—and this is the charge when they are put into the Hospital. In the few instances of severe sickness which have happened to the Am. Seamen here, since my arrival, I have had the men put into the hospital, where they are well provided for and attended, and as far as the wages due to them by the Vessel wd. defray their expences, it has been applied by the Captain, and after that I have paid it myself, but have no right to make a charge thereof to the U.S. The amount has not been great; but I mention it to shew the necessity of some provision being made by law, adequate to the necessary support of a man in such circumstances. And as protections may be no longer necessary for our seamen, they shd. be furnished with some evidence of their belonging to the U. States, to secure to them the advantages which their Country may give.

As my legal advances on account of the U. States have not yet reached fifty dollars, I do not think it worth while to draw for them.

I enclose a Report of the Surgeons of the Hospital on the examination of the body of an Am. seaman, who was supposed to have died in consequence of a blow he recd. in a quarrel with one of his shipmates. From the evidence of the Captain & Sailors on board the Vessel, it appeared that the man lived some days after the quarrel, and during that time had come on deck and had eat &c. as usual but complained of his head. The same evidence also declared that the sailor, who gave the blow, acted on the defensive. I however had the culprit confined in prison, until after the examination of the body, when finding from the Report of the Physicians, and the evidence of the sailors, that there could be no ground for a legal prosecution for murder, I liberated the man.

January 20th.

I had written thus far; but left my letter open to add any thing which might occur before the sailing of the Sloop Rosanna of Alexandria Capt. Curtis, to whose charge I shall commit this. I shall now observe, that in consequence of two arrivals last evening from Phila. viz. the Brig Amphitrite, Captn. Spence, and the Schooner Alexander, Captain Russel—which bring letters & papers to the 30th. of Decr. the fears of the people have increased, as these accounts speak in a still more positive stile of a large force coming out here with hostile intentions. I feel much hurt that I have not received a letter since the news of peace reached the U. States. I am sure if you had received any information from Europe, which induced you to beleive that the persons or property of the Am. Citizens on this Island wd. be put in jeopardy, by a force to be sent out, you would not have failed to give me due notice thereof. My own beleif is, (notwithstanding all the strong reports) that no force will be sent until the definitive treaty shall be settled—and I confess, from the best view I can take of the matter, I do not beleive that the definitive business will be settled in less than six months at any rate. I shall therefore rest easy until I obtain something more than reports, and shall pay every attention to the interests of the U. States; but our Citizens here must act according to their own judgement in their own affairs—as I have no information upon which I can advise them. My best exertions they may always count upon.

At what is thought by many to be so important a crisis for us here, I am persuaded, you wd. not have failed to have given me every information of which you might have been possessed; did you beleive the real state of the business such as has been long-since been stated in the public papers. And altho’ I know there are many instances of the detention of letters, I think yours would be sent with such directions, as would insure their delivery to me on the arrival of the Vessel.

There have been many reports here that the letters are taken out of all vessels which arrive in this Island, by order of the Governt. It is true the officer who goes on board, asks the Captains if they have any French letters. If they have, and chuse to deliver them, they are carried to the Genl.—but if they do not chuse to deliver, they may retain them. The letters addressed to the Americans they do not want. I have heard reports that Am. letters have been stop’d; but upon tracing I have found them without cause. With every Sentiment of pure respect & sincere Attachment, I have the honor to be Sir, Your Most Obedt. Sert.

Tobias Lear

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