James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Lee, 22 July 1802

From William Lee, 22 July 1802

Bordeaux July 22d. 1802


Since my last respects I have been obliged to leave the Consulate for six weeks owing to the failure of John Fry Junr. of London with whom the House of Perrot & Lee were closely connected. Nothing but business of the most urgent nature upon which my existence as a Merchant depended, would have induced me to have deserted my family and Post and I trust the necessity of the case will be a sufficient apology to the Government for the temporary absence.

I am again under the disagreable necessity of calling your attention to the distressing situation of our Seamen in this place; for three months past I have had upwards of two hundred Sailors on my hands and have supplied about Eighty of them every day with bread and “soupe économique” to keep them from starving.

I did hope from the salutary regulations I had adopted to have escaped being harassed by these thoughtless beings and although I am very strict with such vessels as discharge their Crews and oblige every Ship that sails to the United States to take two Men to every hundred Ton, still from the many Vessels which are sold and by the great number of Men who collect here from Havre, Nantz, and all parts of France and Spain (for they even cross from the Mediterranean) the Office is continually surrounded with them, presenting a pic⟨ture⟩ which is truly distressing. I avoided giving them any aid as long as possible, until the tranqui⟨lity⟩ of the City was disturb’d by them & the Commissary ⟨of⟩ Police addressed me a letter on the subject No. 1 w⟨hich⟩ I take the liberty to enclose and in order to she⟨w in⟩ a more striking point of view the situation of our Seamen here, permit me to refer you to the sem⟨i-⟩annual return No. 2. & 3. accompanying this, by w⟨hich⟩ you will observe that there has enter’d in this O⟨ffice⟩ from Jany. 1. to June 30th.

92 Vessels navigated by  966 Men
30 Vessels in port Jany. 1st. navigd. by  360  "
1326  "
26 of these Vessels have been sold,
& discharged, their Crews amountg.
by the same return to
 304  "
9 Vessels lay here for sale having
discharg’d the Crews accordg. to Contract,
  90  "
 394 Men
Vagabonds registered in the Office coming from
Havre, Nantz & part of Spain most of them
with protections
  93  "
Men in the Hospitals and in Prisons for
      petty Offences
Out of the 92 Vessels which have enter’d here in 6 months & the 36 in port Jany. 1st. only 39 have sailed direct for the United States & they have taken by my directions over and above their Crews 2 Men to each 100 Tons but some of them have put the Men on shore at the mouth of the River 119
399 Men

Leaving three hundred and ninety nine Men totally destitute of employment and without the means of subsistence: for those who have receiv’d two months pay as a gratuity for being discharg’d find means to spend it in the course of a few days and then come upon the UStates for support.

I have been thus particular to shew the necessity of Legislative aid in correcting the abuses practiced upon our Seamen by Owners and Masters of Vessels who ought never to be permitted to discharge their Men in a foreign Port. If a Vessel is sold the Master should be obliged to find his Men a passage home and not be at liberty to discharge a Man by making him compensation. Almost every Sailor will consent to be discharged if the Captain will give him four or five dollars to spend on shore. When his money is gone ⟨he⟩ comes to the Office with his Complaints and the Cap⟨tain⟩ is cited to appear who produces the Sailor’s receipt acknowledging he requested a discharge and reciev’d a gr⟨atuity⟩ over & above his Wages. To prevent this I order’d th⟨at⟩ no Captain should discharge his Men without my Consen⟨t⟩ & that the Receipt should be passed before me; but most of the Masters (particularly those from New England) disp⟨ute⟩ my right to establish this regulation & will & do discharge their Men just when they please, always taking care to get a receipt of the sailors, who from ill treatment, & confinement on board, while in port, & short allowance is willing to do any thing to get clear of his oppressors.

This Statement will convince you that my ad⟨vice⟩ cannot be avoided and that, taking every thing ⟨into⟩ consideration I have been obliged to send home ⟨by⟩ the Ship Jefferson Captn. Gross, bound to Baltimore 71, Sick and distress’d Seamen who are particularised in the List No. 4 accompanying this.

I have agreed with Mr. Cutter the Owner of the Vessell to put on board all the Provisions necessary for the Voyage and have referred him to you for such compensation for the passage of each Seaman, as you may think proper to make him, it being understood that eight of these Men, are to work the Ship for their passages. My instructions to Mr. Cutter and Captn. Gross, together with my Disbursements for this particular object will be found in No. 5 & 6.

I should feel very thankful for a line from you on the subject of present and future advances. I have convers’d with Mr. Livingston on the business but he declines giving me any instructions. Although this Government have renewed the ordinances of 84 regulating their Commerce, which will give a check to our trade with this Country, still our communication, particularly with Bordeaux will be very considerable and I should like to Know if I am to go on protecting & advancing for Seamen in the manner I have done.

It is necessary I should Know the wishes of the President in this respect, and you may rest assur’d there is nothing I desire more than his approbation.

Notwithstanding the circular Letter which the Secy. of the Treasury addressed in July 1801 to the Colle⟨ctors⟩ & Naval Officers respecting Bills of health; many Vessels arrive here particularly from New York & Charleston without them. I have address’d several letters to ⟨the⟩ Collectors of the different Ports in the United States and forwarded Copies of a communication I received from the Commissary of Marine on this head but wi⟨thout⟩ effect, for Vessels are daily arriving and are obliged ⟨to⟩ perform a ruinous Quarantine.

I have receiv’d the Commission which ⟨you⟩ did me the honor to forward and have sent the B⟨ond⟩ to Paris to be executed by my friend Mr. Barlow ⟨who⟩ will forward it to you.

Enclosed is the Copy of a letter I this da⟨y⟩ r⟨eceived⟩ from Mr. Pinckney. With the highest respect I have the honor to be Your humble Servt.

William Lee

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