James Madison Papers

To James Madison from George W. Erving, 21 October 1802

From George W. Erving, 21 October 1802

No. 10.

American Consulate London 21st: Octr. 1802.


It is impossible for me to represent to you in adequate terms the very distressed State of our Seamen lately discharged from the British Navy: after exerting myself in every possible way to procure for them from this Government the assistance to which their Services seem to have intitled them, I am under the absolute necessity ⟨o⟩f providing at the expence of the United States, passages for those whose Situation ⟨i⟩s most desperate, and who must otherwise perish during the coming Winter, or be supported at a charge much greater than their transport will occasion.

The List of men examined by me as to their Citizenship and their time of Service in the British Navy, amount from the 17th. of September to 250; and additional men are every day presenting themselves, besides these there is a considerable number who have been left here sick, or have been discharged by their Captains. The greater pa⟨rt⟩ are destitute of the means of subsisten⟨ce &⟩ find it impossible to procure work, a⟨nd⟩ a great many are without even suffici⟨ent⟩ Cloathes to cover them. The docum⟨ents⟩ which I have the honor to transm⟨it⟩ herewith, will shew that the case of these men has engaged my incessant attention, the measures ⟨I⟩ have pursued to provide for their return home without incurring ⟨the⟩ expence of their transportation, and that I have at length been compe⟨lled⟩ to subject Government to this charg⟨e⟩ by the necessity of the case; aware of the improvidence which characterizes this class of people, and the state ⟨to⟩ which they would probably be red⟨uced⟩ as early as October 1801 before Maj⟨or⟩ Lenox’s Office devolved upon me, I addressed to Mr. King the letter No: ⟨1⟩ My wish was that a general Ag⟨ent⟩ should be authorized by this govern⟨ment⟩ for receiving the Money which mig⟨ht⟩ be due to them, who should charge himself with sending them to the United States and should remit after their arrival, what might be paid to him on their account. Mr. King probably did not see the same advantages in such an arrangement as it appeared to me calculated to produce, & therefore nothing was done towards it, but I have since had an opportunity of learning from the Secretary of the Admiralty that any proposition to such an effect would have been very readily acceded to; failing in this plan however, I adopted what appeared to me the next best, in recommending to such as had Prize Money or Wages to receive to appoint as their Attorney a very respectable person who I was assured would do them justice; & by whom several have in this manner been considerably benefitted. After undertaking the Duties of Major Lenox, on the 4th. of June I wrote to Mr. King the letter No: 2, to which on the 21st: I received his answer No. 3: On the 25th: I replyed in No: 4; on the 5⟨th:⟩ July, I received from Mr: King No: 5 dated 1st: July to which I answered on the 5th: in No: 6 & on the 14th: I received the Note No: 7. In consequence of this last I waited up⟨on⟩ Mr: King, who in conversation inforced his objections against my entering into a correspondence with the Admiralty upon this subject; I therefore wait⟨ed⟩ upon Sir Evan Nepean Secretary t⟨o the⟩ Admiralty; it will be unnecessary ⟨to⟩ trouble you with the details of the various conversations which I have held with that Gentleman, wherein I have represented the situation ⟨to⟩ which our men have been reduced by their detention, in as strong ter⟨ms⟩ as seemed to be proper; and urged ⟨the⟩ Claims which I conceived them to ⟨have⟩ on the British Government; my propositions have been always fa⟨irly⟩ received by Sir Evan Nepean & he constantly expressed himself disposed ⟨to⟩ give every assistance to my applicat⟨ion.⟩ On first entering upon the subject he thought it extremely proper that it should receive immediate attention, & was surprised that it had not been mentioned sooner. In the progress of the negociation, I found however that the Admiralty could not decide upon any plan without the approbation of the Secretary of State; Lord Hawkesbury was therefore consulted, and as Sir E. N. reported to me was equally favorably disposed with himself towards my propositions; but it was not ’till after a very considerable delay that I was informed by the Secretary that the Board had finally determined to send a Frigate or other Transport with such men as should be proved to be American Citizens who had served in the British Navy and who had neither entered or received the Bounty. On this communication I observed that the Admiralty might depend upon my good faith in not giving Certificates to any who could not satisfactorily convince me of their gen⟨uine⟩ title to the Character of American Citiz⟨ens.⟩ As to those who had entered or receiv⟨ed⟩ the Bounty, I represented that as to the greater part they had been previous⟨ly⟩ impressed and were afterwards persua⟨ded⟩ or necessitated to receive the bounty ⟨and⟩ enter, and if they were therefore to ⟨be⟩ considered as having forfeited, in s⟨ome⟩ degree their claim to the protection of the United States having become quoad English subjects, yet it would appear that they thereby the mo⟨re⟩ entitled themselves to the gratitud⟨e⟩ and consideration of the British Government. I could however obtain no extension of the plan, and it was agreed that I should send the list already prepared, which I did with my note No: 8, and issued the Notice No: 9 writing at the same time to the Out-posts that such men as were there and could find their way to London might come to avail themselves of the benefit of this arrangement. In consequence of these measures from the 17th: Septr: to this time 250 Sailors have presented themselves who have received Certificates of their Citizenship and time of Service, & who have been referred to the Admiralty as was agreed between Sir E. N. and myself. I understood that a great portion of these men were rejected, some because they were suspected of not being Americans; and many because they were not found on the Ships books as they had reported themselves; as to the first point I represented to the Secretary, that before granting the Certificates I had made very strict examinations, and the impossibility of their Commissioner (Sir Thomas Trowbridge) appointed for the purpose of receiving these Certificates being so well acquainted as myself with those circumstances from which the ⟨truth⟩ of the Claims of the men to the Char⟨acter⟩ of American Citizens might be ascer⟨tained.⟩ As to the second, I hoped that great allowance would be made for the stupidity and ignorance of these men (the Blacks in particular) who scarcely knew Months from years, or recollected the names of the Ships in which they had served; upon this representation I was informed that the list wou⟨ld⟩ be extended and immediately sent to m⟨e,⟩ but that it would not probably include more than 70, for whom however a temporary provision should be made ’till the time of their embarkation. At length aft⟨er⟩ a variety of delays & frequent changes of opinion in the Board, I was inform⟨ed⟩ by the Secretary that Lord St: Vincen⟨ts⟩ had concluded that nothing better could be done than to allow me 10 guineas per head and leave me to ship the men as I could find opportunities. ⟨I⟩ stated that the Expence of sending ⟨them⟩ home would be much greater, but did not altogether refuse the proposition. The Board were just then about to meet when Sir E. N. told me that the business would be finally determined upon, and that he would write me officially on the next day; this happened on the first Instant; since when hearing nothing from the Admiralty, on the 12th: October I addressed to them the letter No: 10, & yesterday the note subjoined A. During this delay the distresses of the people have increased beyond description, & their numbers have been augmenting; we have very few Ships here, and there are many distressed men of other descriptions to be sent home; the Season is fast approaching too when the opportunities of getting home will be still fewer, and the sufferings of the people if possible encreased; under these circumstances having abandoned all hope of hearing any thing further from the Admiralty (my la⟨st⟩ letter remaining unanswered,) & having ⟨at⟩ the same time received from a Police Office the letter No: 11, I have consid⟨ered⟩ it my duty to take immediate mea⟨sures⟩ for shipping a portion of these men at the Expence of the United States ⟨&⟩ have concluded an agreement with Mr. Williams, Owner of the Ship Mary, Thomas Temple Masr: acc⟨ording⟩ to the terms contained in the let⟨ter⟩ marked No: 12. (having previous⟨ly⟩ made proper enquiries and receiv⟨ed⟩ some propositions;) this is an Eng⟨lish⟩ ship. I wished of course to empl⟨oy⟩ an American, but there was but ⟨few⟩ here that would answer the purp⟨ose⟩ and the terms offered were not so favorable as those of Mr: W. I requested Messrs. Birds to advance the money necessary for this purp⟨ose⟩ but they have declined to do so in their letter No; 13.

Octr. 28th:

On the 22nd: I received an invitation ⟨from⟩ Sir Evan Nepean to attend at the Admiralty. He expressed in very strong terms his great mortification and disappointment at the delays which had taken place; he stated that a great difference of opinion existed at the Board and that the Lords had not yet agreed, but that no effort of his had been wanting & that he considered himself particularly committed to me upon the subject; he would now venture to pledge himself that as much as 10 guineas per head should be paid to defray the expence of sending the men home. I observed that I had represented this matter in as forcible a manner as I could, that whilst the Lords were deliberating the men were perishing, & that I now considered it my duty to do what was within my power for their relief and to ship them immediately, but that I could not decline to receive the 10 guineas per head offered and would make use of it as far as it would go. On the 23rd: I received the commis⟨sion⟩ from the Admiralty & Transport No: 15 with the list of 56 men annex⟨ed⟩ and since then the additional list of three!! The list of the whole number shipped in the Mary y⟨ou⟩ will please to observe does not include all of those named in ⟨the⟩ Admiralty list, for it has happe⟨ned⟩ that such as have been able to ⟨give⟩ the most correct account of thems⟨elves⟩ have been also better able to pro⟨vide⟩ for themselves; and the delay in making the lists has been so gr⟨eat⟩ that such as could by any mean⟨s⟩ get away have done so. I have the honor to be Sir, With the most perfect ⟨respect⟩ your very Obt. Serva⟨nt⟩

George W Erving

P.S. Nov: 5th:

I subjoin the letter No: 16 recd: on the 1st: Inst: from the Thames Police Office.

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