James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Jarvis, 8 April 1803

From William Jarvis, 8 April 1803

Lisbon 8th. April 1803.


On the 12th. Ulto. I had the pleasure to ⟨w⟩rite you by the Ship Argus, Capn. Derkheim, via Norfolk and inclosed two Letters from Mr. Pinckney, a Copy of a Letter from Mr. O’Brien, a duplicate of the recapitulation semi-annual return and a London Newspaper of the 8th. March, Since which I have received the original of your favor of the 17th. January. I have now the honor to inclose you a copy of my Letter to the Minister of foreign affairs and of his answer. What the real motive was that caused the refusal I cannot imagine; but after so decided an answer I considered it needless to make another communication to him on the Subject. Genl. Lannes shortly after his arrival waited on Don John and the visit was returned since which the reports about a change in the Ministry have entirely subsided: instead of which the Public Mind seems to be altogether occupied with the hostile preparations of England. Was the conduct of Governments always guided by reason it would be possible to form a tolerably correct Judgment of the probable event of those now making, but when the History of all ages tends to prove that very many of the Wars which have involved whole nations in ruin have originated in as mere a trif⟨le⟩ as would have set two hot headed individuals by t⟨he⟩ ears; no one that has not some other clue to the [. . .] of action than simple Appearances will pretend to ⟨de⟩termine whether a permanant Peace or a renew⟨al of⟩ the War will be the consequence, without hazardi⟨ng an⟩ imputation of temerity. To communicate the repo⟨rts⟩ circulating here, when no doubt you are kept consta⟨ntly⟩ advised by persons whose situations afford them ⟨an⟩ opportunity of getting the best information; and of forming the most correct Judgment of the pres⟨ent ⟩ posture of affairs would (if you took the trouble t⟨o read⟩ it) be unnecessarily occupying a portion of that t⟨ime⟩ which is so usefully employed in the Service of your Country.

A Cutter two days since arrived from Holland. It is reported that she brought ⟨ad⟩vices to Admiral De Winter to sail directly; & th⟨e⟩ Squadron is to sail Tomorrow.

In the course of my official D⟨uty,⟩ an unpleasant affair has recently occurred, altho’ ⟨of⟩ little consequence; but as some of the Printers w⟨ho⟩ pretend to feel very much for the Liberty of the S⟨ubject⟩ may take advantage of it, in hopes to wound Gov⟨ern⟩ment through my Sides, I think it prudent to communicate a concise statement of the affair. Some time in February Capn. Whitfield of the Ship Two Generals of Norfolk put into this Port in distress. A few days after his arrival in an affray that took place onboard his Ship the first Mate run the Cook through between the rib, and the skin, with a Sword belonging to a Cane; and beat one of the Seamen: which upon the Captain’s giving me his honor to maintain order on board his Ship in future, I settled amicably by the consent of the Parties: as I also did a second quarrel. In this third instance it appeared that the Mate was altogether in fault; he having beat a man in a most barbarous manner, and with a broad Sword cut him Severely on the ear and on the head, and run the point of it into his knee, and while he had him down set the Dog upon him, who bit him in several places on the Leg, without any other provocation than refusal of the Sailor to go below: (he being intoxicated & sitting on the Windlass of a Sunday evening singing) Neither did it appear that this refusal was conveyed in insolent Language, the Sailor having a moment before, when the second Mate gave him the same orders, goodnaturedly answered that he would if the Mate would give him a glass of grog. Not being able ⟨to⟩ accommodate this amicably as in the former affray⟨,⟩ the Captain refusing to comply with the Terms to which the Sa⟨ilor⟩ was willing to accede, vizt. That he should be disc⟨harged⟩ and his wages paid to that date; & that the Mate should give him one month’s wages over and abo⟨ve⟩ to pay the Doctors bill and his board while he was curing, & the Captain also refusing to become Securi⟨ty⟩ for the Mate’s appearance before the civil authori⟨ties⟩ of this Kingdom the next day; I resigned the Ma⟨te⟩ up to a Magistrate, who after examining the wit⟨nesses⟩ committed the Mate to prison, the Captain sti⟨ll⟩ refusing to become his Security for his trial. This day however the Captain came to the Office ⟨&⟩ begged that I would intercede with the Magistr⟨ate⟩ to take him out, at the same time assuring ⟨me⟩ that in future I should have no reason to comp⟨lain⟩ of a want of discipline, & that he would comply ⟨with⟩ the Terms the Sailor had said he would be satisf⟨ied⟩ with; to which finding the Sailor still willing ⟨to⟩ adhere, I sent him to the Magistrate, where⟨, on his⟩ making the same declaration, the Mate was directly discharged. Should contrary to my expectation the Captain or Mate be weak enough to make a disturbance about the Mate’s being imprisoned, I have the affidavits of the Principal and two Witnesses registered in the Office book which I will forward; as well as those taken before the Magistrate. If my conduct in this affair should not be disapproved of by Government I shall not be sorry for what has taken place, as I think it will have a very salutary effect, for really an example was necessary; the Masters & officers having in many of the European Ports on the Continent been so long in the habit of taking the Law into their own hands that they began to assume it of right, and seem to think that in seeing Justice was done to the Sailor I have infringed their lawful authority. Luckily the example fell on the right Subjects, the Mate appearing to be totally devoid of every feeling of humanity and the Captain proving so refractory as to oblige me to send to a Magistrate to desire two civil officers to bring the Man before me. With the highest Consideration & respect, I have the Honor to be, Sir, Your most obedient humble Servant.

William Jarvis

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