James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Armstrong, 6 May 1810

From John Armstrong


Paris 6 May 1810

Dear Sir,

I have just been informed that M. Bowdoin (before he left Paris) in conjunction with M. Skipwith & by means which I shall take care to investigate, did obtain from an Irish ex-priest of the name of Somers a deposition, in which an attempt is made to implicate me in a land Speculation, connected with the then intended purchase of the Floridas, and conducted by Mess. Parker, OMealy and le Ray de Chaumont.1 This deposition was multiplied by several copies, one of which was inserted on the Consular Register of this place—which, by the way, forms the true reason why that Register has been so unwarrantably witheld by Skipwith and Barnet.2 Another of these copies was, as I understand, sent to you, when Secretary of State, to be presented to the President. It is this last circumstance that gives me a right to trouble you with anything on this Subject and in particular to request, that a copy of this deposition, if in the office, or otherwise within your reach, may be forwarded to me. I venture to say in advance, that I will cover with infamy the fabricators of this calumny: they are Assassins, and deserve no pity. I have got hold of this through the leakiness of a fellow of the name of Hunt, whom I mentioned in my last. I am dear Sir with the truest Attachment & respect Your Most Obedt. & very hum. servt.

J Armstrong

RC (DLC). Cover marked by Armstrong, “By M. Ronaldson,” and, in another hand, “Recd at Bordeaux May 14—brought by the George Dyer that sailed from Bordeaux June 6.” Postmarked New York, 9 Aug. Docketed by JM, “Recd. Aug. 15. 1810.”

1James Bowdoin, U.S. minister to Spain, 1804–8, and Armstrong had served as commissioners at Paris in abortive negotiations with the Spanish government concerning spoliations and the acquisition of Florida. Bowdoin quarreled with Armstrong and in May 1806 told Jefferson that Armstrong was involved in a scheme for the purchase of three million acres of Florida land. Bowdoin sent Jefferson a deposition by Charles M. Somers, an Irishman working in Paris as a translator, which implicated Armstrong in the scheme with the American speculators Daniel Parker and Michael O’Mealy. Jefferson ignored Bowdoin’s charges against Armstrong and never told JM of them. JM later assured Armstrong that nothing in Bowdoin’s letter to Jefferson implicated the American minister “in any land speculation whatever” and that neither JM nor Jefferson had withdrawn “a particle from the perfect confidence felt by both in your honor & integrity” (Skeen, John Armstrong, pp. 80–81, 83–84; JM to Armstrong, 29 Oct. 1810; see also Egan, “The United States, France, and West Florida, 1803–1807,” Fla. Historical Quarterly, 47 [1968–69]: 247 n. 67).

2Fulwar Skipwith (1765–1839) had served in France in various capacities—as James Monroe’s personal secretary in 1794–95 and thereafter as commercial agent for the U.S. and consul general in Paris. In April 1806 he commenced a bitter dispute with John Armstrong over his compensation for the services that he and Isaac Cox Barnet, American consul at Le Havre, had rendered to Americans who had spoliation claims against the French government. Skipwith returned to the U.S. in September 1808, settling first in Virginia and then in West Florida, where he was elected governor after settlers in the province had declared its independence from Spain on 26 Sept. 1810. After Skipwith’s departure from France, Armstrong had pressed Barnet to hand over two volumes of consular registers on the grounds that they were essential for official business, but as the minister admitted to JM, he also wished to examine them for documents that were critical of his own conduct in Paris (Skeen, John Armstrong, pp. 63–72; Henry Bartholomew Cox, The Parisian American: Fulwar Skipwith of Virginia [Washington, 1964], pp. 95–114).

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