James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Graham, [ca. 14 December] 1812

From John Graham

[ca. 14 December 1812]

In corroboration of what is stated in this Letter, it may not be improper to remark to the President that a Gentleman who was recently in this City from Caracas (Mr Picornell)1 stated to Mr Thos Brent that Mr Scott2 was held in some measure as a Prisoner and not permitted to carry on any corresp[ond]ence. This if true, accounts for the circumstance of no Letter having been received from him.

[Jacob Clement to James Monroe]

Philada December 12th 1812


I beg leave to acquaint you that I have received information from several sources of the condemnation at Laguira by the royal party of the american vessels employd by government to carry out their donation to the sufferers in that province by the earthquakes last spring.3 Two vessels belonging to me were of the number, one of which was commanded by my son for whom I am extremely uneasy not having heard from him since June last. Notwiths[t]anding two vessels have arrived direct from these ungrateful people not a single letter has been received by them, by any American. And on inquiry I find they dare not bring an american as a passenger. I fear the crews of these vessels (and there must have been a number of them there[)] are suffering for the means of subsistance or immured in a Spanish prison. As the intercourse is in a measure stop’d and deprives those that would transmit succour to their freinds it would give them infinite pleasure if Government would despatch a small vessel for them. I am not much mistaken, when I say there is upwards of one hundred at Laguira & Porto Cavello. Be pleased sir to take the situation of these men under consideration and make it known to the President. If the President should Conclude to send for them I will cheerfully give my aid under the direction of Mr. Steel the collector as I feel more than common interest. I am sir with great respect your Most Obt Hbl Servt

Jacob Clement4

RC and enclosure (DNA: RG 59, ML). RC unsigned; undated; date assigned here on the basis of the enclosure. A note in Monroe’s hand on the cover of the enclosure reads: “For the President / Mr Clement / relative to vessels & men at Laguira.”

1Juan Bautista Mariano Picornell y Gomila (ca. 1759–1825) was born in Majorca and later moved to Madrid, where he became a teacher and writer. Influenced by Freemasonry, he participated in revolutionary activities against the Spanish monarchy, for which he was sentenced to death in 1796. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment at La Guaira, but he escaped in 1797 and spent several years wandering around the Caribbean, continuing to conspire against Spanish authority in the New World. He returned to Venezuela after its declaration of independence in July 1811 only to flee to Philadelphia in July 1812. There he was to associate himself with José Alvarez de Toledo and his filibustering activities against Texas in 1813. After the failure of Toledo’s plans at the Battle of Medina in August 1813, Picornell established himself briefly as the president of a provisional government in Mexico in 1814. He then renounced this position and sought reconciliation with the Spanish crown, which finally pardoned him in 1816. His last years were devoted to uncovering or suppressing revolutionary activities against the Spanish state (Harris Gaylord Warren, “The Early Revolutionary Career of Juan Mariano Picornell,” Hispanic American Historical Review 22 [1942]: 57–81; Warren, The Sword Was Their Passport [1972 reprint], 56, 58, 84–89, 113–14, 131).

2Alexander Scott was sent by the U.S. to Caracas, Venezuela, in the spring of 1812 to administer foreign aid. He arrived in La Guaira on 27 June 1812 and reported to Monroe in a 16 Nov. 1812 letter that the country was in a “deplorable state,” its cities and agriculture destroyed by severe earthquakes while Francisco de Miranda’s “republicans” fought unsuccessfully against royalist forces. Scott also reported widespread anti-American sentiment in Venezuela. Domingo Monteverde, the royalist general, seized some of the five U.S. vessels that transported the flour and corn for Venezuelan relief and then sold the donated goods at inflated prices. Scott and Robert K. Lowry, the U.S. consul at La Guaira, eventually secured the release of the vessels. By December 1812 all American citizens residing in Venezuela were ordered to leave the country. At the request of Venezuelan officials, in January 1813 Scott and Lowry were ordered to leave the country within forty-eight hours. Denied permission to land at Curaçao, they stayed at Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, until they were able to return to Washington in May 1813 (DNA: RG 59, CD, La Guaira; James Johnston Auchmuty, The United States Government and Latin American Independence, 1810–1830 [London, 1937], 32–33, 34–35; Bierck, “The First Instance of U.S. Foreign Aid: Venezuelan Relief in 1812,” Inter-American Economic Affairs 9 [1955]: 47, 52, 54–58).

3For the humanitarian aid that Congress authorized for Venezuela, see PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (5 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends , 4:349 nn. 1 and 2.

4In 1813 Jacob Clement was listed in the Philadelphia city directory as a merchant on Water Street (Paxton, Philadelphia Directory and Register for 1813 [Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819 (22 vols.; New York, 1958–66). description ends 29456]).

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