James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Charles Gobert, 29 March 1814

From Charles Gobert

George-Town March 29th. 1814.

Mr. President

On the 7th. of this month, I had the honor of Tendering to your Excellency, for public service, The Hydro-war-ship which I have invented for the efficient defence of our Bays & harbours, & which is precisely in the purview of the act passed by Congress for that express purpose on the 5th. of this month & for the execution of which they have appropriated 500,000 Drs.1

I would have been happy to have been admitted, since that time, to explain before your Excellency & the Honorable Secretary of the Navy, & other judges, or before the Honorable Secretary of the navy only, the principle of my said Hydro-War-ship but I suppose pressure of business has prevented my being as yet called upon for that purpose.

I Request that it may be done, as soon as it is convenient to your Excellency & to the Honorable Secretary of the navy.

A line directed to me at the Post-office of George-town, will be immediately attended to. I have the honor to be with the highest sense of respect, of your Excellency, The most obedt. & most humble Servant

Charles Gobert2


No. 78. Pearl-street, New-york,

house of Lewis Ogden Esqr.

my father in Law.

RC (DNA: RG 45, Misc. Letters Received).

1Gobert referred to the 9 Mar. 1814 legislation providing for the construction and use of “floating batteries” (U.S. Statutes at Large, description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends 3:104). No plans of his for such a vessel or correspondence with JM regarding it have been found.

2Charles Dominique Gobert (1767–1830) was born near Versailles, France. He emigrated to the United States, established himself as a merchant in Philadelphia, was naturalized in 1794, and three years later married Charlotte Ogden, daughter of Lewis Ogden of New York and niece of Elizabeth Monroe’s brother-in-law Nicholas Gouverneur. In 1802 he moved to St. Augustine, East Florida. As the result of a duel with a Spanish officer, he was imprisoned there and his estate sequestered in 1811, but he escaped and fled to New York, where he filed for bankruptcy in 1812. Later that year he was employed as a civil engineer at the Washington Navy Yard. Soon after, he persuaded acting Secretary of War James Monroe to advance him $2,850 on a contract to manufacture compressed musket balls, which he failed to fulfill within the time specified. In June 1814 he arrived in Norfolk after having visited the British squadron in the Chesapeake, was arrested on and acquitted of charges of using a British pass or license, and was then rearrested for treason. As these events played out over the first half of the month, intercepted letters to and from Gobert and his wife were sent to the State Department, evidently at the request of the administration. The letters confirmed that Gobert was involved in clandestine pursuits but carefully avoided specifying their nature. John Armstrong opined that he was “no doubt a Spy.” By August he was in debtor’s prison in Washington but filed for bankruptcy and left the city in September 1814. Thereafter, according to his own report, he worked in Baltimore for some months before traveling to Havana to collect on some debts, which he found he could not do without several documents that had been sent to the State Department in 1814 to prove his innocence. Returning to New York, he wrote Monroe on 2 May 1816, asking that the necessary papers be returned to him, and a clerk’s note on his letter indicates that the State Department complied with his request (William Ogden Wheeler, The Ogden Family in America, Elizabethtown Branch, and Their English Ancestry [Philadelphia, 1907], 93, 152; New York Commercial Advertiser, 15 June 1814; Letter from the Secretary of the Navy, Transmitting Statements in Relation to the Monies Transferred … from Certain Appropriations for … the Navy Department [Washington, 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 30211]; Preston, Catalogue of the Correspondence and Papers of James Monroe, description begins Daniel Preston, A Comprehensive Catalogue of the Correspondence and Papers of James Monroe (2 vols.; Westport, Conn., 2001). description ends 1:315–17, 319, 400–402; Charles Gobert to Armstrong, 21 Dec. 1813, DNA: RG 107, LRRS, G-102:7; New-York Evening Post, 24 June 1814; Isaac Ogden to Charlotte Gobert, 15 June 1814, and George Hammeken to Charlotte Gobert, 16 June 1814, DNA: RG 59, ML; Armstrong to Moses Porter, 12 June 1814, DNA: RG 107, LSMA; Daily National Intelligencer, 19 Aug. 1814; Charles Gobert to Monroe, 2 May 1816, DNA: RG 59, ML).

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