George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Thomson, 24 August 1788

To Thomas Thomson

Mount Vernon August 24th 1788


In answer to your favor of the 12th instant, I can assure you, if it shall be found that Doctr Spence and family are in the unhappy situation you suppose, and I can be instrumental by writing to Mr Jefferson or to any of my friends in France in obtaining their release, I should do it with chearfulness and pleasure—An application to the Court of that Nation from a private character would be improper—such, if made, ought to go from the Severeighty of these States.

But, Sir, let not Mr Thomsons hopes on this occasion be too sanguine—There are reasons to distrust the narrative of James Joshua Reynolds—to denominate him an Imposter (as you will perceive by the enclosed transcript from the Pensyla Packet and daly advertiser)1 and other informations which your Son will probably communicate to you—and that the accounts given by this Reynolds are for time-Serving purposes. To these in my opinion, may be added, as strength[en]ing the evidence of Doctor Spences own letter dated within a few days Sail off Sandy hook where it is believed no Cruiser from the Piratical States ever yet appeared none having ever yet been seen, or heard to be, in these Seas. If therefore it was his fate to fall into the hands of these pests to mankind it must have been by Re-capture which is not very probable from the accts that are delivered.

The most eligable previous steps in this business, in my Judgment, will be, to write first to Mr Barclay, who has not been long returned from the court of Morocco in a public character and particularly from Algiers, and who must have obtained the best information of all American Prisoners, at least of the capture of the Vessels in which they were; to know if any such information ever came before him—and at the same time to enquire more particular of some Gentlemen in Philadelphia with respect to this Reynolds the circumstances related by him of the Vessel called the rising Sun—of Israil Jacobs &c.: These I will do—the answers may throw light upon the subject and direct what further Measures may be necessary to persue when I receive them, the Result shall be communicated to you2—by Sir—yr &c.

Go. Washington


1James Reynolds’s “Narrative” is printed in part in Thomson to GW, 12 Aug., n.1. The letter to “Messrs. Dunlap & Claypoole,” editors of the Pennsylvania Packet, and Daily Advertiser, dated at Philadelphia, 24 July, was printed in that newspaper on 25 July: “IN your paper of last Wednesday there is an account of the capture of captain James Joshua Reynolds, of the Rising States, belonging to this city, who it is said was carried into Algiers in 1784; and among various other matters related by captain Reynolds, it is mentioned that the Buckskin Hero was carried into Salee, and condemned as American property. It may not be entirely useless to contradict this paragraph, by saying that no vessel belonging to the United States was ever carried into Salee, nor any property ever condemned there as American; and I believe, upon examination it will be found, that no such person as captain Reynolds, of the Rising States, is known here.

“I will not pretend to say what the motives a⟨r⟩e for fabricating such reports; but so far is the trade of this country from being in danger by the cruisers of the emperor of Morocco, that his majesty has, by an ordinance published the 2d of last March, reduced the duties upon articles exported from the United States to his dominions, and from ten per cent on the value placed them at five. This ordinance is to continue in force three years. I am, &c.”

2GW wrote to Thomas Barclay on 31 August. It is likely that Barclay himself was the author of the letter quoted in note 1.

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