George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Moustier, 21 November 1788

From Moustier

New York 21st Novr 1788.


The disagreeable weather which I have almost constantly experienced since my departure from Mount Vernon, has only served to justify my fears in that respect.1 I do not, however, regret the error into which I have been led with regrard to the pleasantness of the American autumn, as without that I should not have had the confidence to undertake a journey at this season. To that I owe the satisfaction of having made a personal acquaintance with your Excellency. The pleasantest days which I have seen, in every respect, since my residence in this Country, have been those which I spent at Mount Vernon. I hope another year I shall be happy enough to visit that interesting spot, and make a longer tarry there.

I found no news directly from France; the Gazzettes confirm the suppression of the Packet-boats, but exhibit the different opinions which are entertained respecting a proposition which is now upon the Carpet for establishing others between France & the United States by contract, instead of having them under the direction of the marine department which is Known to be injurious, and subject to many abuses.2 As this plan forms the basis of a project which I remitted to my court at the beginning of this year, I hope it will not be long before we are informed that some permanent means has been adopted to establish the correspondence between the inhabitants of the two countries. I never lose sight of those measures which can confirm & strengthen the mutual tie. A complete knowledge of the interests of both nations appears to me of very great importance towards effecting this and I neglect nothing that can give it.

The most critical point is the commerce with the West Indies I have the honor to send to your Excellency two pamphlets which have appeared upon this subject in France about the time of the publication of the Arret of the Council of the King for admitting certain foreign commodities, and to facilitate those which appear exorbitant on the one hand, or insufficient on the other.3 The United Americans have said nothing, but the French Colonists in pleading their own cause have pled that of the Americans. This question is yet deserving of consideration. I am exceedingly desireous that some plan may be proposed which may conciliate all interests. It is a subject worthy the attention of the most celebrated Geniuses who are anxious to have the French and Americans strongly united.

I have sent to Colo. Hamilton the watch and the letter with which your Excellency charged me,4 and have addressed to M. de Letombe that which was destined for him.5 I have already become acquainted with Genl Williams here and at Philadelphia, I have been very glad to renew it under your auspices.6

Mde La Mise de Brehan is sensibly touched with the pleasing attention which she experienced from you and the Mrses Washingtons, and has charged me to give her particular thanks to you and beg you, Sir, to tender her sincere compliments to them, to which permit me to have the honor of joining my respectful acknowledgements. We have here no such fine walks as those at Mount Vernon. The prevailing mode of life and the social qualities of the inhabitants of this City do not afford much to an European Stranger to compensate the want of those simple charmes of nature which are found in the country, or the refined pleasures of Cities where the arts & the urbanity of the inhabitants open a thousand different sources of enjoyment. However, one may here find a closet for meditation, an occupation which I frequently give myself up to, particularly to admire those things of an interesting nature which took place during the first period of the Revolution in these States, and to contribute all that in me lies to their future prosperity, and that may attach them to us as good Allies & affectionate friends. I have the Honor to be, with a most respectful attachment Sir, Yr Excellency’s most Hble & Obedt Servt

Le Cte de Moustier.7

Translation, DLC:GW; ALS, in French, DLC:GW. The text of this letter is taken from a translation prepared for GW. The original letter is printed in note 7.

2Depending upon the season of the year, the French packets plying between Le Havre and New York maintained a more or less regular schedule of six weeks’ sailing time, although there was considerable optimism that the schedule might be shortened. “We are flattered with the hope that the packet boats will hereafter sail monthly from Havre,” Jefferson wrote French chargé Louis-Guillaume Otto in 1787 from Paris. “This is very desireable indeed: as it will furnish more frequent opportunities of correspondence between the two countries” (Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 11:42–43). The French packets were public ships, and in early 1788 rumors circulated in Paris that because of their cost to the crown—120,000 livres annually according to a New York newspaper report—the packet service between France and the United States would be suspended (New-York Journal, and Weekly Register, 23 Oct. 1788; William Short to Jefferson, 14 Mar. 1788, and to John Jay, 18 Mar. 1788, in Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 12:667–68, 681–84). In October New York newspapers carried a brief notice that the French government had “put a stop to the maritime posts, and have issued orders to the ports of Havre and Bourdeaux, not to prepare any more packet boats for that purpose.” It was reported, however, that the French government contemplated a resumption of regular service between Le Havre and New York using smaller and less expensive vessels (New-York Journal, and Weekly Register, 9, 23 Oct. 1788). After considerable pressure from French officials in America, packet service was restored, operating under a private contract issued to Benjamin Dubois, a St. Malo shipowner, and providing for six voyages a year between Bordeaux and Norfolk. The new contract was not popular. Jefferson complained that Bordeaux was so far from Paris that “these packets will be of no use to me,” and Moustier approved of it only on the grounds that it was preferable to no service at all (Jefferson to Montmorin, 29 Nov. 1788, and to John Bondfield, 8 Mar. 1789, in Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 14:307–10, 621–22).

3GW acknowledged receipt of these two “Memoirs on the trade to the West Indies” on 15 Dec. 1788. The pamphlets may have been Dubucq, Le pour et le contre sur un objet de grande discorde et d’importance majeure. Convient-il à l’administration de céder part, ou de ne rien céder aux étrangers dans le commerce de la métropole avec ses colonies (London, 1784) and La ligne de démarcation, ou plan qui pourroit être un des moins mauvais à suivre dans l’approvisionnement des isles françoises de l’Amérique & dans le commerce avec elles (Paris, c.1784), both of which were in GW’s library (Griffin, Boston Athenæum Collection, description begins Appleton P.C. Griffin, comp. A Catalogue of the Washington Collection in the Boston Athenæum. Cambridge, Mass., 1897. description ends 70, 125). Moustier is probably referring to the “Arrêt du conseil concernant le commerce étranger dans les îles françhises de l’Amérique,” 30 Aug. 1784, which opened eight entrepôts in the French West Indies and added a number of additional products to the importations permitted by the restrictive arrêt of 1767 (Recueil général des lois, description begins Athanase Jean Léger Jourdan, Decrusy, and François André Isambert. Recueil Général des Anciennes lois Françaises, Depuis l’an 420 jusqu’à la révolution de 1789 . . .. 29 vols. 1822–33. Reprint. Ridgewood, N.J., and Farnborough, Hants., England, 1964–66. description ends 27:459–64).

7The original letter reads: “Le mauvais tems que j’ai eprouvé presque constamment depuis mon depart de Mount Vernon, n’a que trop Justifié combien etoient fondées mes craintes à cet egard. Je ne regrette point l’erreur où j’ai été induit sur la beauté des automnes Americains, puisque sans elle je n’aurois pas eû la confiance d’entreprendre un voyage à cette epoque. Je lui dois la satisfaction d’avoir fait la connoissance personelle de votre Excellence. Les plus beaux jours que j’aie vûs depuis mon Sejour sur ce Continent, ont été à tous egards ceux que j’ai passés à Mount Vernon. J’espere qu’une autre année je serai assez heureux pour revoir cette habitation interessante, et m’y arreter plus longtems.

“Je n’ai point trouvé ici de nouvelles directes de France; les gazettes conferment la supression des paquebots, mais il m’est revenu de differens cotés qu’il y avoit des propositions sur le tapis pour en etablir d’autres entre la France et Les Etats Unis par des Contracts faits avec des armateurs particuliers, au lieu d’en avoir sous la direction du departement de la Marine, qui a été reconnue vicieuse et sujette à plusieurs abus. Comme cette maniere forme la baze du projet que j’ai envoyé à ma Cour, au commencement de cette année, j’espere que nous ne tarderons pas à aprendre qu’Elle a adopté un moyen solide d’entretenir la correspondance entre les habitans des deux Pays. Je ne perds point de vue toutes les mesures qui peuvent augmenter nos liaisons reciproques. La connoissance exacte des interéts des deux Nations me paroit à cet egard de la plus grande importance et je ne neglige rien pour y parvenir.

“Le point le plus critique est le commerce des Antilles. J’ai l’honneur d’envoyer à Votre Excellence, deux des brochures qui ont paru à ce sujet en France à l’epoque de la publication de l’arrêt du Conseil du Roi pour admettre de certaines denrées etrangeres et qui a accordé des facilités qui ont parû exorbitantes d’un coté et insuffisantes de I’autre. Les Americains Unis n’ont rien dit, mais les Colons François en plaidant leur propre cause, ont plaidé pour eux. Cette question merite encore d’etre traitée. Je desire bien vivement qu’il puisse se trouver quelque plan qui concilie tous les interêts. C’est un problême digne d’occuper les bons esprits qui desirent de tenir les François et les Americains bien unis.

“J’ai remis au Colonel hamilton la montre et la lettre, dont Votre Excellence m’avoit chargé pour lui, et adressé à Mr de Letombe celle qui lui est destinée. J’avois dejà fait connoissance avec le Gal Williams ici et à Philadelphie, j’ai été fort aise de la renouveller sous vos auspices.

“Mde Le Mise de Brehan est infiniment touchée des attentions aimables qu’elle a eprouvées de votre part et de celle de Mesdames Washington, Elle me charge de vous faire parvenir tous ses remercimens et de vous prier, Monsieur, de leur faire agréer ses sinceres complimens; permettez que j’aie l’honneur d’y joindre mes respectueux homages. Nous n’avons pas ici d’aussi belles promenades que celles de Mount Vernon. Le genre de vie dominant et les dispositions sociales des habitans de cette Ville, n’offrent pas à un Etranger Européen, beaucoup de resources de se dedomager des charmes simples de la belle nature dans la campagne, ni des plaisirs recherchés des Villes où les arts et l’urbanité des habitans offrent mille jouissances diverses. Partout cependant on trouve un cabinet pour mediter; je me livre souvent à ce genre d’occupation surtout pour admirer ce que ces Etats ont offert d’interessant durant leur premiere revolution et pour contribuer pour ma part à leur prosperité future qui gagnera surement à avoir de bons Alliés et des amis affectionés.”

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