George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Bertier & Company, 17 April 1790

From Bertier & Company

Philadelphia April 17th 1790

To the President, the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States,

The Petition of Bertier & Co. of the city of Philadelphia in the State of Pennsylvania Merchants;

Respectfully sheweth,

That your Petitioners having frequently received Goods to their address in Philadelphia, by vessels to different parts of the United States; they, on the twenty fourth day of March last received Letters from Baltimore in the State of Maryland, which had arrived there by the Ship Van Staphorst Captain Atkinson from Amsterdam, directed to your Petitioners, advising of One Package of Merchandize marked B&C no. 2; One Package of Merchandize marked AL, and one other package of Merchandize marked BC no. 1286, a Keg of Herring and a Cheese, being shipped onboard the said Ship Van Staphorst at Amsterdam, Consigned to your Petitioners;1 that on the twenty fifth of the same month your Petitioners transmitted by Post to Adrian Valck Esqr., Consul for the United Netherlands at Baltimore, the original Bill of Lading and Invoices of the said Goods, with the Proofs required by the Laws of the United States, and directions to enter the said Goods and secure the Duties charged on them. That on the twenty seventh of the same month the said Adrian Valck Esqr. acknowledged the Receipt of the said Letter from your Petitioners, and declared that he should follow their orders respecting the said Goods, but on the thirtieth of the same Month the said Adrian Valck Esqr. wrote to your Petitioners, that he could not get the said Goods—as they had been seized by one of the Inspectors of the Port of Baltimore, before he had received the Invoices and Bill of Lading from your Petitioners, because the Captain had landed them before a permit had been obtain’d for that purpose from the Custom House.

That the said Adrian Valck Esqr. on behalf of your Petitioners, applied to the Collector of the Port of Baltimore, to secure the Payment of the Duties on the said Goods, and to have them deliverd to him, but the said Collector not conceiving himself authorised to determine on the Case, refered and wrote concerning the same, to the Secretary of the Treasury for relief, and that your Petitioners also addressed themselves to the Secretary of the Treasury, and stated the Circumstances of their Case to him, and he was pleased (as they are informed) to write to the said Collector, to shew all the Indulgence in his power to them,2 but as your Petitioners are inform’d that a Bill is now depending in Congress, to give relief in Cases of Seizure where no frauds were intended; and as there was not any Intention of fraud on the part of your Petitioners, nor any other Person concerned in the Transaction, and they had taken (as they have in all Cases) every Precaution in their power strictly to Comply with the Laws of the United States, for securing the Duties on Goods imported, they humbly pray Congress to make such provision in the said Act now before them, for granting them relief under their present Case, or to grant them such other relief in the Premises, as to Congress in their Wisdom shall seem just. And your Petitioners shall ever pray.

Bertier & Compne

LS, DNA: RG 46, First Congress, Records of Legislative Proceedings, Petitions and Memorials.

C. A. Bertier (Berthier) & Company was a Philadelphia firm of merchants and shipowners.

1Berthier & Company enclosed with its petition a bill of lading for the Van Staphorst and a statement from George P. Keeports, notary public in Baltimore that on 1 April 1790 he had boarded the ship and demanded of Capt. William Atkinson the merchandise listed on the bill of lading. Atkinson replied that “in his absence his mate had sent the said Merchandise ashore, that the Permits for landing the goods of the different shippers, did not express either Marks or Numbers, and therefore he could not be certain thereby, which of the different shippers goods were to be landed, his Cargo being for different persons and some of them having a like kind of packages, and the Bills of Lading being to the order of the consignees of the shippers, a mistake had happened by the Mate sending the said Merchandise (in the said Bill of Lading mentioned) ashore, without a Permit for Landing thereof; that through this error, one of the Inspectors made a Seizure of said Merchandise and had lodged them in the Surveyors Office; he could not therefore deliver said goods” (DLC:GW).

2Bertier & Company’s petition was submitted to the House of Representatives on 26 April 1790 and ordered to lie on the table (DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 3:378). At some point the problem evidently was turned over to Alexander Hamilton. On 31 May 1790 Otho H. Williams, collector of customs at Baltimore, wrote Hamilton: “I am favored with a letter of the 18 Ulte from Messrs Bertier & Company of Philadelphia . . . in which they inform me ‘that the kind and favorable letter they recd. last night from the honorable the Secretary of the Treasury gave them the greatest hopes that I would be pleased to deliver their goods in the manner the secretary writes it may be done’” (Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 6:451). Neither Hamilton’s letter to Bertier nor Bertier’s letter to Williams has been found. In his reply, 14 June, Hamilton referred Williams to recent action by Congress to “shew you the line of proceeding to obtain relief in the case of the Ship Van Staphorst. Messrs. Bertier & Company have had the same information” (ibid., 465). Hamilton is probably referring to “An Act to provide for mitigating or remitting the forfeitures and penalties accruing under the revenue laws, in certain cases therein mentioned” (1 Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 122–23 [26 May 1790]), which provided for submission of disputed cases to the district court.

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