George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Samuel and Sheppard Church, 20 April 1792

From Samuel and Sheppard Church

Philada 20th Apl 1792

May it please your Excellency

The enclosed1 was received a few days past per the Aeriel Capt. Carson from Cadiz who saw the unfortunate writer in a Prizon in that place where he had been carried from the Havannah in the Island of Cuba,2 he had written to Mr Carmichael but had not received any answer altho a longer time had elapsed than necessary for that purpose.

We pray your Excellency to give directions that application may be made to the Spanish Government for his release from Confinement,3 which will be thankfully acknowledged by the unhappy prizoner and Yr Excellencys Mo. Hble Serts

Saml Church

Sheppard Church

LS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

Samuel Church was a Philadelphia merchant who owned property in Southwark (Heads of Families [Pennsylvania] description begins Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790: Pennsylvania. 1908. Reprint. Baltimore, 1970. description ends , 212–13; Philadelphia Directory, 1791, description begins Clement Biddle. The Philadelphia Directory. Philadelphia, 1791. description ends 21).

1The enclosure was a letter that the Churches’ brother John Church had written GW from Havana sometime in October 1791. It reads: “I arriv’d here in a Spanish ship in the Year 1787 from St Augustine—two years I follow’d the Business of a Goldsmith (to which I. wass bred.) with proffitt to myself & satisfaction to my Employers—at the Arrival of Dr Lewis, las Cassas [Luis de Las Casas], the present Govr here—some person who Expected to Obtain a pension for his Villany, lodg’d an Information with the Govr that I had been drawing planns of the Forts & fortifications of this place—I. wass hurried to a Dungeon and after two Weeks Confinement wass Examin’d by the Govr—the planns were—A ground plott of the City of Philadelphia—another of the Wharfs &c.—these were what I. had drawn and no Other—neither had I. Capacity or Inclination to draw any other—these I. had Drawn the year before and had given as a play thing to an Old Dotag’d Man—After being confind one Month, I. wass Order’d on board the ship Providence, Oliver Bowen Master for America—in Conversation with Bartholomew Crawford the Interpreter he told me that the Govr and every other person wass well Convinc’d of my Innocence and that I. wass only order’d off the Island for the present as it wass expected an Approaching Warr—but that the Govr had no Objections to my Returning and even reside here if I thought proper—this Induc’d me to return Mate of the same ship with a Cargo of Negroes to this City—a small dispute Ariseing between the Captn and myself I. left the ship and Engag’d my passage in a small Vessel Bound to Charleston—but being detain’d selling their Slaves longer than I. expected, I. wass solicited by Captn Cook (of the schoonr Appelucia) to go his Mate to Pensacola & from thence to Philada—it being Necessary for me to Appear before the Govr for a pasport he ask’d me if I. wass not the person who wass prisoner here last Year—I. answer’d I. wass—he then Charg’d me with Returning contrary to his orders and Immediately order’d me to pison where I. have been Confin’d since the Month of August—I have sent a Memorial to the Govr Informing him of my being Ignorant of his Orders and that the Interpreter had Inform’d me very Different—I. wrote to McNamarra Russel Esq. Commanding his Brittannic Majesties Ship Diana who happend to put into this port Informing him of my Situation—who Accordingly Demanded me of the Govr and Recd for Answer that I. wass an American Subject and that he wou’d Keep me in prison as long as he thought Proper” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

2GW also received from John Church, probably sometime after 24 April, another letter, written at “Cadiz Prison” and dated 22 Feb. 1792. It reads: “The ways of Heaven are dark and Intricate Puzzeld in Mazes and perplexd in Errors the mind searches for them in Vain Sir [Joseph] Addisson [Cato 1.1.49–51] puts the Above words into the mouth of Cato who wass Labouring under a Complication of woes for his Suffering Country—I make use of them because they express my Situation the best of any in the English Language. I am very Sensible that my Sufferings are and have been in a great Measure because I happen to be an American Subject had I been a Brittish Subject I shou’d have been sent on board his Majesties Ship Dianna at the Havanna—and at my Arrival here had I been a Brittish Subject I shou’d only have been Confin’d to the house of the Consul. Thou great Omnipotent Being. above the thoughts of all Supremely Wise. what is it that I have done to have incurr’d thy divine Displeasure by being punish’d in such an Eminent Degree. had my whole life been one Continu’d Scene of Wickedness methinks my punishment has Already been more than sufficient—but I bow with submission to thy Divine Will not knowing when the regular Confusion will end—I leave your Excellency to Judge my feelings and Situation Labouring under Sickness the Horrour ⟨of⟩ a Spanish Prison and what is worse than all the rest to be Suspected being a Spy—on my Arrival here the Brittish Consul wass Applied to Know wether or not he wou’d be Security for my Appearance when Call’d for—in which case I shou’d not be sent to Jail. he Replied that as my case wass of a very Delicate Nature and as he had done several Acts of Kindness for the Americans and had wrote sev⟨eral⟩ times to Mr Carmichael on the Subject, yet that Mr Carmichael had not the common politeness to return him an Answer—Mr [Keyran] Welch [Welsh] mercht of this place Inform’d me that a few months ago he Brought into this Country from Congress a packett of Letters—these he Immediately forwarded to Madrid—Mr Carmichael had not been so polite as to Acknowledge the Receipt of them though fully convinc’d they had been receiv’d—But how will your Excellency be Surpriz’d when I Inform you that I have wrote two Letters To his Excellency Wm Carmichael at Madrid fully Informing him of my very Delicate Situation and at the same time sent him Copies of what I wrote your Excellency from the Havana—at the same time Earnestly requesting him Immediately to Interest himself in my behalf that if he wou’d write to the Brittish Consul on this Occasion I might at least be Bail’d to the Consuls House—yet as I said before how will you be Surpriz’d when he never Deign’d to return an Answer—I make this Complaint against Mr Carmichael as I very severely Suffer a Confinement in this Jail either through his Pride or Indolence—thus I am left alone by Mr Carmichael without council or advice on this so very trying an Occasion—Left to my own Meditations but Concious of my Innocence I defy the World.

⟨mutilated⟩ Excellency will se[e] the propriety of Appointing an Agent or Consul in this City happy for me had there been one on my Arrival in this place I shou’d not have been sent to Prison—the Brittish Vice Consul in this City has in Conversation with me pointed out the Necessity there wass of Congress Appointing a Consul here—that frequently the Americans on their comeing here Involve themselves in Difficulties and then when in that Situation Apply to the Brittish Consuls for their Asstance—I cannot passover in Silence the Obligations I am under to Mr David Porter of this City (formerly in the service of the United States first in the 12th Virginia Regt afterwards Captn in the 3d Pensylvania Regt commanded by Colnl [Thomas] Craig) ’tis to his Kind Attention and Assiduities that the Brittish Consul has agreed to become Security for my Appearance when calld for that I may be Liberated from this Jail. I do not Attempt to dictate to your Excellency but if any person here be Appointed as a Servt of the publick I know of no person who stands in so Deserveing a light—Oh! Liberty thou sacred priviledge of Americans—And may thou ever remain so—may Savage Tyranny and Ambition never Destroy thy sacred fruits—in the same manner that I have been dragg’d to Spain wou’d the Americans have been Dragg’d to Great Brittain on the most frivilous pretences and like me have been Depriv’d of a Trial by their peers of the Vicinage or perhaps any trial at all—Pardon me sir for writeing so freely to you but tis a Subject that Awakens all my feelings and I feel for once happy that I wass one of the first that ⟨ever⟩ arm’d to Assert the Rights of my Country and rescue it from Destruction—To Conclude—it Appears highly probable that I shall be kept prisoner untill your Excellency either writes to this Court or sends some person to Demand my Liberty and if that is Denied may my Country in Vengance draw that Fatal sword that is the Scourge of Tyranny and never return it to its Scabbard untill the Southern World enjoy the sweets of Liberty

“‘Till the freed Indians in their Native groves

Reap their own fruits and woe [woo] their sable loves

Then stretch thy Reign fair Peace from Shore to Shore

Till conquest cease and slavery be no more.’ Pope”

(DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; poetry paraphrased from Alexander Pope’s “Windsor Forest,” ll. 405–8).

3On 24 April, Thomas Jefferson wrote Samuel and Sheppard Church: “The President has referred to me your letter, covering that of John Church, dated from the Havanna Oct. 91. It does not appear from these papers of what country he had been a citizen. It is presumable he was not of the United States because engaged in a traffic unauthorized by the laws of the United States. His application to the Commander of a British ship of war induces a conjecture that he had been a British subject. But having settled as a Goldsmith at the Havanna, and there carried on his trade two years, and appearing to have been of St. Augustine before that, he had made himself a Spanish subject, was liable to their laws, was charged and found guilty of an offence against their government, by the competent authority of the country, and is now under punishment for that offence. Were he a citizen of the U.S. we should be bound to respect the judgment pronounced on him by the regular authority of the country, till it’s injustice should be proved palpably. But having made himself a Spanish subject, we have no more right to enquire into that judgment than the court of Spain would have to do the same with respect to the criminals now in our jails. I am sorry therefore to be obliged to give it as my opinion, that it is a case in which this government ought not to interfere” (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 23:455).

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