George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Rodolph Vall-travers, 15–29 March 1793

From Rodolph Vall-travers

Rotterdam, Netherlands, 1[5–29] Mar. 1793.1 Vall-travers wrote that this letter is being sent by the Hope commanded by James Miller, “of and to Philadelphia . . . with Captn Benson Forster, Lieutt in your Navÿ & Chevr de Limoges, as Passengers, & Bearers of mÿ Letters.”2

He reported that because of the recent expansion of the war in Europe “a general Embargo on all Ships within these united States has been laid, & continues ever since the 22d of Febry.3 Not less, than eight Ships of N. American Construction & Property, commanded by, & manned with Citizens of the united american Free states, having been likewise detained, against the eighth Article of the Treaty of Amity & commercial Intercourse, concluded between the two Sister Republiks4 . . . and there being, at this Moment no legal Representatif of Your united States resident in this Republic, (on Account of the temporary Call of Mr Short to the Court of Spain; & Mr Dumas, your good old Agent, unfortunately obnoxious to this Government, as a Natif of, & strongly attached to France, having never been accepted & acknowledged as such;)5 no Remonstrance could take Place, with due Energy, in the Name of Your Commonwealth, against this public Infraction of your reciprocal Engagement, nor an immediate Redress & Satisfaction obtained, otherwise than bÿ a dilatory, formal, & expensive Application for Justice, by & in the Name of your Several Captains concerned, impeded in their respective Callings, and injured by their Detension.”

Vall-travers reviewed his efforts to obtain the release of the American captains and their ships, including an audience with “Mr Fagel, the Secretary of State, at the Hague . . . [who] was pleased, to advise the American Captains: ‘to apply to a constituted Procurator, or Attorny general, to give, in their Name & Behalf, a Petition, in the Dutch Language, on stamped Paper, in the usual Form, with his Signature, addressed to their Highmightinesses, the Lords of the general united free belgic States.’ ”6 Val-travers then drew up the required petition, “in English,” had it signed by all the captains, and “delivered it to Mr Van Son, the appointed public Attorney of the general united States.”7

He wrote that “the final supreme Order for the American Captains free Departure was obstructed by the amiralty’s evasive Construction of the clear Words of the Treaty. To clear these up, I repaired again to the Hague, attended by Captain Benson Forster of Baltimore, as Deputy of his Brother-Captains, the 13th instant; where, after a personal Interview & Consultation with Mr Van Son, we obtained, thro’ his Recommendation a very amicable private Audience, from His Exccy Mr van der Spiegel, the Grand-Pensionary (High-Chancellor) of these 7. united States.”8 As a result, “Mr Van Son has delivered to me, in Consequence, under his Signature, & in due Form, with Duplicates to each Captain, the inclosed Leave, of the 14th instant, as soon as assented to & found adviseable bÿ the Boards of amiralty, to Sail when they please, when favored by Wind & Weather;9 but, without, as ÿet, removing the Embargo.”

A short postscript dated 29 Mar. reads, “Last Night I recd by an Express, Sent me by Mr Van Son, the Information, of their H. M. having resolved, to take off the Embargo from all foreign Vessels; after a Detention of 35. Daÿs.”10

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; ALS (copy), DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; ALS (“Copy. No. 3”), DLC:GW. Vall-travers enclosed this letter, along with various “Letters & Dispatches, addressed to the worthy President,” in a cover letter to Thomas Jefferson of 29 Mar. that Jefferson docketed as received on 1 July 1793 (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; abstracted in 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 25:467).

1Both manuscripts at the DNA are dated “March 16th”; the version at the DLC, however, reads “March 15.”

2William Benson Foster of Baltimore had recently lost his vessel and its cargo in a storm off the European coast (see note 7). Vall-travers recommended Limoges in a letter to GW of 28 February.

3On 1 Feb. 1793 France, already at war with Austria and Prussia, declared war on Great Britain and the Netherlands.

4For the 1782 Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States and the Netherlands, see Miller, Treaties, description begins Hunter Miller, ed. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Vol. 2, 1776-1818. Washington, D.C., 1931. description ends 59–90.

5William Short, the U.S. minister to The Hague, had been appointed a commissioner plenipotentiary to negotiate with Spain for the American right of free navigation on the Mississippi River (GW to U.S. Senate, 11 Jan. 1792). Charles-Guillaume-Frédéric Dumas had served as the unofficial U.S. agent at The Hague since the Revolutionary War, but his pro-French views made him unpopular with the Dutch (Vall-travers to GW, 6 June 1792, and note 8).

6Hendrik Fagel (1765–1838) became the greffier or registrar of the States-General of the Netherlands upon the death in 1790 of his grandfather, also named Hendrik Fagel, and held this position until 1794.

7M. H. Van Son (Sohn) was the attorney general of the Netherlands. Valltravers enclosed a signed copy of the petition, which was signed at Rotterdam on 3 Mar. and at Amsterdam three days later, and which reads: “A humble Petition, presented to their Highmightinesses, the Lords of the Seven United States of the belgic Netherlands, by the underwritten North-american Ship-captains, Citizens of the fifteen united american States; detained at Rotterdam and at Amsterdam, by a general Embargo, laid the 22d of Februarÿ 1793. on all Ships within their States; since their late Rupture with France.

“We the underwritten Petitioners:

“1.) Captain James Millar, of Pensÿlvania, commanding the good american Ship, Hope, Burthen 150. Tuns, & 8. Men, urged by Sickness, & ready to return speedily home, to its Owner, only in Ballast, without any Cargo.

“2.) Captain William Benson Foster, of Baltimore in Maryland; who was cast on Shore, at the Island of Goree [off the coast of Senegal], at 10. O’Clok at Night, on his Arrival here, the 8th of Janry and has lost his Ship & Cargo in a violent Storm; now a Passenger, with 4. Men saved of his Crew, on Board the Hope, of the said Capn Millar, bound to Philadelphia, his home; seeking to retrieve, with Diligence, his own and his Friends heavy Loss.

“3.) Captain John Parker of & from Alexandria in Virginia; commanding the Potomak-Planter, an america-built Ship of 229. Tuns, & 15. Men; all detained in Rotterdam.

“4.) Captain John Elliot, Commander of the Peggy, Fregatte, of & bound to Philadelphia.

“5.) Captain Asaph Shurtlis, commanding the good Ship Commerce, of Philadelphia, bound to New-Yorck & Philadelphia.

“6.) Captain Joseph West, Master of the Brig, Lady Washington, from & bound to Boston in New-England.

“7.) Nicolas Foster; Commander of the Anne, Fregate, of & from Baltimore.

“8.) Captain J. B. Schmit, commanding the Brothers, a Brig of Georgetown in Maryland, bound to St Eustathius: All 5. detained at Amsterdam:

“Most humbly beg Yr Lordships, to consider: That we are in no Ways involved in the present unfortunate Warfare in Europe.

“That the Prejudice, we suffer, bÿ our unprovoked and undeserved Detention in these Ports of a Sister-Republic, recoils, in great Measure upon itself.

“That it is directly contrary to the whole Tenor of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, stipulated and signed, between Your highmightinesses, the 7. batavian united States, and the 15. united States of N. america, by their Plenipotentiaries of both Nations, the 7th of Octr 1782; at the Hague; promising & professing a solid, inviolable & universal, mutual Peace & Friendship, by its very first Article.

“That, by the fifth Article of the same Treaty, Protection has been granted to all the american Ships of the said united States & their Men & Cargoes, within the Roads, Ports, Rivers &c. Subject to Your Highmightinesses’s Dominions, &c. & that the complained of detrimental Detention of the Petitioners Ships, without any given cause, for an unlimited Time, is repugnant to the Protection solemnly promised.

“That the eighth Article especially has clearly and amply provided for, & secured all american Ships, their Goods & Navigators, against the present Event, and similar Contingencies, of a general Embargo; as stipulating, in the most explicit Terms: that all & every american Vessels, their Men and Effects, belonging to the Citizens, or Inhabitants of the united States of N. America, shall be free from all Embargoes whatsoever, on any Pretence, & exempt from being detained, on Account of any military Expedition, for any public, or private Use whatever:

“We, the underwritten humble Petitioners, convinced of the Sincerity of Your Highmightinesses publicly declared Regard and pledged Friendship towards the united free States of America; and never doubting of your sollicitous Attention, to avoid every possible Misunderstanding, & even the remotest Cause of any just Discontent; confiding in Your good Faith & inviolable Observation of so beneficial & so sacred a reciprocal public Engagement: humbly implore Your Highmightinesses speedy Orders for our Liberty to depart, without further Hindrance, (Wind & Weather permitting,) to the Places of our respective Destinations.”

The petition was signed by Dennis Butler, “Commt of the Illustrious President of Richmond State of Virginia,” F. William Callahan, who had “Just arrived from Maryland with Tobacco,” Nicholas Forster, William B. Foster, James Miller, who had “Just arrived from Charlestown, with Rice,” John B. Smith, John Parker, Joseph West, and Andrew White. A “mere Ship Broker” named Hermstend Damen signed for “John Elliot and Asa Shurtlif Both absent in the Newedup [Nieuwdorp]” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

Vall-travers also enclosed copies of a letter he wrote at Rotterdam to Van Son of 8 Mar. and of Van Son’s reply of 12 Mar. (both in French and at DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters), plus Van Son’s undated letter, in Dutch, to the States-General presenting Captain Miller’s request to have the embargo lifted on the Hope (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

8Laurens Pieter van de Spiegel (1736–1800) served as the Grand Pensionary of the province of Holland from 1787 until 1795. Vall-travers enclosed English, Dutch, and French versions of an “Extract from the Register of Resolutions, taken by their Highmightinesses, the sovereign general States of the Seven united Belgic Provinces” of 14 March. The English version reads: “Received a Letter from the Admiralty-College of the Maas, dated Rotterdam, the 12th of this Month; containing their Advice, in Obedience to their Highmightinesses Resolution of the 4th instant, respecting the Request of James Millar . . . That their H. M. would be pleased to take off their Embargo from his said Vessel, the Hope; and to grant the Petitioner Leave, to depart with his Ship & Passengers from Rotterdam to America.

“Whereupon having deliberated, it has been thought fit, & resolved accordingly: That the Petitioner’s Ship shall still, provisorily, remain comprehended in the general Embargo . . . promising him, however, that the Embargo, laid on his Ship shall be taken off, as speedily, as can be; their H. M. doing, by no Means, lose Sight of the good Harmony & Friendship, which subsist between the united american States & this Republic . . . that a Copy of the said Letter, with Captn James Millar’s Petition, along with an Extract of this Resolution be sent to their Resident, Van Berckel, for his Information; ordering him, to give Notice thereof to such Persons & Places, as he shall judge expedient, to obviate all sinister Impressions; Shewing: how equitable it was, and absolutely necessary, to take this Step, at a Time, when so powerful a Neighbour, as France, attacks this State, with a formidable Army, without Provocation, in the Midst of Peace & Tranquillity; and drives it, without any previous Declaration, to an absolute Necessity of recurring to every Means of Self defense; the Right of which has never been contested, & must for ever remain unimpeached, any constrained Sense notwithstanding that might be given to any Article of a Treaty, which their Highmightinesses mean fully to observe” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). On 22 May, Franco Petrus Van Berckel, at Philadelphia, wrote Thomas Jefferson about the embargo and the detention of the Hope (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 26:91–92; see also Jefferson to GW, 30 May, and note 2).

9The ALS copy at the DNA, which does not include the short postscript of 29 Mar., ends at this place with the following sentence: “This was done as announced to me by an Express, last Night, fr. Mr V. Son.” The version at the DLC, which contains neither this sentence nor this particular postscript, concludes with a body of material, most of which may be found, in a slightly different form, in the second, and lengthy, postscript of 29 Mar. (see note 10). The enclosed leave has not been identified. The other two ALS manuscripts do not mention enclosing a copy of the leave.

10A second and separate postscript, written at Rotterdam on 29 Mar., reads: “The Difficulties & Delaÿs, encountered on the above Emergency of an Embargo, would, in all Probability, have been sooner surmounted, had the Complainants Petition been backed, by either a Consul general, or some respectable public Representatif of the united American Freestates. Your Excellency’s Wisdom & tried Patriotism will best determine: how far it may be useful & necessary, for the Protection & mercantile Interests of your united States & Inhabitants, especially at this precarious Juncture to invest some able & trusty Person, with sufficient Weight & Authority, to invigilate & maintain a strict & faithful Observance of all and every Article, publicly sanctioned, with different maritime Powers on this Continent, enforcing the Ties of mutually beneficial Friendship, & equal Advantages in Trade & Navigation?

“Mr Short, the accredited & acknowledged Representatif of your united fifteen Freestates, to these seven united batavian States, having left his Station at the Hague, somewhat abruptly, without taking Leave of the Prince Stadholder; his sudden Departure has been found Fault with, & misinterpreted: ‘as wanting of that reciprocal Regard, due to allied States; & as a Neglect bordering upon Contempt, which generally implies a public Rupture.’ I begged the Fiscal of the Amiralty, Mr van Teylingen [Isaäc Van Teylingen (1735-1813)], the loudest of his Censors, not to take Mr Short’s Inadvertency in a Sinister Sense; but to impute it solely to a Want of Experience.”

Given the upheavals brought about by the war, Vall-travers next wrote, “prudent Capitalists, will, I presume, preferr placing their Properties, at 5. prCt annual Interest, with an additional Portion of Extinction, in a limited Time, when accepted, on public, or private Securities, by your solid united States & their industrious Citizens, for extending & accelerating their manyfold Improvements; rather than trust the same to the arbitrary Disposal of needy & deeply incumbered Sovereigns.” Vall-travers then wrote that he was available to act as an agent for the United States in this matter. He also offered to help the United States obtain skilled and unskilled laborers “for advancing your new federal Capital, in Columbia . . . whole Ship-Loads of these could now be engaged to serve your U.S. for the Space of 7. or 10. Years, at moderate Terms, in the interior Parts of France, Germany & the Netherlands, & ship’d off in american Vessels . . . by prudent & discrete Agents, conversant in the necessary Tongues, properly appointed, instructed, authorised, & enabled thereto.”

After several paragraphs outlining other ways for the United States to develop and prosper, Vall-travers wrote: “I need not repeat to Your Excellency my already proferred humble Offers of Services, in all these and other Particulars, within my Reach. They may be performed Successively & effectually, without multiplying too much the Number and Charges of public Ministers. A few Agents, in the Caracter & general Credentials of a Counsellor of Ambassy, (Conseiller privé de Legation) in which I have transacted many weighty Negotiations, in Italy, France, Germany & Switzerland, without any fixed Residence; would alone enable a Man of Activity & Capacity, assisted with a Secretary of his Choice, Supported in his travelling & other necessary Expences, with a moderate, but adequate Salary, to answer these several Objects, with Honor and Success.

“Having dwelled upwards of fifty Years in America with the better Half of mine, with my Heart & Soul; having assisted my deceased Friend, Thos Hollis Esqe in his many philanthropic Labors & Benefactions to Several of your States; having co-operated, with my late venerable, celebrated Friend, Dr Benj: Franklin, in his arduous-Negotiations at the Court of France, in 1777; & having Spent the Remainder of my Daÿs, in all Kinds of Services, within the narrow Limits of my Faculties, in Behalf of my dear worthy Bretheren of your, as well as this Continent: I mean, if permitted, to Seal my Attachment to their Wellfare, humbly to Sollicit the Favor of a Corner in your franklinian public Library; where I might have Leave, to deposite, by my last Will, all my Select Books, State-Papers, literary-Works in Manuscript, Journals & Correspondences, in various Languages, on a multiplicity of interesting Subjects; all ranged in a chronological Order, & with alphabetical Indexes: the only Treasure now left at my Disposal!”

After a paragraph on the current dangers to republican governments, Valltravers concluded this postscript with an account of the Battle of Louvain on 18 Mar. and an assessment of the merits of French general Charles-François du Périer Dumouriez (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Vall-travers also enclosed a list of “Queries,” dated 27 Mar., on U.S.-Dutch relations, neutral rights, and the current Dutch trade embargo, which he “humbly submitted to the united States” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

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