George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Mifflin, 25 May 1793

From Thomas Mifflin

Philadelphia, 25th May 1793.


The Secretary at War, in a letter dated the 23d instant, represents, that you confide to me, the charge of interposing in all cases of hostility committed between the belligerent parties, within the protection of this State;1 and signifies your desire, that I should, with the aid of the Militia, detain the parties first aggressing, until I can communicate the case to you, with the evidences in writing, which may establish the facts, for your ultimate decision.2 I shall on this, and on every other occasion, employ the constitutional authority of my office, to support the national honour, and enforce that impartiality, which ought to be observed, towards the powers engaged in the present war. If, therefore, any act of hostility, shall be committed within the jurisdiction of Pennsylvania, you may be assured, Sir, that I will take the most prompt and efficacious measures to accomplish the object of your communication.

By another letter of the 24th instant, the Secretary at War signifies your request, that if within this State, any vessels are commissioned, equipped and manned, as Privateers, on behalf of any of the belligerent powers named in your proclamation, I would effectually interpose to put a stop to it.3 On this subject, likewise, you may rely on my attention and exertions; and, in order to obtain the necessary information, I shall direct the Wardens of the Port of Philadelphia to be vigilant in their enquiries, and punctual in their reports, respecting any attempts to introduce the practice, to which the letter of the Secretary at War refers.4

If any other measures shall be deemed proper and necessary, to give effect to your Excellency’s design in making the above communications, I shall cheerfully adopt them, whenever they are suggested to me. I am, with perfect respect, Sir, Your Excellency’s Most Obedt Hble servant.

Tho. Mifflin

LS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

1The main concern of GW and Henry Knox was the use of American ports by French privateers during France’s war with Great Britain. For this issue, see GW to Cabinet, 18 April, source note. For Knox’s letter to Gov. Mifflin of 23 May, see Knox to GW, 24 May, n.2.

2On this date, Mifflin instructed Gen. Josiah Harmar to call up a militia company to assist Philadelphia’s mayor, sheriff, and wardens in searching privateers and confiscating their prizes (“Executive Minutes of Governor Thomas Mifflin,” Pa. Archives, description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends 9th Ser., 1:582).

3For Knox’s letter to Mifflin of 24 May, see Knox to GW, 24 May, n.2. GW issued his Neutrality Proclamation on 22 April.

4Mifflin’s instructions to the wardens of 25 May reads: “The situation of Philadelphia as a neutral Port, renders it necessary, during the war between the Powers in Europe, to take every proper precaution for preventing any Act of hostility being committed by the belligerent Parties, within the jurisdiction of the State; or any act tending to infringe that impartiality, which it is the duty and the interest of the United States to pursue, In order therefore to obtain the necessary Information at this important period, I think it expedient to request, that you will take the proper measures for ascertaining from time to time, and reporting to me without delay, whether any and what Vessels shall be captured or molested within the Capes of Delaware in their passage to this City; and whether any and what Vessels are commissioned, equipped and manned, as Privateers, within the Port, on behalf of any of the belligerent powers.

“The peace and honour of the United States, and of this State, require a vigilant attention to these objects; and, I am persuaded, that a Sense of your duty as public officers, and of your Interest as Citizens, renders it unnecessary for me to enlarge” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). The wardens serving at this time were William Allen, Joseph Anthony, Robert Bethell, Nathaniel Falconer, Magnus Miller, and John M. Nesbitt.

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