George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Clinton, 9 June 1793

From George Clinton

New York 9th June 1793


Having received Information last evening from Thomas Randall Esquire Master Warden of this Port and through other Channels, that a sloop was equipped, armed and manned in this Harbor and ready to sail, and that there were reasons to suspect that she was intended to act as a Privateer under a Commission from one of the Belligerent Powers of Europe,1 I, in consequence of your request signified to me in a Letter from the Secretary of War, dated the 24th of last Month,2 ordered a small detachment of militia on Board with Directions to detain her until you should be notified of the Circumstances of the Case, & your Determination thereon obtained.3

In addition to the Information which Your Excellency will receive on this Subject from the enclosed Papers, I have only to add, that it appears to me that the Vessel detained is a Sloop lately named the Polly belonging to a Mr Nobel of Hudson and others and by them transferred to a French Citizen residing in this Place—That she is now called the Republican and commanded by Citizen Orset a French Captain, and I have Reason to believe that a Part of the Crew were French Sailors; but as all, except one Man, were on Shore when she was boarded by my Directions, I cannot, as to this particular, decide with any degree of certainty.4

It may not be improper to mention, that to justify my employing the Militia in this Business, I conceive it necessary that they should be explicitly considered as called into actual Service under the Authority of the United States. I am with great Respect Your most Obedient Servant

Geo: Clinton

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Letters from Governors of States, 1790–1812; LB, DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters; copy (letterpress copy), DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Papers; copy (letterpress copy), DLC: Jefferson Papers. The two copies, from which the letterpress copies were made, have not been identified.

1Clinton has paraphrased much of Thomas Randall’s letter to him, which was written at New York City on 8 June at “9 o’Clock P.M.” and informed the New York governor that the French privateer “will unless prevented Sail this Evening” (DNA; RG 59, Letters from Governors of States, 1790–1812).

2For Henry Knox’s second circular letter to the state governors of 24 May, see Knox to GW, 24 May, and note 2.

3After receiving the Cabinet Opinion of 12 June, GW instructed Thomas Jefferson to write to Richard Harison, the federal attorney for the District of New York, and Knox to write to Clinton (JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 169; Jefferson to GW, 12 June 1793 [second letter], and notes; Knox to GW, 18 June 1793, n.1).

4In addition to Randall’s letter, Clinton enclosed a copy of a letter to Clinton from Alexandre-Maurice Blanc de Lanautte, comte d’Hauterive (1754–1830), the French consul at New York. In this letter, which was written in French on 9 June, Hauterive protested the detention of the Republican and the refusal to allow its captain, Charles Orset, to board the ship (both the enclosed French copy and an English translation prepared by State Department clerk Philip Freneau are in DNA: RG 59, Letters from Governors of States, 1790–1812). The third enclosure was a copy of Clinton’s reply to Hauterive of 9 June, in which he wrote that “I have to inform you that it had been represented to me that this Sloop was equipped armed and manned in this port as a Privateer and that it was expected she was to act as such under a Commission from one of the Belligerent Powers of Europe—In Consequence whereof and in pursuance of a Request in such Cases from the President of the United States, I directed a Detachment of the Militia of this State to detain the said Vessel until the President should be notified of the Circumstances of the Case, which shall (together with a Copy of your Letter) be immediately communicated to him—In the Mean Time, Directions are given to take the utmost Care of the Vessel and Property on Board” (DNA: RG 59, Letters from Governors of States, 1790–1812).

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