George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Clinton, 30 July 1793

From George Clinton

New York 30th July 1793


Yesterday I received a note from the French Consul at this place, informing me that a British Frigate had taken a French Privateer called the Republican and sent her into this Port and praying for my interference in securing to his nation the benefit of the Treaty. Some time afterwards the officer commanding the British Vessel called upon me and reported his arrival—I therefore conceived it proper to address Sir John Temple his Britannic Magestys Consul General by a note stating to him the information given by the French Consul, and requesting that the departure of the Vessel might be stayed, until I could report the circumstances to you, and receive your directions respecting her.1 Besides the propriety of satisfying the French Consul in this business, I was actuated by the additional consideration that the French Frigate L’Ambuscade then lay in this harbour, and a Vessel was brought in which if a French ⟨one⟩ and a Prize was by the Treaty not entitled to shelter or refuge, and a detention at my request would perhaps have been the means of preventing disagreeable and embarrassing consequences2—This morning I received a note in answer from Sir John Temple expressing his readiness to comply ⟨w⟩ith my request, offering to deliver the Vessel into my custody, in which however ⟨mutilated⟩ declares her to be the tender belonging to her Britannic Magesty’s Ship ⟨mutilated⟩ Boston, in consequence of this official Declaration I thought it most prudent and Justifiable from every view of the question to decline any further ⟨mutilated⟩rence other than requesting her immediate departure agreeably to our Treaty with France. For your more particular information ⟨mutilated⟩ the different communications which have passed on this subject3—As it is my sincere desire to observe on such occasions the most sensi⟨ble⟩ line of conduct and as similar questions of difficult solution involving ⟨mutilated⟩ consequences may in a Port so much frequented often occur I would este⟨em it⟩ a favour to have the sense of the executive of the United States on this ⟨mutilated⟩.4

I also take this opportunity of forwarding an affidavit relative to certain unwarrantable proceedings of the Captain of a British Mar⟨que⟩ Ship called the Catherine.5

Geo. Clinton

LB, N-Ar: Papers of George Clinton.

1In his letter to Clinton of 29 July, Hauterive complained that Clinton’s treatment of French vessels was contrary to the Treaty of Amity and Commerce that the United States had signed with France in 1778 and that U.S. policy unfairly favored British ships (N-Ar: Papers of George Clinton). George William Augustus Courtenay (c.1762–1793) commanded the British frigate H.M.S. Boston, which was using the Republican as a tender to provide a means of communication between the frigate and land. Clinton’s letter to Sir John Temple (1732–1798), consul general for New York and New England, has not been identified.

Genet, the French Minister to the United States, protested the seizure of the Republican in a letter to Thomas Jefferson of 2 Aug., which has not been identified. Genet claimed that this privateer was captured within American territorial waters and thus was an illegal seizure. Jefferson, in his reply to Genet of 4 Aug., requested “depositions or other competent testimony” to support the French claim. On the same date Jefferson wrote the British minister George Hammond, stating that the Republican must be returned to its owners if the French claim was true; “but should you have, or be able to procure evidence to the contrary I will ask the favor of a communication of that evidence, and that the British Consul retain the vessel in his custody until the Executive of the US. shall consider and decide finally on the subject” (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 , 26:611–13). At GW’s behest, Henry Knox wrote Clinton on 3 Aug. 1793, informing him of Jefferson’s letter to Hammond and requesting the governor’s “conforming thereto” (fragment, N-Ar: Papers of George Clinton).

2On 1 Aug. the frigateEmbuscade routed the Boston in an early-morning encounter off Sandy Hook, New Jersey (Daily Advertiser [New York], 2 Aug. 1793). Capt. Courtenay died from wounds received in this battle.

3Neither Temple’s note of 30 July nor any other correspondence that was enclosed has been identified. Clinton made his decision based on Article 17 of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, which states that “no Shelter or Refuge shall be given in their Ports to such as shall have made Prize of the Subjects, People or Property of either of the Parties” at war (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 , 16–17; Clinton to GW, 2 Sept., 15 Nov. 1793). The Republican left port on 2 Aug. 1793 (Temple to Jefferson, 6 Aug. 1793, 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 , 26:630).

4At GW’s behest, Knox wrote Clinton on 2 August. After acknowledging the receipt of Clinton’s letter and its enclosures, Knox wrote: “That if the vessel mentioned in your ⟨mutilated⟩ New York by ⟨mutilated⟩ Frigate be a prize taken ⟨mutilated⟩ ought not to be detained but ordered to ret⟨mutilated⟩ have left ⟨mutilated⟩ a reasonable delay ⟨mutilated⟩ on ⟨mutilated⟩. Th⟨at if it⟩ be not a Prize ⟨mutilated⟩ ground for order⟨ing⟩ ⟨mutilated⟩. That ⟨the papers⟩ relatively ⟨to the⟩ conduct of the B⟨mutilated⟩ Ship cal⟨led the⟩ Catherine will be duly attended to” (N-Ar: Papers of George Clinton). Knox sent Clinton additional instructions about the treatment of privateers and prizes in two circular letters that he wrote to the maritime governors on 7 Aug. 1793. In the first, Knox listed the eight rules of neutrality established by the cabinet on 3 Aug. (fragment, N-Ar: Papers of George Clinton; for the complete text, see Knox to Richard Dobbs Spaight, Nc-Ar: Governor’s Papers, or Knox to Thomas Mifflin, PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99; see also Cabinet Opinion on the Rules of Neutrality, 3 Aug. 1793). In the second letter, Knox wrote: “I am directed by the President of the United States to inform your Excellency that it has been agreed between the general Government and the minister of France That in case any of the vessels of France shall send any prizes into our ports, against which proper allegations shall be made as having been taken within the limits of the protection of the United States, that such prize shall remain in the possession of the Consul of France, until the Executive of the United States shall have decided thereon.

“But if no French Consul should reside at the port into which such prize shall arrive, and if the Admiralty Court should not take possession of such prize, then your Excellency will please to have recourse to the means pointed out in my letter of the 23d of May last, and to communicate the case with the evidences in writing, for the consideration, and decision of the President of the United States thereon” (fragment, N-Ar: Papers of George Clinton; text taken from Knox to Spaight, Nc-Ar: Governor’s Papers; see also Knox to Mifflin, PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99). On Knox’s letter to the governors of 23 May, see Knox to GW, 24 May 1793, and note 2.

5The enclosed affidavit has not been identified, but it probably pertained to the armed British merchant ship Catherine, commanded by Capt. William James Davis. See note 4 above for the administration’s immediate response to this information. For some recent activities of this vessel and its crew, see Henry Marchant to GW, 3 Aug. 1793.

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