George Washington Papers

Henry Knox to Tobias Lear, 17 August 1793

Henry Knox to Tobias Lear

War Department August 17th 1793

Dear Sir.

Please to Submit the enclosed report from the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to the President of the United States.1 I have the honor to be Sir your humble Servant

H. Knox
secy of War


1In his letter to Knox of 17 Aug., Alexander J. Dallas wrote that the British sloop Hope, from Antigua and a prize to the French privateer Citoyen Genet, and the American sloop St. Alodia, sailing from New Orleans under Spanish registry and a prize to the French privateers Petite Démocrate and Carmagnole, had arrived in Philadelphia on 14 August. Dallas then wrote that Gov. Thomas Mifflin, following instructions sent by Knox on 16 Aug., issued orders for the militia to take possession of the these prizes and for the Citoyen Genet “immediately to depart” from its mooring at Mud Island. Capt. Pierre A. Johanene, however, responded that the privateer “was not in a condition to return, her provisions being entirely exhausted, and her sails so bad as to incapacitate her for proceeding to Sea, Under these circumstances, she will be detained at the Fort ’till further instructions; but the Governor, in conformity to the President’s desire, means to pursue every proper effort to procure her early departure, before he resorts to force for that purpose.” Dallas also wrote that the prizes were being detained until further instructions from GW (PHarH: Executive Letter-Books). For additional documents received by Knox concerning these vessels and other privateers and prizes in Philadelphia’s harbor and GW’s decisions regarding them, see Knox to GW, 17 Aug. 1793, and notes.

Knox’s circular letter to the governors of 16 August, reads: “It has heretofore been made known, that the fitting out of Privateers in the ports of the United States, was considered as incompatible with our present state of Neutrality. The Executive, after trying other measures in vain to prevent a continuance of the practice, finds itself at length constrained to resort to means more decisive than have been hitherto employed. To avoid therefore a further infraction of our rights, and a further commitment of our peace, the President of the United States, after mature deliberation, has decided, that no armed vessel which has been or shall be originally fitted in any port of the United States, as a Cruiser, or Privateer, by either of the Parties at War, is to have asylum in any of the ports of the United States.

“I am directed to inform your Excellency of this decision, and to request that in case any Vessel within the foregoing description, should arrive in any port or Harbour, in the State of Pennsylvania, that you would cause her to be ordered to depart immediately, and in case of her refusal, that you would take effectual measures to oblige her to depart. It is at the same time the desire of the President, that force may not be resorted to until every proper effort has been previously made, to procure the early departure without it.

“And the President has further directed me to request, that in case any such vessel shall have sent, or brought, subsequent to the fifth Instant, or should hereafter send, or bring, any prize or prizes into any port or harbour, of your State, that you would cause such prize, or prizes, to be immediately secured by the Militia, for the purpose of being restored to the former Owners.

“It is also requested, that you would please to transmit in Writing all the cases and the evidences thereon, which may occur in pursuance of this communication.” At the end of the circular, Knox listed the following privateers known to have been armed in American ports: Citoyen Genet, Sans Culotte, Vainqueur de la Bastille, Petite Démocrate, and Carmagnole (Knox to Mifflin, 16 Aug., PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99).

Knox wrote a second circular letter on 16 Aug. concerning privateers and their prizes, but this one was sent to the governors of the maritime New England states. The letter sent to John Hancock of Massachusetts reads: “The President of the United States has instructed me to request your Excellency that in case any of the privateers specified in my letter of this day should bring or send any prizes into any harbour or port of the State of Massachusetts that you will please to cause such prizes to be restored to the persons who were Masters or Owners at the time of their being captured.

“If no such persons should be found and there should be a Consul residing in Massachusetts of the power to which the prize belonged at the time of its capture, then it is to be delivered to him or to his orders” (NNGL: Knox Papers). Knox later included these same instructions in a circular letter to other governors of 21 Aug. 1793 (see Knox to Joshua Clayton, 21 Aug., in note 1 of Knox to GW, 27 Aug. 1793).

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