George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Clinton, 2 September 1793

From George Clinton

NewYork 2 September 1793.


I transmit for your information, the enclosed papers respecting an event of national concern which lately took place on board the Ship of War Jupiter belonging to the French Squadron in this harbor, and the measures which were adopted in consequence thereof.1 The application of the Consul General of the French Republic on this occasion, you will readily perceive, placed me in a very delicate situation, as a refusal to interfere might under the peculiar circumstances of this case not only have been construed into a denial of the aid stipulated by the Convention with his Nation but in that view, considering the constitutional obligation of treaties on the State Officers, have been considered an omission of duty.2 Thus circumstanced I conceived it most adviseable to issue the enclosed requisition to the Officers of the State, in which opinion the Attorney of the District for the United States, with whom I consulted, concurred.3 I am sensible that by the Act of Congress passed in April 1792 concerning Consuls & Vice Consuls, doubts may be entertained whether cases of this kind are not exclusively committed to the District Judges and Marshals, but should this construction prevail in its full extent, that article of the Convention, in most instances and especially in the present, from the remote residence of the District Judge, must become a dead letter.4 It may be proper to mention that the persons charged with desertion were pursued and overtaken in the County of WestChester, from whence they have escaped and I have reason to believe have gone out of this State.5

I have neglected to mention in my former communications, that it was not in my power to detain the Republican a Prize to the English Frigate Boston agreeably to your request, as she had sailed from this harbor previous to my receipt of the Secretary of War’s Letter.6

Yesterday the French Privateers Carmagnole and Petit Democrat arrived in this Port—and measures shall be immediately taken, in the mode pointed out on such occasions, to cause their departure.7 I have the honor to be, with the greatest respect Your most Obedient servant

Geo: Clinton

LS, DNA: RG 59, Letters from Governors of States, 1790–1812; LB, N-Ar: Papers of George Clinton.

This letter was considered in a cabinet meeting of 4 Sept., and Thomas Jefferson replied to Clinton in a letter of 10 Sept. (see JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 237–38; 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 , 27:32–34, 75–76).

1Gen. François Thomas Galbaud du Fort, governor general of Saint Domingue, was technically under arrest aboard the French naval vessel Jupiter as a result of his destructive conflict with the civil commissioners of that colony. However, many of the seamen aboard the Jupiter supported Galbaud and resisted French minister Edmond Charles Genet’s efforts to remove Galbaud from the vessel and reorganize the fleet (for their explanation of their actions, see Diary; or, Loudon’s Register [New York], 20 Aug.).

On 28 Aug. Genet issued a proclamation “to re-establish order and discipline on board the Jupiter,” directing the crew to leave the vessel, assigning an officer to take charge of the vessel and of Galbaud, directing that provisions be issued only to a small guard on the vessel, and declaring as “Traitors to their Country, incapable of serving her, and unworthy the name of French Republicans all those who shall refuse to obey this Proclamation” (Diary; or, Loudon’s Register [New York], 3 Sept.). That night, Galbaud, with the apparent connivance of the Jupiter’s crew, escaped from his confinement (see the report of the officer of the guard, Lelois, 29 Aug., DLC: Genet Papers). The crew then left the ship, as ordered by Genet’s proclamation, but many took arms with them. A second order, dated 30 Aug., directed them to give up their arms and threatened with arrest any crew members found carrying them (Diary; or, Loudon’s Register, 31 Aug.).

2For the application, see enclosure I. Clinton was referring to article 9 of the “Convention Defining and Establishing the Functions and Privileges of Consuls and Vice Consuls,” 14 Nov. 1788 (see enclosure II and n.1 to that document).

3Clinton’s proclamation of 1 Sept. “To all Judges, and other Officers of the Said State whome it may concern” required them “to give all due aid and assistance for the Search Seizure and arrest of the Said deserters and for their detention in prison until an Oportunity shall be found to send them back to the said Ship, but such detention is nevertheless not to exceed the term of three Months from the Day of the said arrest” (DNA: RG 59, Letters from Governors of States, 1790–1812). The United States district attorney for New York was Richard Harison (c.1747–1829).

4Section 1 of “An Act concerning Consuls and Vice-Consuls,” 14 April 1792, stated that district judges shall “be the competent judges, for the purposes expressed in the ninth article of the said convention, and it shall be incumbent on them to give aid . . . in arresting and securing deserters from vessels of the French nation according to the tenor of the said article.” The same section specified that “where by any article of the said convention, the consuls and vice-consuls of the King of the French, are entitled to the aid of the competent executive officers of the country . . . the marshals of the United States and their deputies shall . . . be the competent officers” (Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends , 1:254). When this letter was read in the cabinet meeting of 4 Sept., the “remote residence” of New York District Judge James Duane drew the secretaries’ attention, and it was proposed to write him “that the place of his residence was not adapted to his duties,” but Jefferson’s letter to Duane of 10 Sept. merely referred the enclosed papers to him for action (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 , 27:32–33, 76–78).

5For an account of the effort to arrest Galbaud at Chester, see Arnaud Prêtes to Edmond Genet, 30 August. Prêtes believed that Galbaud had remained in the area, as he reported to Genet in subsequent letters of 1, 2, 6, and 7 Sept. (all documents, DLC: Genet Papers).

6The Republican, a French privateer of eight guns out of Cap-Français, was taken by the Boston off Sandy Hook on the morning of 29 July and sent as a prize to New York City (New-York Journal, & Patriotic Register, 31 July). Clinton wrote GW on 30 July describing his response to the incident and seeking “the sense of the executive of the United States” on the subject. For Secretary of War Henry Knox’s reply of 2 Aug., see n.4 to Clinton’s letter. Meanwhile, French minister Edmond Genet protested to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson that the vessel had been improperly taken within U.S. waters, and Jefferson wrote British minister George Hammond on 4 Aug. to request that the British consul at New York “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 , 26:612–13). Knox wrote Clinton on 3 Aug. that he had been “directed” by GW to inform him “of this circumstance and to request your conforming thereto” (N-Ar: Papers of George Clinton). Clinton’s “former communications” included a letter of 18 Aug. from his secretary DeWitt Clinton to Knox, which was referred to GW on 21 Aug. (see Knox to Tobias Lear, 21 Aug., and JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 228).

7GW’s directions that any “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 . . . be ordered to depart immediately” were transmitted in a circular letter to the governors of 16 Aug., signed by Knox (see Knox to Tobias Lear, 17 Aug., n.1). Knox’s circular specifically listed the Petite Démocrate and Carmagnole among those ships to which the order applied.

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