George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Sim Lee, 11 October 1793

From Thomas Sim Lee

Annapolis Octr 11. 1793


The motive which influenced me to address your Excellency on the 7th Instant must again apologize for my transmitting you the enclosed copies of a letter and depositions received from the British Vice Consul residing in Baltimore 1—As this gentleman has informed me that no suit has been instituted in the Court of Admiralty respecting the Brigantine mentioned in these papers, I have found it my duty to require the french Vice Consul to take charge of her until your Excellency shall have decided on the case 2—I have desired Mr Thornton to use all posible diligence in procuring and forwarding to me the additional evidence which he expects to obtain;3 and which when received shall be transmitted to yr Excellency without delay—but although the allegation of this vessel’s having been taken within three miles of our coast has seemed sufficient to authorise the provisionary step I have taken, it is possible that similar representations may be made in cases in which it will be more doubtful whether our rights of Jurisdiction shall have been infringed—Your Excellency will therefore I hope excuse me if I request to be favoured with your idea of the distance within which hostilities are held to be unlawful; for while this point remains unsettled I may expect complaints upon every case that has the smallest chance of procuring the interference of government, and shall in consequence be exposed to great embarrassments 4—I have &c.

Tho. S. Lee

Df, MdAA; LB, MdAA: Council Letterbook, 1787–1793.

1The enclosure probably was British vice-consul Edward Thornton’s letter to Lee of 8 Oct., which enclosed testimony from the mate and one of the passengers of the brig Conyngham, of Derry, Ireland, captured on 29 Sept. by the French privateer Sans Culottes de Marseilles. Thornton, who added that the pilot had declared “that the vessel was actually taken by the privateer within three miles of the land” but now “suddenly refused to give his testimony,” requested that Lee “adopt such provisional measures as may appear to you most efficacious for facilitating the complete restoration of the vessel and cargo to the lawful owners” (MdAA).

Lee’s reply to Thornton of 9 Oct. informed him that the only action Lee could take was to call upon the French consul “to possess himself of the Prize and detain her until the decision of the President shall be made,” and then only if no attempt was being made through the courts for “obtaining restitution on the Ground of an illegal capture” (MdAA: Council Letterbook, 1787–1793). Thornton replied in a letter to Lee of 9 Oct. that no suit had been instituted (MdAA).

2The French vice-consul for Maryland was Francis Moissonnier, who was appointed in June 1793 and replaced in June 1794, although he remained at Baltimore as late as April 1796. For Lee’s letter to him of 11 Oct., see MdAA: Council Letterbook, 1787–1793.

3See Lee to Thornton, 11 Oct. (MdAA: Council Letterbook, 1787– 1793).

4A newspaper account out of Norfolk indicated that the Conyngham was “at anchor about four miles from land” when taken (New-Jersey Journal [Elizabeth], 16 Oct.). GW discussed the issue of territorial waters in his letter to Lee of 16 October.

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