George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Richard Dobbs Spaight, 19 December 1793

From Richard Dobbs Spaight

North Carolina Fayetteville Dec: 19 th 1793.


By the last post I received the Secretary of wars letter of the 12th Novem: in answer to my letter to you of the 21st of October last respecting the trunk of money which was taken from Captain Hervieux by the revenue officers and lodged in the hands of the deputy Marshal at Wilmington, and which I had given him in order to detain on a presumtion, it had been taken from on board the Spanish brig a prize to L’Amee Margueritte.1

From the depositions which I sent you in novem: I have no doubt but that the money was the property of the Spaniards and taken from them by Captain Hervieux, but in order to get every information that can be obtained to prove the fact, I have directed the Marshal (which I did not think myself authorized to do before I knew whether any part of the prize was to be secured, that was within the jurisdiction of the State.) to have the invoices and such other of the shipping papers as are in the trunk fait[h]fully translated and authenticated and sent on to me: and if they cannot be translated there to send the original papers that I may have it done.2

Should those papers make it fully appear that the property was taken from on board the Spanish brig, which I am confident will be the case, I shall be glad to know to whom I shall cause the trunk money and papers to be delivered: as the brig her Captain and crew, have been carried into Charleston So. Carolina where they at present remain and there is no Spanish Consul in this State.3

I should further wish to be informed whether the expence and trouble of the deputy Marshall, in detaining and Securing the property (he having as I understand employed some persons to assist him to guard it) is to be paid by the persons to whom the property is restored or by the United States.4

The Secretary of War in his letter of the 12th of Novem: and that of the 16 August last makes a difference of two months, between the time, after which prizes brought or sent into the ports of the United States by proscribed vessels shall be secured for the purpose of restoring them to their former owners. In his letter of the 16th August, the 5th of that month was the time specified in that of the 12th of Novem: he goes back to the fifth of June last.5

As the instructions are contradictory I shall not take any steps to secure the L’Amee Margueritte formerly the Sloop providence untill I shall receive further instructions from you on that head: the more so, because in my letter to you of the 24th June last I particularly mentioned that the Vanqueur de la Bastille, sailed from the port of Charleston on the 7th day of June last, and afterwards captured the Sloop providence of Montego bay, and brought her into the port of Wilmington.

The Secretary of wars letter of the 7th August which conveyed to me the general instructions respecting the conduct I should persue, in regard to Vessels arm’d and equipped in the United States as privateers on behalf of any of the parties at War, did not contain any instructions to secure the Sloop providence for her former owners: nor did I receive any instructions to secure any prize whatever ’till it was communicated to me by the Secretary’s letter of the 16th Augt.6 I am therefore induced to conclude that he has made a mistake in his letter of the 12th Novem: by inserting the 5th June instead of the 5th Augt.7

The Sloop L’Amee Margueritte remains still in the port of Wilmington but near the mouth of Cape Fear river, where the Militia without the assistance of an armd Vessel cannot readily take her. The revenue cutter I have reason to beleive is neither armed or well manned—As Capt: He[r]vieux will wait the decision respecting the money and his commission being likewise in the hands of the marshal, it is probable he will not leave the port before I have an answer from you.8 I have the honor to be wt. respect Sr yrs &c.

Rd D. Spaight

LB, Nc-Ar: Governors’ Letterbooks. Secretary of War Henry Knox replied to this letter, and to Spaight’s letter to GW of 26 Nov., in a letter to Spaight of 13 Jan. 1794 (Nc-Ar: Governors’ Letterbooks).

1Secretary of War Henry Knox’s letter to Spaight of 12 Nov. acknowledged Spaight’s letter to GW of 21 Oct., gave Spaight directions for obtaining repayment of expenses incurred “in the prosecution of any of the requests made in behalf of the United States,” and instructed him: “From your representation of the circumstances attending the L’Amee Margueritte it is concluded, that she as well as the Vanqueur de la Bastille, was originally constituted a privateer within the jurisdiction of the United States, and is therefore a proscribed vessel. If this has been the case, of which your Excellency will please to obtain accurate information, it will follow that her prize, if within your ports, together with all the property which was taken from her is to be restored to her former master or owner.

“If there are circumstances which render it questionable whether the L’amee Margueritte is of the foregoing description, it will be necessary that the same should be stated for the information of the president of the United States and in the mean time to detain her for an ultimate decision.

“If the said Vanqueur de Bastille, being a proscribed vessel made prize of the Sloop providence and brought her into our ports after the fifth day of June, it would also follow that the said Sloop providence now supposed to be the L’Amee Margueritte should also be restored to her master, or the consul of the nation to whom she belonged at the time of her capture.

“As to the Vanqueur de Bastille neither she nor any other proscribed privateer can be permitted to make any sort of repairs in our ports unless she or they divest themselves of all warlike equipments and reduce themselves to the situation of a mere commercial vessel—This is to be considered as a standing rule” (Nc-Ar: Governors’ Letterbooks).

2The depositions were sent with Spaight’s letter to GW of 26 Nov., which has not been found. Spaight’s letter directing the deputy marshal at Wilmington, John Blakeley, to translate and send the papers was dated 9 Dec. (Nc-Ar: Governors’ Letterbooks). Blakeley responded on 22 Dec. (Nc-Ar: Governors’ Correspondence).

3Secretary of War Knox instructed Spaight in a letter of 18 Jan. 1794 to deliver the money “to the agent who has been appointed by the Spanish commissioners for that purpose” (Nc-Ar: Governors’ Letterbooks).

4In his letter to Spaight of 13 Jan., Knox replied that the expenses “incurred in the prosecution of this business” were to “be defrayed by the general Government” upon accounts authenticated by Spaight.

5For Knox’s circular letter to the governors of 16 Aug., see Knox to Tobias Lear, 17 Aug., n.1.

6For Knox’s circular letter to the governors of 7 Aug., see Cabinet Opinion on French Privateers and Prizes, 5 Aug., n.3.

7In Knox’s letter to Spaight of 13 Jan. 1794, he confirmed that this conclusion was correct.

8When Spaight wrote GW on 31 Jan. 1794 to announce the seizure of L’Aimée Marguerite, he had not yet received Knox’s reply, which arrived on 6 Feb. 1794.

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