George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Richard Dobbs Spaight, 8 February 1794

From Richard Dobbs Spaight

North Carolina New Bern 8th Feb: 1794


By the last Southern post I received Mr Hills letter dated the 25th January 1794 respecting the Sloop L’amee Margueritte, and enclosing me a copy of the instructions he had received from the Secretary of state. I find from them that he was directed in such cases in the first instance to call on the parties concerned to appoint by mutual consent arbiters to decide whether the capture was made within the jurisdiction of the United States—as no part of the instructions which I have received gave me any information of that mode of proceeding being adopted, had the present case now under enquiry been determined in that manner I should have felt myself much at a loss how to proceed, on receiving the reports of the arbiters. I certainly should not have thought myself at liberty to act by restoring the vessel to the former owner or by removing the arrest. as I had never been instructed so to do. I enclose you a copy of Mr Hills Letter of the 25th Jany also copies of my letters to him respecting the case now under consideration.1

I send you enclosed a copy of the memorial of James Robinson late master of the Sloop Providence, copy of a letter from J.B. Brouard agent to the French Consul at Wilmington together with a copy of the statement of the facts relative to the Sloop Providence received from the said Brouard. These papers will give you every information that is in my possession respecting the said Sloop.2

I have hitherto only sent you on copies of the papers in my possession, retaining the originals, so that if any accident should prevent the copy from reaching you another authenticated copy could be forwarded; or the original if required or thought necessary: If this proceeding does not meet with your approbation the original papers shall in future be sent on. I have the honor to be &c.

R. D. Spaight

LB, Nc-Ar: Governors’ Letterbooks.

1On Spaight’s previous order for the seizure of the French privateer Aimée Marguerite, the former British sloop Providence, while at the port of Wilmington, N.C., and his instructions to U.S. District Attorney William H. Hill of 3 Jan. to take testimony from both parties in an effort to determine whether the vessel should be restored to its former owners, see Spaight to GW, 31 Jan., and notes 2 and 3.

In his reply to Spaight of 25 Jan., Hill reported: “I made application to the principal agents of the parties concerned and of the Consuls of the Nations interested for the purpose of ascertaining whether they would name arbiters to decide the question.” Neither side, however, had complied with Hill’s request. Hill continued: “You will find by the direction enclosed that I am to transmit to the Executive (which I understand the Executive of the United States) the deposition taken on the question which occasions the arrest.” Hill wrote that the assumption that Spaight would decide the fate of the Aimée Marguerite, based on the depositions, did not coincide with the directions in Henry Knox’s letter to Spaight of 12 Nov. 1793, which Spaight enclosed in his letter to Hill of 3 Jan., nor with those in the circular letter of 10 Nov. 1793 that former secretary of state Thomas Jefferson sent to the U.S. district attorneys. Hill concluded that the governor’s “power to return to one or the other claimant is limitted to the decision to be had by arbiters” (Nc-Ar: Governors’ Letterbooks). For Knox’s letter of 12 Nov. 1793, see n.1 of Spaight to GW, 19 Dec. 1793; for Jefferson’s circular letter, see 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 , 27:338–40.

The enclosed letters to Hill were those of 3 Jan. and 3 Feb. 1794. In the latter, Spaight wrote: “As to your opinion of the authority that is delegated to me by the different instructions that I have received, it is utterly impossible that you can be a judge of it,” and whether the depositions are “transmitted to me or to the President of the United States is a matter of great indifference to me. could the business be done wholly by the offices of the federal government without my interference, it would be perfectly agreable to me. I cannot however but differ from you in opinion, on the meaning and intentions of the Secretary of States instructions to you for certainly the Executive there meant must be the one which caused the vessel to be arrested.” Spaight concluded: “You will please to proceed in the business in such manner as you may think proper, and agreable to your opinion of the instructions you have received” (Nc-Ar: Governors’ Letterbooks).

2The memorial of James Robertson has not been identified. The statement of facts, which has not been identified, was enclosed in a brief cover letter to Spaight of 11 Jan. from J. B. Brouard, the French agent at Wilmington, N.C. (Nc-Ar: Governors’ Letterbooks). Brouard served under the guidance of Michel-Ange-Bernard de Mangourit, who was the French consul for North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia and was stationed at Charleston, South Carolina. Mangourit soon was replaced by Antoine-Louis Fonspertuis, whose exequatur GW signed on 7 March (Georgia. The Augusta Chronicle and Gazette of the State, 20 Dec. 1794).

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