George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Wanton, 7 April 1794

From John Wanton

Newport Rhode Island April 7th 1794


Much has been said concerning the detention of the Schooner, Bayonne, Thomas Greene Master, from St Johns, Nova Scotia. I wish to give your Excellency as just account of the transaction as I can nearly recollect,1 at 10 oClock A.M. the 1st day of April, arrived here the Schooner Bayonne as abovemention’d. and the Custom house boat went onboard her & brought her Register on Shore, & deliver’d to the Collector; at 4 OClock P.M. I was informd by the Pilot the said Schooner Intended to sail Immediately back to St Johns, I thought it my duty to acquaint the Collector (Wm Ellery Esqr.) with the Circumstance, accordingly I waited on him, & inform’d him what I had heard respecting her, & wished to know if he wanted my assistance to stop her, he answered that he wanted none of my assistance, she might go when & where she pleased, for he shou’d not stop her, I then inform’d him I must, as I thought it my duty, accordingly I got a Boat & Manned her with some Gentlemen of the Town who offerd their Service to assist me. & went onboard & weighed her Anchor & brought her into the wharf, & the next Morning onbent her Sails, which I now have in Custody. I acquainted the Governer & Company of this State & they approvd of my Conduct;2 I shou’d be glad of your Excellencys advice in the matter.3 I must inform you there has Sail’d from this Port, Since the Embargo tooke place, One Brig bound to Turtola, & a Schooner to Hispaniola, I informed the Collector of their Intention, that I had it from good Authority, they informed me they where going to Providence, not to Sea, altho’ they had their papers onboard, & Shipt a new hand, & paid him his Months advance, which might have informd them they intended for Sea as they have since Saild.4

I offerd my Service in the same way last Summer, when the Ship from Jamaica run away that had Robbed one of our Vessels, but I was informed it was none of my business, they wanted none of my assistance, but about 8 oClock in the Evening the Marshall waited on me to know if I commanded the Fort. I inform’d him I did, he acquainted me he had a Warrant against the Capt. of the Ship for Piracy, & wished my assistance to take him, or stop her which I Afforded with chearfulness but the Wind soon sprung up to the Northward. & she cut her Cable & got out after my firing two Shot at her.5 as I have ever Served my Country with Fidelity I still wish to serve it but it hurts my feelings to see things go on in this manner. I am Your Excellencys Most Obdt humble Servt

John Wanton.
Capt. of Fort Washington

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters. Post office notes on the cover read “Newport 7th April” and “Free.

1Capt. John Wanton commanded at Fort Washington, which was located on Goat Island in Narragansett Bay and guarded the entrance to Newport’s harbor. For other accounts of this incident, see the letters from collector of customs William Ellery to Alexander Hamilton of 8 and 14 April (Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 16:246–48, 256–57).

2Wanton detained the schooner Boyne in conformity with the embargo of 26 March, which was “laid on all ships and vessels in the ports of the United States . . . bound to any foreign port or place” (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 . 1:400). Henry Knox had informed Gov. Arthur Fenner of the embargo in a circular letter of 26 March (R-Ar: Letters to Governors).

3On GW’s decision allowing the Boyne to depart Newport, see Hamilton to GW, 19 April (first letter), and notes 2 and 3.

4The islands of Tortola and Hispaniola are located in the Caribbean Sea, while Providence is another port in Rhode Island. Knox informed Fenner in a letter of 18 April that the embargo was to be continued until 25 May, in accordance with the enclosed congressional resolution of 18 April. He also enclosed a copy of the resolution of 2 April, which contained detailed instructions for the collectors of customs to use in enforcing the embargo (R-Ar: Letters to Governors; 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 . 1:400–401).

5For this earlier incident, including the actions of Wanton and deputy marshal Jabez Champlin, see Henry Marchant to GW, 3 Aug. 1793 (first letter).

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