George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Jay, 5 August 1794

From John Jay


Dear SirLondon 5 Augt 1794

On the 2d Inst: I wrote to Mr Randolph, and sent him Copies of my Representation relative to Captures, and of the answer to it.1

I am this moment returned from a long Conference with Lord Grenville—our Prospects become more and more promising as we advance in the Business—The Compensation Cases (as described in the answer) and the amount of Damages, will I have Reason to hope be referred to the Decision of Commissioners mutually to be appointed by the two Governmts, and the money paid without Delay on their Certificates; and the Business closed as speedily as may be possible. The Question of admitting our Vessels into the Islands under certain Limitations, is under Consideration; and will soon be decided—a Treaty of Commerce is on the Carpet—all other things being agreed the posts will be included. They contend that the article about the Negroes, does not extend to those who came in on their Proclamations; to whom (being vested with the Property in them by the Rights of war) they gave Freedom; but only to those who were bona fide the property of americans when the war ceased.2 They will I think insist that British Debts, so far as injured by lawful Impediments, should be repaired by the U.S. by Decision of mutual Commissioners—these things have passed in Conversation, but no Commitments on either Side: and not to have any official weight or use whatever.

The King observed to me the other Day—"Well Sir! I imagine you begin to see that your mission will probably be succesful"—"I am happy may it please your majesty to find that you entertain that Idea"—"Well but dont you percieve that it is like to be so?" "There are some recent Circumstances (the answer to my Representation &ca) which induce me to flatter myself that it will be so."

He nodded with a Smile—signifying—that it was to those Circumstances that he alluded—the Conversation then turned to inddifferent Topics—this was at the drawing Room.

I have never been more unceasingly employed than I have been for some Time past, and still am—I hope for Good—but God only knows. The Wm Penn sails in the Morning. I write these few Lines in Haste to let you see that the Business is going on as fast as can reasonably be expected; and that it is very important that Peace and Quiet should be preserved for the present.

on hearing last night that one of our Indiamen had been carried into Halifax, I mentioned it to Ld Grenville—He will write immediately by the Packet on the Subject3—Indeed I believe they are endeavouring to restore a proper Conduct towards us every where—but it will take some Time before the Effects will be visible. I write all this to You in Confidence, and for your own private Satisfaction—I have not Time to explain my Reasons, but they are cogent.

I could fill some Sheets with interesting Communications, if I had Leisure—but other matters press and must not be postponed; for "there is a Tide in human affairs"4 of which every moment is precious—whatever may be the Issue, nothing in my power to ensure Success, shall be neglected or delayed. with sincere Respect Esteem and Attachment I am Dear Sir your obliged and obt Servt

John Jay

P.S. I shall enclose with this my Dispatches to Mr Randolph5—If the Wm penn should be stopped by a belligerent vessel—they will respect a Letter directed to You more than one directed to him.

ALS, DLC:GW; ADf, NNC. GW acknowledged receipt of this letter in his to Jay of 1-4 November.

1Jay’s letter to Edmund Randolph of 2 Aug., and copies of his representation to Lord Grenville of 30 July and Grenville’s reply of 1 Aug. are in DNA: RG 59, Despatches from U.S. Ministers to Great Britain (see also ASP, Foreign Relations description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , 1:480-82). Jay complained to Grenville "That a very considerable number of american Vessels have been irregularly captured, and as improperly condemned by certain of his majesty’s Officers and Judges." Because of circumstances, "for these Losses and Injuries, adequate compensation by means of judicial Proceedings has become impracticable," so "the United States confide in his majesty’s Justice and magnanimity to cause such Compensation to be made to these innocent Sufferers." In addition to the captures, Jay complained of "the Impressment of american Citizens to serve on Board of armed Vessels."

With regard to the captures, Grenville replied that "All Experience shews that a naval war extending over the four Quarters of the Globe must unavoidably be productive of some inconvenience to the commerce of Neutral Nations and that no care can prevent some irregularities in the course of those proceedings." The king wished "the most complete & impartial Justice should be done to all the Citizens of America" and he would suggest to "the Proper Officers" that they consider an extension of the time for receiving appeals, but Grenville believed that the American complaints if "well founded" could "be redressed in the usual course of jud<icial> Proceedings." However, where that was not the case, the king "will be anxious that Justice should at all Events be done, and will readily enter into the discussion of the measures to be adopted, and the principles to be established for that purpose."

On the subject of impressment, Grenville assured Jay that the impressment of American citizens was "contrary to the King’s desire; though such cases may have occasionally arisen from the difficulty of discriminating between British and American Seamen, especially where there so often exists an interest and intention to deceive." The British government had always been willing to correct any such errors, and, in response to Jay’s complaint, the instructions to naval officers on that subject would "be renew’d."

2Jay was referring to the 7th article of the treaty of peace with Great Britain, 3 Sept. 1783, which included a provision that Great Britain would withdraw her armies "without causing any Destruction, or carrying away any Negroes or other Property of the American Inhabitants" (Miller, Treaties description begins Hunter Miller, ed. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Vol. 2, 1776-1818. Washington, D.C., 1931. description ends , 155).

A proclamation by Lord Dunmore, then British governor of Virginia, of 7 Nov. 1775, had declared "all indented Servants, Negroes, or others (appertaining to Rebels,) free that are able and willing to bear Arms, they joining His Majesty’s Troops as soon as may be" (Van Schreeven, Revolutionary Virginia, 4:334-35). On 30 June 1779 British commander Henry Clinton proclaimed: "I do most strictly forbid any Person to sell or claim Right over any NEGROE, the Property of a Rebel, who may take Refuge with any Part of this Army: and I do promise to every NEGROE Who shall desert the Rebel Standard, full Security to follow within these Lines, any Occupation which he shall think proper (Royal Gazette [New York], 3 July 1779). At the time of the British evacuation, then British commander Guy Carleton contended that "it could not have been the Intention the British Government by the Treaty of Peace to reduce themselves to the Necessity of violating their Faith to the Negroes who came into the British Lines under the Proclamation of his Predecessors in Command" (The Substance of the Conference between General Washington and Sir Guy Carleton at an Interview at Orange Town May 6th 1783, DLC:GW).

3Jay was referring to the Pigou, Capt. J. Lewis, captured by the frigates Blanche and Hussar in June while en route from the Île de France to Philadelphia. Although the ship’s cargo was condemned at Halifax on 28 July, it appears that both ship and cargo were eventually freed, arriving at New York in December and being offered for sale there in January (Times [London], 6 Aug.; Mercury [Boston], 11 July, 8 Aug.; New Hampshire Gazette [Portsmouth], 12 Aug.; Diary; or Evening Register [New York], 22 Dec. 1794; Daily Advertiser [New York], 12 Jan. 1795).

4Jay was quoting loosely from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act 4, scene 3: "There is a tide in the affairs of men Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries."

5This probably is the letter that Randolph received in early October and forwarded unopened to GW, then in western Pennsylvania with the troops called out to subdue the insurrection there (Randolph to GW, 11 Oct.). On 18 Oct., GW enclosed to Randolph the dispatches from Jay, "which came under cover to me in a letter from him dated the 5. of August," but he noted that "on opening it I find duplicates only" (DLC:GW).

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