George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Clinton, 9 September 1794

From George Clinton

New York 9th September 1794


I transmit, enclosed, certain Documents relative to some recent Seizures made by a Bermudian Privateer1—It is well ascertained that there was no circumstance attending either of the three Vessels now referred to, which could excite a suspicion that either the Owners or Mariners had been guilty of the slightest departure from even British Constructions of the Rights and duties of neutrality.

The Minds of our Citizens had not yet recovered from the irritations produced by similar Outrages practiced by the same Nation, especially during the Course of the last Winter:2 A repitition of them at this Moment and in the Mouths of our own Harbours diminishes the hope of recompense for past injuries, discourages commercial enterprize and excites emotions alarming to public peace. The forbearance of our Citizens under the most aggravated insults is founded on their confidence in the Government of the Union; and though the spirit of forbearance may not be yet wholly exhausted yet that confidence is weakened and may be destroyed by the constant view of rapine on their unprotected Trade, and of aggression and insult in every Quarter.

It is remote from my Intention and it would surpass my ability as well as my duty to attempt to indicate to you the measures proper to be pursued on this occasion, and my relyance in common with my fellow Citizens on your patriotism and your zeal for their honor and interest assures me that it can only be necessary that their losses and their feelings be made known to you.

I now also enclose a Copy of the Affidavit of John Kelly this Day handed to me by Colo. Woolsey of Clinton County stating certain Facts interesting to our Northern Frontier.3 I have the honor to be with the most perfect Respect and Esteem Your Obedient Servant

Geo: Clinton

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Letters from Governors of States, 1790-1812; copy (certified by State Department clerk George Taylor, Jr.), NHi, Jay Papers; copy (letterpress copy of the certified copy), NHi, Jay Papers.

1These enclosures included a deposition by Lloyd Daubeny, second mate of the ship Somerset, made before New York notary public John Wilkes on 6 Sept., and three additional documents certified as "just and true Copies" by Wilkes on 10 Sept.: an affidavit of John R. Livingston, 8 Sept.; a cargo manifest for the Somerset; and a letter from Christopher Miller, captain of the Somerset, to Livingston, 26 Aug. (DNA: RG 59, Letters from Governors of States, 1790-1812).

Daubeny stated that on 26 Aug., "being within three Leagues of Sandy Hook in fourteen fathom and a half water with a favorable breeze and expecting to arrive in a few hours in this Harbour, the said Ship Somerset was boarded by a Privateer British Schooner from Bermuda Mounting eight carriage Guns and carrying forty or fifty men commanded by Cobb—That upon the said privateers Crew coming on board they ordered Capt. Miller to leave his Ship with his Papers and to go on board the Schooner which he refused to do alledging that the Ship and Cargo were Neutral Property and if the Papers were to be inspected it must be on board of his own Vessel as he was determined to remain there—Upon this Answer being returned two Boats were sent filled with armed Men who boarded the Ship a second time and maltreated the People with the most insulting Language swearing they would blow out their Brains if they did not immediately go into the Boats and at the same time they cocked a pistol at the head of Capt. Miller to oblige him to quit his Ship which notwithstanding he refused and after some time and altercation he was permitted to remain, but the people were forced into the Boats and were forcibly carried as prisoners on board the said Privateer Schooner where he this Deponent and the others were treated in the most indignant manner and often threatened with Irons; That a Prize Master and Crew belonging to the said Privateer took charge of the said Ship and ordered her as this Deponent understo<od> to be carried to Bermuda."

Daubeny added "that he is fully convinced the whole of the said Ship and Cargo were the sole property of John R. Livingston of this City of New York Merchant excepting the Adventures of the Officers & Crew and eight pipes of Brandy which belonged to two other American Citizens in New York. That it was particularly ordered and observed by the said Christopher Miller and his Crew that no french Property or Passengers should be shipped on board the said Vessel either in going or returning from Bordeaux and he verily believes the Ships Papers were just and true in every Respect and the said Orders of the said Owner were literally complied with." He then formally protested the seizure.

Livingston swore that "the Ship Somerset Christopher Miller Commander sailed from New York the twenty ninth day of June in the Year One Thousand seven hundred and ninety three for Bordeaux in France that at that time both the Ship and Cargo belonged to him the Deponent excepting a small proportion of freight for Benjamin Seixas and Brockholst Livingston of this City of New York.

"That this Deponents Orders to the Captain were neither to take french Passengers or French Freights, that in going out he is convinced none such were on board. That the ship arrived at Bordeaux the fifth day of August following and remained in France until the beginning of July last at which time she sailed for New York and arrived of Sandy Hook as per the Captains Letter dated the twenty sixth day of August last in fourteen fathom water and three Leagues from the Land That She was then captured by a British Schooner Privateer and sent as is supposed to Bermuda—That from Letters dated in Bordeaux previous to the Ships sailing he this Deponent is convinced that his Orders respecting french Passengers and Property were observed and that none such were on board—That by a Copy of the Manifest hereunto annexed it appears that all the Goods on board were shipped for this Deponent, the Captain, Brockholst Livingston and Benjamin Seixas and that he the Deponent verily believes the said Manifest to be correct as well as all other Papers necessary for the said Ship."

The manifest supported Livingston’s claim, while Miller’s letter reported: "I’m about 3 Leagues from the Light House of Sandy Hook and in Possession of a British Privateer who intends taking the Ship into some Port I know not where my Papers tho correct seem to not satisfy him the Capt<s> name of the Schooner Privateer is Cob I’m in 14 fathom water all the People are on board the Privateer and a Prize Master on board here."

The Privateer was the schooner Duke of York (Connecticut Gazette [New London], 5 Sept.).

Clinton also enclosed a letter to him from New York merchant David Gelston of 8 September. Gelston reported that his schooner Atalanta had been captured off Sandy Hook by the Duke of York on 25 Aug., and he expressed a wish that GW might be "acquainted with facts" of this "outrage and insult upon the American Flagg." Gelston complained that "these repeated and aggravated insults looks as the British were determined to plunder & Robb us on our own coasts until they have taken away every thing we have & then laugh at us as it is said by them we have not spirit to resent any insult offered" (NHi: Jay Papers).

3In the enclosed affidavit, dated 22 Aug., John Kelly of Plattsburgh, N.Y., swore that while working at the king’s store in Sorel, Canada, "I discovered in said Store . . . a Hogshead about one half filled with human Scalps. Turning about and perceiving the Clerk of said Store at my side I asked him if those were human Scalps and from whence they came he answered me that he had received them from the Indians and that said Indians had frequently demanded rum in payment but that he had uniformly refused it having no orders from government. The deponent further saith that on the fifteenth Inst he was directed to turn out of said Store 23,00 Stand of arms which were loaded into four Batteaux and covered with canvass—the day following his Excellency Governor Carlton ariving at said place the deponent was then examined respecting the state of the provisions and arm<s.> Giving the state of the provisions and informing that he had delivered into said Batteaux 23,00 stand of arms was then ordered to deliver out of said Store 23,00 more Six Brass Feild peices with their apparatus. The last mentioned arms were loaded into four Batteaux and the feild peices paraded on the Green near said Store and the Horses for drawing the same were brought forward and turned into the Kings pasture—The whole of which was ready to move at a minutes warning as he heard from the Colonel commandi<ng> said place—The deponent further saith that about three weeks ago he was at St francway and that the Indians there appeared to him to be on the move and on the 12th Inst. while he was employed in the Kings Store at Surrel he did see the said St Francway Tribe go up the River St Lawrence with their effects and that I understood that the whole of the Tribe had left their Village except a few old squaws—The deponent further saith that the general aspect of affairs in that part of the Province tend to sudden Hostilities—And the deponent further saith that it is generally reported that Sailors have been brought from Quebec to man the Maria on Lake Champlain which will increase their Marine to three Vessels of force—And positively that all the out Posts to wit St Johns Isle-au-noix and Point Enfer have within six days last past had their Garrisons doubled" (DNA: RG 59, Letters from Governors of States, 1790-1812).

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