George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Edmund Randolph, 9 January 1795

From Edmund Randolph

Department of State Jany 9. 1795.

E. Randolph has the honor of sending to the President a letter from Colo. Humphries the material part of which is his memorial to the Portuguese minister; in which he says, that he has provisional instructions, in case Portugal considers herself at war with France.1 The Portuguese paper is translated.2 the French papers are nothing more, than a request from the French sailors for the interposition of Colo. Humphries.3

AL, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DNA: RG 59, GW’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State. The letter-book copy is dated “Jany 1795.”

1Randolph enclosed David Humphreys’s letter to him of 30 Oct. 1794. Humphreys discussed his actions in the case of six Frenchmen imprisoned at Lisbon and the prospects for negotiations with Algiers. In addition to the memorial and the documents discussed below, Humphreys enclosed a letter to him from Robert Montgomery at Alicante, dated 18 Oct., which mentioned a letter about Algiers that Humphreys had not yet received (DNA: RG 59, Despatches from U.S. Ministers to Portugal).

Humphreys’s memorial of 25 Oct. informed Portugal’s secretary of state for foreign affairs, Luís Pinto de Sousa Coutinho, that two vessels from Massachusetts bound for Lisbon had been detained by a French squadron, which put a petty officer and two seamen aboard each vessel, “with the design of obliging them to keep company with the said Squadron.” After the ships were separated from the squadron by a gale, the American captains sailed to Lisbon, where the Frenchmen were arrested. Humphreys questioned “upon what principle or by whose authority a body of armed men should thus have boarded in a hostile manner vessels belonging to Citizens of the U.S. … and forcibly have taken from thence & confined in a common Goal, for no alledged offence whatsoever, Six Citizens belonging to a nation in amity with the U.S.” and not at war with Portugal. Humphreys added parenthetically that he wished to be informed if Portugal was at war with France, for he had “long had provisional Instructions to make a particular Communication to the Court of the former relative to that subject.” Humphreys then requested “liberation & return to their own Country” for the Frenchmen.

2Pinto de Sousa’s letter to Humphreys of 28 Oct. 1794 reported that he had submitted Humphreys’s memorial to the queen, who “has not authorised or ordered the imprisonment” of the men, nor had she been informed “that it was effected in a hostile manner on board of Ships of the U.S., which belonging to a friendly Nation, could not be insulted by a similar proceeding even in case the said Frenchmen were our declared Enemies.” As a result, the queen issued orders “that the said Frenchmen should be immediately set at liberty & conducted on board the Ships from whence they were taken.” She also commanded “an examination into the authority by which an action has been done so contrary to her true intentions, in order to repress & disavow the same.”

3Humphreys enclosed two French documents: a letter of 24 Oct. 1794 from O. Valoruche, a petty officer in the French navy, requesting that Humphreys intervene on behalf of the imprisoned Frenchmen, and a copy of the orders given Valoruche by his commander on 12 Vendémiaire (3 Oct.).

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