James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Timothy T. Edwards, 29 July 1811 (Abstract)

§ From Timothy T. Edwards

29 July 1811. States in a memorial that he sailed from New York on 14 June 1807 as master of the Brutus bound for the Coromandel Coast, that he arrived there in mid-November, and that he set out for New York with “a valuable cargo” the following May. On 6 Sept. the Brutus was captured by a French privateer commanded by Alexis Grassin, taken to Cayenne, and “condemned stock & fluke as then alledged under the Milan decree in the Court of Admiralty for that Colony.” Declares that his cargo did not include contraband of war and that when the decree was issued on 17 Dec. 1807, the Brutus was anchored in the roads of Madras. Grassin, his vessel with the name changed to the Diligente, and also the vessel’s owner, Jean Baptiste Goyan, are now in Philadelphia. Edwards went to Philadelphia to see them but was advised that no U.S. court would take cognizance of a suit and that although the Brutus “had been condemned in a Court of Admiralty very oppressively,” the matter was between the U.S. and France. Estimates his losses at $10,000. As the Brutus was wrongly condemned, he asks that Grassin and Goyan not be permitted to depart until full restitution is made for the “robbery committed.”1

RC and enclosure (DNA: RG 76, France, French Spoliation Claims). RC 2 pp. In a clerk’s hand, signed by Edwards. Enclosure is an affidavit dated 29 July 1811 (1 p.), signed by Theodore Sedgwick of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, to the effect that Edwards stated the facts of his memorial under oath.

1The case of the Diligente had already come to the notice of the administration and occupied much of its attention during the summer of 1811. The privateer entered Philadelphia on 30 Apr. 1811 as a vessel in distress, after having first thrown overboard most of its cannon and then taken on several gun carriages from a British prize. Aggrieved American ship captains evidently recognized both the vessel and its captain, Grassin, who was the object of popular displeasure as he walked through the streets of Philadelphia. On 18 May 1811 the French minister therefore demanded that the authorities protect French nationals and their property from disorder, and Monroe, on 4 June, instructed the governor of Pennsylvania to comply with this demand. After receiving further information that Grassin intended to arm and equip his vessel while it was in port, however, Monroe ordered the collector at Philadelphia to take steps to prevent this violation of American neutrality. The collector duly reported that while no guns had been added to the Diligente, the captain had adapted the captured gun carriages to the gun ports of the vessel. The collector then turned the matter over to the district attorney, who had Grassin arrested and tried for breaching the Neutrality Act of 1794 (Sérurier to Monroe, 12 May 1811 [DNA: RG 59, NFL, France]; Monroe to Simon Snyder, 4 June 1811, Monroe to John Steele, 18 July 1811 [DNA: RG 59, DL]; Steele to Monroe, 27 July 1811, Alexander James Dallas to Monroe, 27 July 1811 [DNA: RG 59, ML]).

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