Thomas Jefferson Papers
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To Thomas Jefferson from Albert Gallatin, 29 November 1801

From Albert Gallatin

29th Nover. 1801

Dear Sir

I enclosed yesterday papers relative to a vessel suspected of having been fitted out for slave trade.

The presumptive evidence is strong as she had on board, (& several of the same not inserted in her manifest,) handcuffs & bolts, scantling & boards fit to make partitions, 35 shaken hogsheads which would be necessary for water for the number of slaves she might bring back, a quantity of bread & biscuit for same purpose, and tobacco, rum, & beads being a cargo also suited for the purchase—The iron cuffs & bolts, shaken hogsheads, and beads were not in the manifest.

The master Eliah De Butts is here waiting for a decision & will take this letter to your house. If you have concluded on what is proper to be done, I wish to know it in order to be able, at all events, to give him an answer.

He says that the iron cuffs are old & rusty and have been as ballast in the schooner ever since he commanded her; that the proofs of his not being intended for the Coast are, his having no canon, (he had a few small arms) the smallness of the vessel 47 tons & his nor any of his hands having ever been on the coast. The fact of his having left the vessel & taken the papers, he justifies by saying that his mate was worthless, that he could not trust the papers to him, & went to Baltimore in order to engage another mate. This is so far true that he brought such one from Baltimore to Nottingham and has discharged the old one.

It is important neither to distress on suspicion an innocent man, nor to suffer him to escape if he was guilty. What renders this case difficult is that the voyage not having been performed, the criminality consists in the intention; and that, unless some of the sailors will or can give evidence, can be proven only by circumstances & presumptive evidence. We may think that evidence sufficiently strong to libel the vessel. The jury may decide otherways.

I have the honor to be Very respectfully Dear Sir Your most obedt. Servt.

Albert Gallatin

If you have any doubts, I might empower the collector to decide after having examined the sailors

A. G.

RC (DLC); postscript written on verso of address sheet; addressed: “The President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received from the Treasury Department on 29 Nov. and “Schooner   Slave trade” and so recorded in SJL with notation “schooner Sally. slave trade.”

Give him an answer: perhaps TJ’s reply of 28 Nov. did not reach the Treasury secretary until after he dispatched this letter. No other reply has been found, but on 30 Nov., Gallatin wrote George Briscoe that the presumptive evidence that the schooner Sally was intended for the slave trade was “such as to make it the duty of the Executive to have a prosecution instituted, leaving it to the ordinary course of law to decide whether the equipment of the vessel was actually for that purpose or not.” Gallatin informed the collector that papers and instructions were being forwarded to the district attorney who would institute the proper suits. Gallatin also instructed Briscoe to take steps to have the crew and others on board examined (Gallatin, Papers description begins Carl E. Prince and Helene E. Fineman, eds., The Papers of Albert Gallatin, microfilm edition in 46 reels, Philadelphia, 1969, and Supplement, Barbara B. Oberg, ed., reels 47–51, Wilmington, Del., 1985 description ends , 6:118).

On 2 Dec., John Steele sent Gallatin a memorandum on the “schooner lately arrested at Nottingham,” along with an enclosure, probably a letter to Zebulon Hollingsworth, dated 1 Dec., providing the U.S. district attorney for Maryland with instructions and documents for the prosecution of the Sally. Steele reported that the enclosure was prepared the day before and that if approved would be dispatched immediately. Steele asked Gallatin to return, as soon as convenient, the documents with his or the president’s approbation and with any desired changes noted. Gallatin submitted Steele’s documents to the President. TJ wrote “Approved” on the memorandum and signed with his initials (MS in DLC: TJ Papers, 118:20354; partially dated; in Steele’s hand; with submittal to president in Gallatin’s hand and signed by him; endorsed by TJ as received from the Treasury Department on 2 Dec. and “Schooner. Sally” and so recorded in SJL). For Steele’s letter to Hollingsworth, see Gallatin, Papers description begins Carl E. Prince and Helene E. Fineman, eds., The Papers of Albert Gallatin, microfilm edition in 46 reels, Philadelphia, 1969, and Supplement, Barbara B. Oberg, ed., reels 47–51, Wilmington, Del., 1985 description ends , 6:124.

Jury may decide otherways: on 11 Jan. 1802, Briscoe received notice of the trial and acquittal of the Sally in the court of admiralty for Maryland district and an order from the marshal to release the vessel and cargo to Captain De Butts. Hollingsworth informed Gallatin that the district court judge had thought proper to refer the case to the admiralty court, where, “without the intervention of a Jury,” a decision was found against the United States (Gallatin, Papers description begins Carl E. Prince and Helene E. Fineman, eds., The Papers of Albert Gallatin, microfilm edition in 46 reels, Philadelphia, 1969, and Supplement, Barbara B. Oberg, ed., reels 47–51, Wilmington, Del., 1985 description ends , 6:443, 553). In February 1807, De Butts and others petitioned Congress for compensation for damages sustained by the seizure and detention of the ship (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 6:203). For Gallatin’s response, see ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Commerce and Navigation, 1:726–7.

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