Thomas Jefferson Papers
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From Thomas Jefferson to John Wayles Eppes, 21 December 1797

To John Wayles Eppes

Philadelphia Dec. 21. 97.

Th:J. to J. W. Eppes

Presuming that you get the newspapers I shall not repeat the public news which they detail. The great victory obtained by the English over the Dutch fleet is placed beyond doubt, they have taken 9 out of 16.   As to the proceedings of Congress, they have passed a bill putting off the commencement of the Stamp act till July next. The land tax will not be taken up this session. It is suspected that the approaching elections have had as much influence in both these measures, as the condition of the treasury, which is said to be better than was expected. Congress therefore have absolutely nothing to do, but to wait for news from our Parisian envoys. If that is of a peaceable aspect I know nothing which ought to keep us long from home. And that it will be of peaceable aspect there is solid reason to expect, notwithstanding the newspaper paragraphs of a contrary import, fabricated to give a hostile impulse to Congress. We learn from Norfolk that Barny is made judge of admiralty in the French West Indies, and has forbidden the capture of any American vessels except going to rebel ports. This looks as if they wished to distinguish between real American vessels, and English ones under American papers. They suppose and probably that Barny will be able to distinguish them.—I send according to your desire Paine’s letter. In my next I will inclose another pamphlet on the same subject. Monroe’s book appears this day. It is of near 500. pages, consequently too large to go by [post.] Bache will send on 2. or 300 copies to Richmond.—I have put on board Stratton’s schooner an anvil, vice and beak iron for George, proposing as soon as he receives them, that Isaac shall take those he has. We had hoped 2 or 3 days ago that the vessels here would have got out. But the weather has now set in so as to render it doubtful whether they are not shut up for the winter. If so, it will be February before these things get on. You would do well to employ Isaac in the mean time in preparing coal for his year’s work. He should have about 2000. bushels laid in. Nor will it be amiss to cord his wood in order to excite him to an emulation in burning it well. I am in hopes you or Mr. Randolph will prepare for the road-contract. It is very interesting to us all. Tell my dear Maria I received her letter of the 8th. from Chesnut grove this day. I will write to her next. In the mean time convey to her the warmest expressions of my love. Present me affectionately to Mr. and Mrs. Eppes and to all the younger ones. Adieu with sincere affections.

P.S. I am entirely at a loss to what post office to direct your letters, I have conjectured you have most intercourse with Petersburg.

PrC (DLC). Enclosure: Paine, Letter to Washington (see Madison to TJ, 10 Jan. 1796).

Reports of the great victory obtained by the English over the Dutch fleet in the battle of 11 Oct. 1797 off the coast of Holland “to the leeward of the Texel” were carried in Philadelphia newspapers, including the Philadelphia Aurora of 20 and 21 Dec. 1797 and the 20 Dec. 1797 supplement of the Philadelphia Gazette. On 21 Dec. the Aurora also included paragraphs from New York indicating that France had declared war against the United States and had issued “orders to capture all American vessels.” At the same time the newspapers carried several reports from Norfolk to members of Congress indicating that Joshua Barney, the Revolutionary War naval officer from Baltimore who began serving in the French Navy in 1796, had been appointed chief judge of admiralty in the French West Indies and that “he had already issued a proclamation forbidding the capture of American vessels bound to any British port whatever, except such as are stiled ‘Rebel ports.’” One Norfolk correspondent described Barney as “an honest man, who will doubtless do justice to every one of our real countrymen who may fall in his way” (Philadelphia Gazette, 21 and 22 Dec. 1797; Philadelphia Aurora, 22 Dec. 1797; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ). On 26 Dec. the Philadelphia Gazette carried word that the report of Barney’s appointment was incorrect. For Barney’s difficulties with the French and the British authorities after he left Norfolk for Saint-Domingue in August 1797, see Hulbert Footner, Sailor of Fortune: The Life and Adventures of Commodore Barney, U.S.N. (New York, 1940), 220–4.

A letter from Eppes to TJ of 21 Nov. 1797, recorded in SJL as received 13 Dec. 1797, has not been found.

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