James Madison Papers
Documents filtered by: Author="Gerry, Elbridge" AND Period="Madison Presidency"
sorted by: editorial placement

To James Madison from Elbridge Gerry, 2 January 1812

From Elbridge Gerry

Cambridge 2d Jany 1812

Dear Sir,

The Count de Crillon, son of the celebrated Duke, who beseiged Gibralter, & was famous as a great mi[li]tary character, arrived here a day or two past, & proposes to go on to Washington.1 He came from England in company with Captain Henry,2 formerly of our army; whom you probably know, is also a great military character, & in every point, truly respectable. He wishes to pay his personal respects to your Excellency, & affords me an opportunity of repeating mine in an epistolary way. Accept the unfeigned assurances of my highest estimation of your Excellency, as well as of my sincere friendship

E. Gerry

RC (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers). Later docketed by JM, with his note, “introducing de Crillon the Impostor.”

1The man introduced by Gerry as Eduoard de Crillon was, in fact, a confidence man from Gascony named Paul-Émile Soubiron. Apparently on the run from Napoleon’s secret police when he met up with John Henry, Soubiron/Crillon accompanied Henry to the U.S.; they arrived in Boston on Christmas Eve, 1811. After gathering letters of introduction, Soubiron/Crillon traveled to Washington in January 1812 to lay the groundwork for a scheme to enable him, in partnership with Henry, to extract money from the administration in exchange for copies of Henry’s correspondence with British officials in Lower Canada during the Embargo crisis of 1808–9. Throughout February 1812 Soubiron/Crillon cut a wide swath in the Washington social scene, dining frequently with the diplomatic establishment as well as with JM and members of his cabinet. British minister Augustus Foster described the Frenchman as “rather short in person with very thick legs” and denounced him as a spy. After Soubiron/Crillon and Henry had concluded their business with the administration, the former split the proceeds of their enterprise with the latter and departed the U.S. for France late in May 1812 (Henry Adams, “Count Edward de Crillon,” American Historical Review, 1 [1895]: 51–69; Augustus John Foster, Jeffersonian America: Notes on the United States of America Collected in the Years 1805–6–7 and 11–12, ed. Richard Beale Davis [San Marino, Calif., 1954], p. 71).

2John Henry was born in Ireland in 1776 or 1777 and came to the U.S. in 1798, when he managed to obtain a captaincy in the Artillery Corps. He married into a prominent Philadelphia family, resigned his commission in 1800, and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Two or three years later he moved to Windsor, Vermont, and shortly thereafter resettled in Montreal. On a business trip to Boston in February 1808 Henry began a correspondence with the colonial secretary of Lower Canada about the political situation in New England, the contents of which so impressed the British governor, Sir James Craig, that he recruited Henry in January 1809 for a mission to gather information on the prospect of the eastern states’ seceding from the Union. Henry’s letters on that occasion reported extensively on antiadministration sentiment in New England but otherwise contained little that was of interest to Governor Craig, who then paid his traveling expenses and dismissed him. Desiring greater financial reward, preferably in the form of an appointment to office, Henry went to London in 1810 to present his case to the British cabinet, but his efforts were unsuccessful. It was at this juncture that Henry made the acquaintance of Soubiron/Crillon, who persuaded the disgruntled Irishman to consider selling his New England letters to the Madison administration. After some haggling about the price—Soubiron/Crillon and Henry sought as much as $90,000 for their information—JM and Monroe agreed to pay $50,000 from the secret service fund for copies of Henry’s correspondence with British officials in Lower Canada during the winter and spring of 1809. The agreement was formalized between 7 and 10 Feb. 1812, and within the month Henry departed for France on board the U.S. sloop Wasp. Two days after Henry had left the country, on 9 Mar. 1812, JM forwarded copies of his letters to Congress (see E. A. Cruikshank, The Political Adventures of John Henry: The Record of an International Imbroglio [Toronto, 1936], pp. 1–120; Samuel Eliot Morison, “The Henry-Crillon Affair of 1812,” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 69 [1947–50]: 207–31). Filed with JM’s papers in 1812 (DLC) is an undated, one-page Ms in an unidentified hand and docketed by JM, containing a brief outline of the life of John Henry. In addition to including some of the above-mentioned details, this account states that Henry had been honored by Dartmouth College, was a member of both the bar in Vermont and the Inner Temple in London, and was “Known to most persons in public life in Massachusetts Vermont and Canada.”

Index Entries