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From George Washington to Timothy Pickering, 9 September 1795

To Timothy Pickering


Elkton [Md.] Wednesday 9th Sepr 1795

Dear Sir

I had no time yesterday morning to look into the gazettes; nor did I know until the evening, that the French frigate Medusa had slipped her Cables & put to Sea on the 31st ulto; and was followed in a few hours by the Africa.1

This circumstance, be the result what it may, I regret exceedingly; & because the effect of the order as it relates to the British will be the same as if the Africa had remained in the harbour of New Port;2 and we shall obtain no credit for it from the French, & their partisans; for as the appearance of the thing (however false) is susceptible of the interpretation—so it will be said, that the order never was intended to be issued until it was known there would be nothing for it to operate upon.

The purpose, however, of this letter, is to request that Mr Monroe may be immediately and fully informed; and accordingly represent this matter truly, as it is;3 for it may be relied upon, if the Medusa escapes being captured, Mr Fauchet [(]whose mind is ardent, and who does not leave this country with the most favorable impressions of the views of this government towards his own) will paint this transaction in very high colours: and among other things say, that, after waiting in vain a month to see if the Executive would take effectual notice of the indignity offered to him, & the insult to its own Sovereignty; he was obliged to forego his passage, or run the hazards he did to accomplish it. Being in a hurry, and just upon the point of proceeding I will only add that with sincerity & truth—I am Dr Sir yr Affecte

Go: Washington

ALS, MHi: Pickering Papers; ADfS, DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW. The docket on the ALS cover notes that it was received on 10 Sept. and “acted upon—See letter of 14th to Mr Monroe.”

1The Gazette of the United States (Philadelphia) of 7 Sept. published two reports about the departure of the Medusa from Newport, R.I., both placing the departure on Tuesday, 1 September. A report from New York claimed that “the French frigate Medusa took the advantage of a fog, slipped her cables, and stood to sea at 12 o’clock on Tuesday last. She got clear of the harbour; and her departure was not discovered by Capt. Home until four in the afternoon, when she was about five leagues ahead of the Africa.” One from New Bedford, Mass., stated that the “Medusa, sailed from Newport on Tuesday a little before 12 at noon, and the Africa followed at about one”; the Medusa was by that report “at least 8 miles ahead of the Africa.” The same reports also appeared in The Philadelphia Gazette & Universal Daily Advertiser of that date.

2GW was referring to his instructions to Rhode Island governor Arthur Fenner to demand that Capt. Roddam Home take his ship out of U.S. jurisdiction (see Pickering to GW, 4 Sept., n.1).

3Pickering wrote to James Monroe on 14 Sept. and related the actions of Captain Home to stop and board the Medusa in an apparent premeditated attempt to seize certain papers in the hands of Jean-Antoine-Joseph Fauchet. Pickering noted that Newport, R.I., residents had warned Fauchet, thus allowing the former French minister to escape. The secretary of war sent Monroe copies of several papers related to the incident, including the “insolent letter” Home had sent Fenner.

Pickering also informed Monroe that he had contacted British minister George Hammond and his chargé d’affaires and announced an expectation of reparations from the British. “For this purpose, and to give opportunity for counter representations and explanations, time was necessary. Time accordingly was given: For justice as well as prudence required an observation of the maxim—Audi alteram partem.

Pickering sent Monroe a copy of his letter to Fenner of 5 Sept., which explained GW’s course of action toward Home and Moore when the two men failed to explain their actions. He also informed Monroe about instructions sent to the U.S. minister in London “‘fully to represent these outrages … and to press for such reparation as the nature of the case authorises the President to demand.’” GW expected George III to “‘duly estimate the injuries and insults proved to have been committed … against the United States, and inflict upon him such exemplary punishment as his aggravated offences deserve—as the violated rights of a sovereign State require—and as it will become the justice and honor of his majesty’s Government to impose.’”

Pickering gave detailed information to Monroe of the dates on which he had sent GW’s orders to Governor Fenner and when intelligence reached Philadelphia that the Medusa had slipped past the Africa. He did so “because it is not improbable that the suspension of those orders may be represented as calculated to be inoperative; and it may be suggested that they were not issued finally until it was known that the Africa had left the waters of Rhode Island.”

The Medusa escaped, and the Africa had returned to her former post at Rhode Island. GW had forbidden all American intercourse with the Africa, “and for her additional violation of the rights of a neutral nation” when she pursued the French vessel, “a new demand of satisfaction will be made on the British Government. A naval force to compel a due respect to our rights on the water you know we do not possess” (DNA: RG 59, Diplomatic and Consular Instructions, 1791–1801).

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