Alexander Hamilton Papers
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From Alexander Hamilton to Robert Purviance, 18 August 1794

To Robert Purviance

Treasury Department August 18th 1794

Sir,

I have to request that you will furnish me with a Statement of the circumstances relating to the Schooner Martha belonging to Messrs. Munnickhuysen & Sadler of Baltimore which sailed for Hispaniola during the Embargo1 and conditioned to return in Ballast.2

It appears from a Letter of her Owners to me3 that she brought back some Molasses and Taffia, the latter of which was contained in Casks of less than Ninety Gallons.4

I am with consideration   Sir   your most obedient Servant

A Hamilton

Robert Purviance Esquire
Collector of Baltimore

LC, Columbia University Libraries.

1On March 26, 1794, a joint resolution of Congress provided “That an embargo be laid on all ships and vessels in the ports of the United States … for the term of thirty days” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 400). A joint resolution of April 18, 1794, provided “That the present embargo be continued … until the twenty-fifth day of May next” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 401).

2Section 1 of “An Act to provide for mitigating or remitting the forfeitures and penalties accruing under the revenue laws, in certain cases therein mentioned” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 122–23 [May 26, 1790]) provided in part that “whenever any person who now is, or hereafter shall be liable to a fine, penalty or forfeiture … shall prefer his petition to the judge of the district in which such fine, penalty or forfeiture may have accrued … the said judge shall inquire in a summary manner into the circumstances of the case … and shall cause the facts which shall appear upon such inquiry, to be stated and annexed to the petition, and direct their transmission to the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, who shall thereupon have power to mitigate or remit such fine, penalty or forfeiture, or any part thereof, if in his opinion the same was incurred without wilful negligence or any intention of fraud.”

The petition of Munnickhuysen and Sadler, dated September 12, 1794, to William Paca, United States judge for the District of Maryland, reads as follows:

“That agreeable to a permission obtain’d in May last by our Friend Mr. John Vochez, then in Philadelphia, Our Schooner Martha sailed from this Port with a number of French Passengers for Hispanjola, two days previous the raising of the Embargo. We did conformably to Law, give Security in Six Thousand Dollars, that the Schooner Shou’d return in Ballast. We advised a French Gentleman to whom we had charter’d the Vessel of this obligation and of the necessity to comply therewith.

“She sailed from our Capes on the 26th. of May last, and on their arrival at Hispanjola those Gentlemen did not find the Island in the situation they had expected, the Person who had freighted the Schooner therefore determined to return to this Country. Persuaded by some Friends, who wished to take Shelter in America from the oppressions they experienced at St. Marc’s, he consented in giving them a Passage in the Schooner. and to receive also on board the only affects they had left to Secure for a little time their existence in this Country, namely Six Tierces of Taffia and Eleven Tierces of Molasses. The Captain conscious of the difficulties that might arise from such proceedings, resisted for a long time their United Sollicitations, however at length, on their assurances that by a representation of their Situation, lenity might be shewn, feeling himself interested in the safety of two of the Passengers, whose Political principles indanger’d their liberty, he assented to take them on board, and set sail for this Port, where he arrived on the 29th of July.

“As soon as we were made acquainted with the circumstances we Waited on the Collector, whom we found already informed of the fact by the Manifest delivered, and who told us that however sorry of this Event he cou’d not avoid consistently with his duty to order a prosecution against us, which has been since commenced, and is now depending.

“We beg leave to observe, and we hope our observation will have some Weight, that our conduct in the expedition, has evinced no mark of design to have a back freight, for as we had a certain intelligence that the Embargo wou’d be discontinued two days after the departure of the Vessell, we wou’d either have detained her two days longer here, and sent her with a common permit, or have directed the Captain to call at Hampton & take his clearance from that Port. The Goods taken at Hispanjola are in themselves of so inconsiderable a Value, and the frieght to which they might be subjected, so very trifling, that we are confident their Shipment will not even Warrant a Suspicion of designed contravention on our part, to the Laws of the Country, we therefore feel a confidence that we not only will be cleared of the charge but also from the Penalty incurred.

“Your Petitioners therefore pray that your Honor will cause an enquiry to be had in the facts above stated, and that your Honor will make a representation to the Secretary that your Petitioners may be released from the Pains & Penalties in such case made & provided.” (Copy, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives.)

On September 12, 1794, Paca stated: “Upon inquiring into the facts Stated in the within Petition I find them to be true” (copy, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives).

3Letter not found.

4Section 10 of “An Act concerning the Duties on Spirits distilled within the United States” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 279 [May 8, 1792]) states: “That, from and after the last day of April, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three, no distilled spirits except arrack and sweet cordials, shall be brought into the United States from any foreign port or place, except in casks or vessels of the capacity of ninety gallons and upwards.”

In addition, Munnickhuysen and Sadler incurred penalties and forfeitures under “An Act repealing, after the last day of June next, the duties heretofore laid upon Distilled Spirits imported from abroad, and laying others in their stead; and also upon Spirits distilled within the United States, and for appropriating the same” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 199–214 [March 3, 1791]) and “An Act for enrolling and licensing ships or vessels to be employed in the coasting trade and fisheries, and for regulating the same” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 305–18 [February 18, 1793]).

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