Alexander Hamilton Papers
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From Alexander Hamilton to Robert Purviance, 22 August 1794

To Robert Purviance

Treasury Department
August 22d. 1794

Sir

It has been represented to me that notwithstanding the Law prohibiting the exportation of arms and military stores from the United States1 that business goes on from the Port of Baltimore with nearly as little restraint as if there were no such law.2

I cannot credit this information as it would imply so culpable a negligence in the Officers of the Customs—yet it comes to me with a degree of positiveness that I cannot disregard it, and am perplexed what to think.

I request to hear speedily & explicitly from you on this head, and I must urge that it is expected the Officers of the Customs will increase their vigilence to discover and prevent the practice, if it exists. Could it be possible to suppose that any officer of the United States would wink at such a breach of the Laws, from whatever motive, I should think it my duty to observe that the discovery of such a delinquency would be deemed and treated as inexcuseable.

With great consideration & Esteem   I am Sir   Your obedient Servt.

Alexander Hamilton

P.S. It has also been mentioned to me that there are Vessels equipping themselves in the Port as for Armed Vessels.3 What can this mean?

The Collector of Baltimore

LS, Columbia University Libraries; ADf, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.

1“An Act prohibiting for a limited time the Exportation of Arms and Ammunition, and encouraging the Importation of the same” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 369–70 [May 22, 1794]).

2On August 16, 1794, George Hammond, the British Minister to the United States, wrote to Lord Grenville: “I farther learn that notwithstanding the provisions of an act of Congress, prohibiting the exportation of arms and ammunition for the space of one year, a large quantity of gunpowder and lead is also preparing to be shipped from Baltimore for either Guadeloupe or Port de paix…” (PRO: F.O. description begins Transcripts or photostats from the Public Record Office of Great Britain deposited in the Library of Congress. description ends , Series 5, Vol. 5.1). On August 29, Hammond again wrote to Grenville: “… I have received additional testimony, relative to the French republicans assembled at Baltimore (under the direction of the French minister) of whom the number continue to increase, and to the noctural and clandestine shipments of gunpowder, and other military stores, for either Guadeloupe or Port de paix, which are still carrying on from that port to a very alarming extent. I farther learn that additional privateers have recently been surreptitiously fitted out at Charleston, under the expectation of falling in with part of the Jamaica homeward bound fleet…” (PRO: F.O. description begins Transcripts or photostats from the Public Record Office of Great Britain deposited in the Library of Congress. description ends , Series 5, Vol. 5.1).

3On September 5, 1794, Hammond wrote to Grenville: “There appears to be no diminution of the active hostile disposition of the people of this country towards Great Britain. At Baltimore, exclusively of the proceedings above recited, several privateers are fitting out, and one, a schooner carrying ten guns and ready for sea, is openly advertised for sale in the newspapers of that city” (PRO: F.O. description begins Transcripts or photostats from the Public Record Office of Great Britain deposited in the Library of Congress. description ends , Series 5, Vol. 5.1). This advertisement, dated August 20, appeared in the Baltimore Daily Intelligencer on August 21, 22, 1794.

On December 1, 1794, Hammond again wrote to Grenville: “I have frequently adverted to the clandestine shipments of military stores from Baltimore; And I learn from Mr. [Edward] Thornton, his Majesty’s Vice Consul there, that intelligence, has reached that place, of the capture, by the Solebay frigate, of a vessel belonging to, and bound from Baltimore, to Point a petre, and laden with five hundred barrels of gunpowder, which must have been shipped subsequently to the prohibitory act alluded to above. That Gentleman (Mr. Thornton) farther acquaints me that, having received information that a British prize, formerly named the Lively Lass, was equipping and arming as a privateer, he had represented to the Collector of the Customs at Baltimore the necessity of instituting a rigid enquiry into the situation of that vessel, from the result of which it appeared that she had been armed with fourteen cannon, furnished in the port of Baltimore. The vessel was immediately seized, and a legal process commenced against her, that will, I trust ensure her condemnation…” (PRO: F.O. description begins Transcripts or photostats from the Public Record Office of Great Britain deposited in the Library of Congress. description ends , Series 5, Vol. 5.1).

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