Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Reuben Harvey, 25 July 1783

From Reuben Harvey

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Cork 25 July 1783

Respected Friend

I am obliged to thee for the favour of thy letter,3 & may inform thee that two Vessels sailed lately from this Port & Youghal for Philadelphia with upwards of 200 Passengers. I thought, ’till a few days ago, that Hen Laurens Esqr. continued one of the American Commissioners for the United States, And as such, & he being in England, I transmitted to him the 1st. Inst. several Papers concerng. an American Vessel laden wth. Tobacco, which has been detain’d in the Harbour of Castletown near 10 Weeks, whereby a loss of £1500— will accrue, by the fall in value of Tobacco & the prevention of the Ship’s return to Carolina with a Cargoe of Merchandize from this Port; The pretence for detaining this Vessel is an intention (as the Revenue Officers alledge) of the Captain’s to smuggle, & it is only last week that those who possess’d themselves of the Ship & Cargoe gave notice to the Captain that he must prepare for Tryal the 30 of this Month. As I sent a very particular account of this most oppressive Act to H. Laurens Esqr. & requested him to acquaint his brother Commissrs. therewith,4 I won’t now take up thy time in reciting it again, but I beg leave to mention that unless the British Court be apply’d to by the American Representatives touching this Affair, there is little prospect of redress or compensation being obtained here by a Suit at Law, where a poor American has the powers of a Board of Revenue Commissioners to combat.5 Some more Ships from Carolina & Virginia which put into this Harbour lately to seek a market for their Tobacco, were search’d, & all the loose Tobacco taken from on board by Revenue Officers who forcibly broke open their Hatches;6 I have however after a delay of 10 or 12 days procured this Tobacco again, the Commissioners being afraid to proceed too far in seizing American Vessels. The Revenue Laws of Ireland are so very arbitrary, particularly One Act call’d the Hovering Act,7 that it is realy necessary for Congress to appoint a Consul or such like Person for managing their Commercial Affairs, to reside in Cork,8 this Port being the most convenient & the most frequented by American Vessels of any in Ireland. No Tobacco in less packages than 500 pounds weight can be imported here by Law; Now as it is the constant custom in America to break up hogshds. of Tobacco & pack them loose in parts of the Ship’s hold where a Cask can’t be stow’d, & then when she arrives at her destined Port to repack this Tobacco into the Hogsheads again, (wch. are mark’d & set aside in Staves for this purpose), if this Law is carried into effect against American Tobacco Ships which call at the Ports in Ireland for information, whereby they may direct their Voyages, just as they find the best Market likely to be, it will be in the power of every petty Revenue Officer to stop any Ship that shall be found to have loose Tobacco on board, tho’ such Ship is bound to another Kingdom, which wou’d in fact amount to a prohibition of your Ships, Tobacco laden, from entering the Ports of this Kingdom.

I write again this post to have the Papers forwarded to the Commissrs. at Paris, if Henry Laurens Esqr. has not already done it, & I hope that thou & the other Gentlemen will see the necessity there is for your interference on this Occasion.

I am very respectfully Thy sincere Friend

Reuben Harvey

The Vessel under seizure at Castletown is call’d the Nancy of Bath Town, in North Carolina, John Gladin Master; had been a letter of Marque

Benjn. Franklin Esqr.

Addressed: Benjamin Franklin Esqr. / Passy, near / Paris / Post paid

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3See Harvey’s letter of May 17.

4Harvey’s July 1 letter to Laurens is among BF’s papers at the APS, as are a numbered set of 11 documents that were probably enclosed. They include Harvey to the Board of Commissioners of Customs, Dublin, May 29; Harvey to John Gahan, May 30 and June 5; Harvey to Robert, Earl of Northington, June 6; William Windham to Harvey, June 9 and 16; Harvey to Windham, June 13, 21, 22, and 25; and John Gladin to the Earl of Northington, June 22. Also at the APS, separate from this packet, are copies of John Gahan to [the Commissioners of Revenue?], May 27, and Capt. Gladin’s deposition, July 2.

5This complicated affair (as Harvey says in his postscript) involved Capt. John Gladin and his ship Nancy of Bath, N.C. Gladin was in Martinique when he received news of the general peace, whereupon he headed for Europe, hoping to sell his cargo of tobacco, staves, and shingles. On May 18, off the southwest coast of Ireland, he tried to engage a pilot to bring him into Cork. Instead, the captain of a Revenue cutter brought him into Castlehaven, where the local customs official found fault with his paperwork, impounded some of the tobacco, and had the vessel detained. On July 14 the Nancy was seized and a trial was ordered. Harvey learned this news three days later, whereupon he sent the owners, Thomas and Titus Ogden, copies of all the relevant correspondence (presumably the same documents he sent Laurens) and asked them to urge Congress to protest the injustice. Congress considered the matter in May, 1784, and ordered the American commissioners to investigate the case, sending all the documents to Paris. These are undoubtedly the packet of documents that BF marked “Ship Nancy,” gathered under the title “Sundry Papers relative to the Detention of the Nancy at Castletownsend.” In addition to the 11 documents described above, this packet adds copies of Harvey’s July 1 letter to Laurens, and his July 17 letter to Thomas and Titus Ogden. APS.

6One of these must have been the Revolution from Edenton, N.C., which arrived at Cork on June 28 and was refused entry pending determination of what duties should be charged: Harvey to Laurens, July 1, cited above.

7The “Hovering Acts” of 1718 and 1721 had been adopted to discourage smuggling. Any vessel under 15 tons found within six miles of the coast was liable to seizure unless she was detained by unfavorable sailing conditions: Geoffrey Morley, The Smuggling War: the Government’s Fight Against Smuggling in the 18th and 19th Centuries (Stroud, Eng., and Dover, N.H., 1994), p. 6.

8Harvey had first solicited a consulship in February: XXXIX, 153–6.

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