To Thomas Jefferson
January 13. 1792
In a conference with you, some time ago, I took occasion to mention the detention of the certificate of registry of a vessel of the United States in one of the French offices on occasion of a sale of the vessel.1 Several new instances having since occurred, I find it necessary to trouble you more particularly upon the subject. As the detention of these papers has taken place, as well in a port of France as in those of the colonies, it will require notice both in the home and in the colonial department.
The instrument in contemplation is of manifest importance to the navigation of the United States, and the legislature has therefore ordained that a heavy penalty shall follow the return of a master of a vessel to th⟨is coun⟩try, who shall fail within eight days to surrender the certificate of registry belonging to a vessel lately under his command, which shall have been shipwrecked or sold abroad. The payment of this penalty, in the event of its being incurred, is secured by an obligation taken at the granting of the certificate, and some of those bonds are now in a situation, wherein the la⟨w⟩ requires them to be put in suit.2 The plea of detention by a foreign power, whenever it can be truly made, renders the penalty a hardship, and I am persuaded will recommend the measures necessary to prevent such inconveniences to your early attention.
I have the honor to be Sir Your obedt s⟨ervant⟩
The Secretary of State
LS, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives.
2. Section 9 of “An Act for Registering and Clearing Vessels, Regulating the Coasting Trade, and for other purposes” reads in part as follows: “… That when the certificate of registry aforesaid shall be granted, sufficient security by bond, shall be given to the collector in behalf of the United States, by the master and owner or owners, or by some other person or persons on his, her, or their behalf, such security to be approved of by the collector, in the penalties following, that is to say: if such ship or vessel shall be above the burthen of fifteen, and not exceeding fifty tons, in the penalty of four hundred dollars, if exceeding the burthen of fifty tons, and not exceeding one hundred tons, in the penalty of eight hundred dollars, if exceeding the burthen of one hundred tons, and not exceeding two hundred tons, in the penalty of twelve hundred dollars, if exceeding the burthen of two hundred tons, and not exceeding three hundred tons, in the penalty of sixteen hundred dollars, and if exceeding the burthen of three hundred tons, in the penalty of two thousand dollars. And the condition of every such bond shall be, that such certificate shall not be sold, lent or otherwise dispossed of to any person or persons whomsoever,… and in case such ship or vessel shall be in any foreign port or place, or at sea, when such transfer of interest or property shall take place, the said master shall, within eight days after his arrival in any port or place within the United States, deliver up the said certificate to the collector of the district where he shall arrive …” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 57 [September 1, 1789]).