Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from William Heth, 19 November 1792

From William Heth1

Collectors Office
Berma Hundred [Virginia] 19th Novr. 92

Dr Sir

Enclosed you have copy’s of a letter from me to the United States Atty for this District,2 with his answer, which are transmitted at his request.

Finding that, several weeks after my first letter—process had not been served upon Horton,3 I wrote again, repeating the information & beging to know whether my first had been recd—some days ago, I saw him in Richmond, when he gave me the answer, of which the enclosed is a copy,4 & which had been laying some time for an opportunity of conveying it to this place. I satisfyd him, that he was mistaken as to the five cases in which you had remitted in “cases like that of the Abigail”—Allyn’s5 being the only one—and this, was not publickly known—i.e.—it was not enterd on record. However, he mentioned some cases wch arose in the Norfolk District in which you had remitted, & which, with the decision on Hunts case6—produced the determination in the present Instance. I hope I shall not be considered as exceeding the bounds of my duty, if I add that Mr. Campbell’s opinion & sentiments on this subject, are precisely those, of the other officers of this District Court—and, for my own part candor obliges me to declare that, if I did not feel myself indispensibly bound by my oath, to direct process to be instituted in all cases where the laws are violated & where, I have no discretionary powers, I should certainly not have given any notice to the Attorney in the present case. For, as I told you in person, the decision on Hunts case filld every body with astonishment, except those, who offerd bets upon the petition being presented, that he would be relieved. Had I been a sporting man I would have risqued my all that he would not. With Lyle & McCredies case7 upon record—I deemd, & so did the Court—the remission impossible. Lyle & McCredie had no agency in the business, & were as innocent as children of the transaction by which they lost their goods. Hunt was apprized of the hazard to which his goods were exposed—enquired into the nature of the risque—askd advice of Colo. Carrington & myself—and was very particularly informd by me, how to save them from seizure, & which he might have done at a very trifling expence—and surely, the Judge transmitted you both Carringtons, & my deposition.8

I have Just given Mr Campbell information of the arrival of another American Master, without reporting below—and who produced no paper whatsoever here, but the register—saying that he had “nothing but sand ballast from Bilboa.” He appeard to be no more concernd at my telling him he had incurrd a penalty & shewing him the law, than if I had sung him a stave or two of Chevychase9—and absolutely laughd at every thing that was said. Indeed, before I came to the office, he had treated my clerk with a good deal of contempt, by insinuating that he knew his duty better than he could tell him, that “he knew Congr⟨ess⟩ very well, & could go there and speak to his cause as well as any body.” This man comes to the same Merchant that Henry Rust10 did (who is as guilty of the same offence). He, and his connections are the only people in this District, whom I suspect to be concernd in illicit commerce & this Man may have loaded half a dozen, or more small vessels under 20 tons—in the capes as he came up the river. Well persuaded I am, that he came not entirely in Ballast, tho’ he has signd & sworn to it. I have begd Mr. Campbell to order serch in this case, but, whether he will, or not I cant say. Something must be done, or we shall all go wrong. Having written with too much freedom perhaps for an Official letter, I have concluded to make this a private one—and am Dear Sir, with the sincerest wishes for your happiness & prosperity, and the warmest sentiments of affection and friendship


Will Heth

Colo. A Hamilton

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1Heth was collector of customs at Bermuda Hundred, Virginia.

2Alexander Campbell, United States attorney for the District of Virginia, had earlier criticized H’s interpretation of the section of the Coasting Act which concerned fees. See Heth to H, November 20, 1791.

3Samuel Horton was master of the ship Abigail.

4See the enclosures to this letter.

5Presumably William Allin, who had been a Richmond printer.

6Charles Hunt, a merchant of Williamsburg, Virginia, had been indirectly involved in the case of the United States v Goods in the Sloop Friendship John. He was the owner of six pipes of wine and four hogsheads of rum and the shipper of a set of used type which had belonged to William Allin and which now was being sold by Ashley Adams, Allin’s executor, for the benefit of Allin’s heirs. When the Friendship John arrived in the District of Bermuda Hundred on December 13, 1791, John Carter, the master of the sloop, had neither manifest nor permit. On June 26, 1792, H had signed the remission of forfeiture for Ashley Adams. On July 16, 1792, H had also remitted the fine and forfeiture for Carter and Adams. No remission of the forfeiture in the case of the wine and rum owned by Hunt appears in the record book of the Virginia District Court (Records of the District Court of Virginia, Archives Division, Virginia State Library, Richmond).

7Lyle and McCredie were part owners of goods brought from Norfolk to Manchester in the sloop Non Pareil, Benjamin Forrester, master. A libel was filed in the District Court at Richmond on December 22, 1790. H rejected the petitions of both Lyle and McCredie and George Yuiville and Company (copy, Records of the District Court of Virginia, Archives Division, Virginia State Library, Richmond).

Heth took several depositions concerning the case, and Lyle and McCredie submitted a letter dated December 11, 1790, from John Lawrence, the shipper at Norfolk. Lawrence’s letter indicated that he had given the master instructions concerning compliance with customs regulations. Lawrence wrote: “I gave the Skipper a most particular Charge to take care to have his vessel and goods cleared out legally and saw him go into the Custom House as I supposed for that purpose and am indeed much astonished that after all he should omit to do it.… I am told that [Solomon] Tatham is certainly liable for all Losses that may arise either from his own, of his Skippers Misconduct or Neglect” (copy, Records of the District Court of Virginia, Archives Division, Virginia State Library, Richmond).

8No records of the depositions of Edward Carrington, supervisor of the revenue of Virginia, and Heth have been found.

9The ballad of Chevy Chase commemorated the battle of Otterburn fought on August 19, 1388, between Scottish troops led by the earls of Douglas and Murray and an English force led by Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland. The ballad was popular in eighteenth-century England and was commended in two issues of Joseph Addison’s Spectator. The air was used in John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera.”

10At a session of the District Court of Virginia on June 21, 1791, the case of the United States v Henry Rust Master of the Brigantine Columbia was brought before a jury, and five hundred dollars was awarded to the United States. No record of either a petition or remission appears in the record book of the District Court (D, Records of the District Court of Virginia, Archives Division, Virginia State Library, Richmond).

Index Entries