Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from William Vans Murray, 8 May 1793

From William Vans Murray1

Cambridge, Dorset, E. S. Maryland.
8. May. 1793.

Dear Sir,

A little event has taken place here which must be my apology for intruding on you.

A report circulated here that a prize taken from british subjects at sea by a french privateer has actually past this town (on Choptank)2 under the command of a citizen of this District.3 This took place on the 3d or 4th inst. I sent an express to Oxford to Col. Banning4 of that port to inform him of the circumstance with the substance of the treaty of commerce on the point. He came hither & we went on board. The Captn. show’d a power signed by a certain Baptst. Ferey, (with a recital of Ferey’s commission from the French Republic), authorising “Citizen Hooper” (that is the Capt’s. Name) to carry the prize into the nearest port. The spirit & letter of the 17th. article of the Commercial Treaty5 seemed the best ground—& Col. Banning not thinking this power A Commission in the hands of a Citizen sufficient to protect the prize with the U.S.—Seized the Vessel. In the mean time by the same express I wrote to Mr. Paca6 the Judge of the District. In so retired a situation where no light flows from reciprocated opinions I had no clue but the treaty—strictly to be construed by the spirit of the Proclamation & the essential principles of good faith in Neutrality—but being the only member on the spot & finding people imagined I ought to do something, I hazarded this step as the most decisive & exemplary. It has given, I believe complete satisfaction, as the public here are with the Proclamation & though friendly to the French Revolution, decided friends & supporters of Neutrality.

You will pardon me, Sir, when I suggest the idea that some leading impression, by way of official communication perhaps will be found convenient, from the High Departments of the Executive to the Officers of ports &c. We had not a man in the county who could lawfully enter on board the prize till Banning (who is a very excellent officer) came from another county which is divided from this (Dorsset) by a river as wide as the Delaware off Wilmington. So extremely naked is the body of the Federal Govt. so wanting in not only cloathing, but in limbs.

I will observe the paper purporting to be a commission wh. by way of recital preceded Hooper’s authority, was not signed by any name of the Executive Council of France—& that it struck me that though Hooper might have been a french officer on the ocean his arrival in his own country, then under the obligation of Neutrality, would instantly divest him of any power from the French to act contrary to the declared rights of Neutrality within the Dominions of the U.S.—& that a prize lawfully taken if sent without a commission & unlawfully into a neutral country became subject to all the rights of Dominion (as protection) inherent in the neutral State.

Whatever you communicate will be considered as confidential & will not be made use of as anticipating opinions which time & policy might undermine. Hooper means to go down the bay to order the privateers to send their prizes to the Islands. He is suspected to own a share of the privateer which took the prize. Two of the crew (prisioners!) had left the schooner before we reached her. She was from N. Providence to Philada. Captn. Tucker commander. I am respectfully & with sincere esteem Dear Sr. Yrs.

W. V. Murray.

N B: Hooper came from Charles Town—so did the privateer. The privateer was, it is by every body understood, fitted out there! & was sold by Hooper to the french he retaining a share—so is the report. He is much alarmed—is an ignorant young man—& declares that the great men of Charles Town led him to error & particularly the Governor: which is incredible. He says a great number have fitted out there & will be.7

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1Murray was a Federalist member of the House of Representatives from Maryland.

2The Choptank is a river in eastern Maryland.

3This vessel was the Eunice, captured and sent into port by the French privateer Sans Culotte, commanded by Captain Baptiste André Ferey. In a deposition forwarded to Thomas Jefferson by Thomas Newton, Jr., former inspector of the revenue for Virginia, and William Lindsay, collector of customs at Norfolk, Virginia, on May 5, 1793, Henry Tucker, the master of the Eunice, reported that “he was on the 29th last month taken by a privateer schooner called the San Culotte commanded by Capt. Farre … that after being in possession of the privateer the name of his schooner was erased from the Stern and a Mr Hooper of Cambridge in the State of Maryland was put on board as prize master.… Mr. Hooper own’d the schooner Eagle & plied from this to Georgia & Charleston as a packet. She Was fitted originally from Cambridge. From every circumstance Capt Tucker was of opinion they wou’d take vessels in the Bay of Cheasapeake …” (copy, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives). On May 7, 1793, John Hamilton, the British consul at Norfolk, complained to Governor Thomas Sim Lee of Maryland concerning the “capture of a Vessel belonging to British Subjects residing at New Providence and trading to this country.… The Schooner Eunice of New Providence, Henry Tucker Master, having 2,000 Dollars in specie and a few boxes of Sugars, bound for Philadelphia was taken off Virginia … on the 29th of April last, by an American built armed Schooner under french colours, said to be French property, and the greatest part of her crew Americans” (ALS, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives).

4Jeremiah Banning was collector of customs and inspector of the port of Oxford, Maryland.

5This article is also cited as Article 19 of the 1778 Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce. For an explanation of the discrepancy in the numbering of the articles of this treaty, see H to John Jay, first letter of April 9, 1793, note 2. Article 17 provided that the commanders of ships of war or privateers of either party might “carry whithersoever they please the Ships and Goods taken from their Enemies, without being obliged to pay any Duty to the Officers of the Admiralty or any other Judges; nor shall such Prizes be arrested or seized, when they come to and enter the Ports of either Party; nor shall the Searchers or other Officers of those Places search the same or make examination concerning the Lawfulness of such Prizes, but they may hoist Sail at any time and depart and carry their Prizes to the Places express’d in their Commissions, which the Commanders of such Ships of War shall be obliged to shew …” (Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 16–17).

6William Paca.

7According to Gouverneur Morris, United States Minister Plenipotentiary to France, when Edmond Charles Genet sailed from France he “took out with him three hundred blank commissions, which he is to distribute to such as will fit out cruisers in our ports to prey on the British commerce” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 354). In a discussion with Jefferson in May, 1793, concerning the vessels fitted out in Charleston, Genet told the Secretary of State “that on his arrival there he was surrounded suddenly by Frenchmen full of zeal for their country, pressing for authority to arm with their own means for it’s assistance, that they would fit out their own vessels, provide everything, man them, and only ask a commission from him: that he asked the opinion of Govr [William] Moultrie on the subject, who said he knew no law to the contrary, but begged that whatever was to be done, might be done without consulting him, that he must know nothing of it &c” (Ford, Writings of Jefferson description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York, 1892–1899). description ends , I, 248–49).

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