Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from James Lingan, 19 December 1793

From James Lingan1

George Town [District of Columbia] 19th Decr 1793


A vessel coming up the river is about to enter at this office under the following circumstances. She is a french vessel, captured by a British privateer, condemned in the British Courts of Admiralty, and sold accordingly. After which she was purchased by Joshua Johnson Esquire, Consul of London,2 is navigated by citizens of the United States. The property is fully proved by papers now lodged in this office of her being wholly owned by a citizen of the United States. For the satisfaction of Mr Johnsons agent here, as well as those concerned in the cargo, which she has on board, I wish to be informed by you whether she is entitled to any further benefit, more than the granting her a sea-letter, on clearance, agreeably to a letter of 15th August last, recieved from the Treasury Department.3

Yours &c

J. M. Lingan

A. Hamilton Esq

Copy, RG 56, Letters to and from the Collector at Georgetown, National Archives.

1Lingan was collector of customs at Georgetown.

2Johnson was United States consul in London and a former resident of Maryland.

3Lingan is referring to a circular letter sent by Oliver Wolcott, Jr., to the collectors of the customs on August 15, 1793, which reads in part as follows: “By the Act entitled ‘An Act concerning the registering and recording of ships or vessels,’ it is declared, that no foreign built ships are entitled to be registered which were not owned wholly or in part by a citizen or citizens of the United States, on the 16th day of May 1789, and which have not from that time continued to belong wholly to such citizen or citizens.

“It is, however, the opinion of the Executive that the Sea Letters which are required by the treaties of the United States, with France and the United Netherlands, ought to be granted to any foreign built ships or vessels, the property of which has been wholly and bona fide acquired at any time by a citizen or citizens of the United States, even though such ships or vessels are not entitled to be registered.

“To prevent impositions from collusive transfers of foreign vessels to citizens of the United States, for the purpose of obtaining sea letters, special caution will be necessary: it is therefore the design of this communication, to indicate to the collectors the kind of evidence which they ought to require, that vessels suspected of being in this predicament, and generally all those which have not been registered, are really American property.

“As a general rule, it is deemed advisable for the collectors to require the original bill of sale or transfer to a citizen or citizens of the United States to be produced, and an affidavit of the owners of such vessels, declaring that they are citizens of the United States, and the manner in which they so became citizens; also that the property is solely vested in them, and that no subject or citizen of any foreign prince or state has directly or indirectly, by way of trust, confidence, or otherwise, any interest in the vessel, or in the issues or profits thereof. In cases of real doubt, or whether collusion is suspected, it will be proper that a reference, stating the whole case, be had to the Treasury.…” (LS, Bureau of Customs, Philadelphia.)

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