Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from William Ellery, 12 May 1794

From William Ellery

[Newport, Rhode Island] May 12, 1794. “I have received your letter of the 25th. of April1 in answer I presume to mine of the first of that month.… I have also received your two letters of the first of this month. That which relates to the Transport Ship Britannia, I showed to our Governour, and he made no objection to her Departure.… Last Thursday a British Sloop of War called the Nautilus commanded by H. W. Baynton arrived here.… On board of this Sloop of War were six American pressed Seamen. The General Assembly which was then sitting here took measures for liberating these Seamen which proved effectual.…”2

LC, Newport Historical Society, Newport, Rhode Island.

1Letter not found, but see extract from dealer’s catalogue printed under this date.

2On May 8, 1794, a “Statement of facts in the case of the Six American Sailors, illegally detained on board his Britannic majesty’s Sloop of war, the Nautilus, H. W. Baynton Commander,” was presented to the Rhode Island General Assembly. The statement reads in part as follows: “On the eighth day of May A. D. 1794 the said ship arrived in the harbour or port of Newport in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, on the same day the Commander of said Ship made application to the General Assembly of said State, then in Session, at said Newport, for liberty to purchase supplies of provisions for the people on board of her: The General Assembly immediately took the application into consideration, but during the progress of that business they were informed that there were thirteen American Citizens detained on board said Ship against their consent.… The General Assembly immediately proceeded to measures for investigating the facts, sent a message to Captain Baynton, then on shore, requesting his attendance before them. The Captain immediately attended with his Lieutenant. The Assembly also requested all the Judges of the Superior Court being then present, together with the Judges of the District Court, to confer with said officers on the subject to inform them of the information they had received.… The Judges according met the said officers.… The Judges informed them of the information which had been received, and expressed their wish that they would afford the fullest satisfaction of the facts. The Captain declared there were none on board of that description at least within his knowledge.… he appeared altogether to doubt the fact, hereupon John Carr, gunner of the Fort was called upon, who on solemn oath declared that he inquired of one of the Ships bargemen if there were any Americans on board of said Ship who answered that there were thirteen.…” The captain continued to deny the presence of impressed American sailors on board the Nautilus, but refused to allow a committee appointed by the judges to conduct a search. The judges reiterated that the captain’s unsupported word was insufficient evidence and that it “was presumed that the British Government would under a like occasion, show the same solicitude for the relief of their subjects, and were possessed of sufficient spirit to obtain entire satisfaction. That he must expect it would be exerted here if we were reduced to the necessity.… He replied he could do nothing further, was surprised at being thus called upon this business, asked if he was a prisoner and appeared to be going out of the Room, it was said he was not a prisoner, no measure of that kind had been taken.… the Captain and his Lieutenant both against the advice of the Judges burst out of the Room but instantly returned declaring they were stopped by the people in the Lobby, who were there in great numbers and they were under apprehensions of danger. The Lieutenant said he was kicked, it was asked him with earnestness ‘was you kicked,’ he said no but what was next to it he was ‘jam’d up,’ they were desired to be composed and to sit down, that it was wished they had taken advice for while with the Judges they should be protected…” (copy, New-York Historical Society, New York City).

Following the reading of the statement of facts, the Assembly passed a resolution detaining the captain and lieutenant of the Nautilus on shore until the matter was settled and appointing a committee which, with the captain’s consent, was to go on board the Nautilus to investigate the truth of the charges. The ship’s officers and the British vice consul, Thomas William Moore, finally consented to a search, and the committee found six Americans who were unwilling to remain on board. “The Six Sailors were soon brought on shore; the officers were convinced that they were all Americans, and the Captain agreed that they might go where they pleased, and that in the morning he would send their Cloathing on shore, give them written discharges, and certificates for their wages, and the Consul freely offered to take them and give the Sailors the money for them…” (copy, New-York Historical Society, New York City).

The Nautilus was then given adequate provisions to carry her to her destination (Arthur Fenner to Edmund Randolph, May 16, 1794 [copy, New-York Historical Society, New York City]).

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