Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to Isaac Holmes, 2 June 1794

To Isaac Holmes

Treasury Department June 2d. 1794


Inclosed are memorandums of informations which have lately been received by the Government concerning a very alarming State of things at Charleston.1 I am this moment enformed that Capt Art2 just arrived from thence brings a confirmation of it and worse. If true, I am perplexed with the circumstance of my not having received any correct account of it from you as the early knowlege of such a course of things is peculiarly interesting to the Government and to the public welfare. I pray you to advise me what foundation there is for it and to keep me regularly advised by every Opportunity by Water as well as land of every occurrence interfering with the views of the Government relatively to the preservation of its Neutrality and consequently its peace.

With Consideration and esteem   I am Sir   your Obt. Servant

Collector of the District
of Charleston

Copy, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.

1H is presumably referring to the following documents:

“May 24th 1794

“Mr Bell Merchant Philadelphia


“That he has been about two Months in Charleston S C. and just returned—that the spirit of privateering under French Colours prevails in a high degree at that port. Prizes brought in every day—he has seen three of a day arrive—the Cargoes are sold at public auction under the direction of French agents— some of the prize vessels are afterwards converted into privateers—that the friends to these measures say, that they get French Commissions by going to either of the French West India Islands.

“The Privateers generally mount from 6 to 8 and some 10 Guns—brigs Schooners and smaller vessels—they are manned with French American English and Irish. A Mr. Sommersell a Citizen of Charleston told Mr. Bell that he was then building three vessels which he intended as Privateers, but did not mean to send them out until he received authority from the United States as he supposed that War would very soon take place against the British. [Abraham] Sasportas Citizen of Charleston told Mr. Bell that he owned the 1/4 of the Privateer which took a Porto Rico Prize which was sent into Charleston.

“That Governor [William] Moultrie he believes connives at these proceedings.” (Copy, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.)

“Captain Ingraham says that the French Privateers bring their prizes into Charleston, S-C, and sell them openly. Some they equip as privateers. One was stopped by Mr. Holmes the Custom house officer, a schooner called the fiddle, upon the allegation of her being illegally fitted out. Captain Ingraham saw her lying at Fort Johnston. The French privateers are understood to have received their commissions at some Island taken by the French near the St. Mary’s.

“The Sans Pariel—belongs to a Mr. [Jean] Boutille at present residing at Charleston.” (Copy, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.)

The “very alarming state of things at Charleston” mentioned by H is a reference to the willingness of both the officials of South Carolina and the residents of Charleston to connive with the officers of French privateers to violate American neutrality. See H to George Washington, February 28, 1794, note 3. See also George Hammond to Edmund Randolph, May 12, 24, 1794 (ALS, RG 59, Notes from the British Legation in the United States to the Department of State, Vol. 1, October 26, 1791–August 15, 1794, National Archives).

Benjamin Moodie, British vice consul at Charleston, also thought the situation “alarming,” for on June 23, 1794, he wrote to Charles Miller, British consul at Charleston on leave in England: “… here we are Peace and War alternately, and have at last gone so far that I, with much reason, apprehend the latter inevitable, unless some more effectual steps are taken to maintain neutrality in this State, the necessity of which you will readily judge in perusing the inclosed list of Privateers fitting in, and cruizing out of this harbour” (copy, PRO: F.O. description begins Transcripts or photostats from the Public Record Office of Great Britain deposited in the Library of Congress. description ends [Great Britain], 5/6). Also see the list entitled “Rough Estimate of the value of those Vessels and Cargoes carried into the Ports of Charleston & Savannah by French Privateers, which were libelled in the Courts of Admiralty by Mr. Moodie, in behalf of their British Owners,” which Moodie enclosed in a letter dated December 17, 1794, to Phineas Bond, British consul at Philadelphia (copy, PRO: F.O. description begins Transcripts or photostats from the Public Record Office of Great Britain deposited in the Library of Congress. description ends [Great Britain], 5/6).

2James Art, a Philadelphia shipmaster.

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