From William Ellery
Newport [Rhode Island] August 19, 1794. “Since my last1 have arrived here the Schooner St. George of Montego Bay … captured on the High Seas by the Frigate La Concorde; also the Brig Perserverance of St. John New Brunswick … bound last from Turks Island for Newyork and captured on the high Seas, by the Privateer Sans Pareille.…2 Inclosed are copies of the papers produced to me.… I wrote a letter to the Governor of this State … inclosing … a copy of that part of your instructs. which relates to Privateers originally fitted out in the United States, and prizes brought or sent in by such Privateers.…3 Jean Baptiste Bernard the Prize master of the Perseverance has been apprehended on a charge of having murdered a man in Charlestown last June …4 and he has been confined in Gaol.…”
LC, Newport Historical Society, Newport, Rhode Island.
2. Soon after its arrival in Newport, the French frigate Concorde sailed for Boston, where it stopped an American ship and seized both letters and money which that ship was carrying. (Stephen Higginson and others to Edmund Randolph, September 8, 1794 [LS, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives]). On the other hand, the Sans Pareil and its prize, the English brig Perseverance, remained at Newport because of a protracted dispute between France and the United States. On orders from Governor Arthur Fenner of Rhode Island, acting under the authority granted by George Washington in a circular letter to the governors of the states, which Henry Knox had written on August 7, 1793 (See “Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on the Fitting Out of Privateers in the Ports of the United States,” August 3, 1793, note 3), both vessels were detained at Newport, and the Perseverance was seized on the ground that the Sans Pareil had been armed in ports of the United States (Jean Antoine Joseph Fauchet to Randolph, August 26, 1794 [Correspondence of the French Ministers with the United States Government description begins Correspondence of the French Ministers, Joseph Fauchet and P. Adet; with the United States Government during the Years 1794–1796 (n.p., 1797?). description ends , part 1, 7–8]; Randolph to Fenner, September 3, 1794 [LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 7, June 27–November 30, 1794, National Archives]). On August 26, 1794, Fauchet protested to Randolph that the charge was false and that the seizure was an obvious form of harassment, and on September 18, in a letter to Randolph, Fauchet described in detail his side of the story: “… Le bricg Anglais la Persévérance, prise du corsaire le Sans Pareil, commissionné au Cap Français, isle de St. Dominque, est arrivé à … [Newport] le 13 Août dernier. Le Vice Consul d’Angleterre [Thomas William Moore] suggère immediatement que le Sans Pareil avait été commissionné à Charleston; le Collecteur de la douane envoye à l’instant saisir la prise, en expulse les capteurs, en fait prendre possession, et en enlève tous les papiers.
“Le Capitaine de prise Français veut réclamer. Deux matelots Anglais, excités sous main, déposent sous ferment, que cet officier a tué un homme à Charleston; on l’emprisonne de suite. Heureusement le Consul de la République à Boston [Thomas Dannery] instruit de cette étrange persécution, envoye son chancelier à Newport.
“Le chancelier trouve, que de justes soupçons contre les deux matelots Anglais, et l’impossibilité où ils avaient été de donner caution pour leur comparation au procès criminel commencé contre le Capitaine de prise, les avait fait mettre en prison eux mêmes; que se voyant abandonnés, inquiets des conséquences, peut-être repentans, ils avaient avoués que leur dépositions étaient fausses; qu’enfin ils s’étaient retractés judiciarement, en confessant qu’ils n’avainet agi que par malice, et avaient été mis en liberté; que cependant on ne poursuivait pas ces deux parjures, et qu’on différait d’élarger définitivement le Capitaine de prise.
“Le Chancelier demande en arrivant au Collecteur communication des papiers de la prise; il le prie de la faire passer à Providence pour plus de sûreté; parceque la veille une tentative avait été faite par le propriétaire et des matelots Anglais pour l’enlever. Il n’obtient ni l’un ni l’autre, est obligé de protester, etse transporte à Niewport pour réclamer justice du Gouverneur. Le Gouverneur tient séance le 25 Août. Le Vice Consul Anglais obtient renvoi de l’affaire à une époque plus éloignée et paraît chercher gagner du tems. Enfin la prise est finalement rendue aux capteurs, mais dans l’intervalle elle se détériore, des frais judiciares en absorbent une partie de la valeur, les corsaires se découragent.” (Correspondence of the French Ministers with the United States Government description begins Correspondence of the French Ministers, Joseph Fauchet and P. Adet; with the United States Government during the Years 1794–1796 (n.p., 1797?). description ends , part 1, 7–8, 21–22.)
On September 27, 1794, Randolph informed Fauchet “that the Governor of Rhode Island has decided, that the Perseverance, a prize of the Sanspariel, shall be restored to the Captors” (LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 7, June 27–November 30, 1794, National Archives), and on October 4, 1794, he sent to George Hammond “the proceedings of the Governor of Rhode Island, relative to the Brigantine, Perseverance” (LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 7, June 27–November 30, 1794, National Archives). At this point, however, the British instituted court proceedings to recover the Perseverance, and Fauchet wrote to Randolph demanding that the United States Government intervene (Fauchet to Randolph, October 17, 1794 [Correspondence of the French Ministers with the United States Government description begins Correspondence of the French Ministers, Joseph Fauchet and P. Adet; with the United States Government during the Years 1794–1796 (n.p., 1797?). description ends , part 1, 29–30]). In refusing Fauchet’s request, Randolph wrote: “… the extent of the United States imposes the necessity of substituting the agency of the Governors in the place of an instantaneous action by the federal executive, and therefore general rules alone can be provided.
“Under these rules, formed in the last year the Governor of Rhode Island operated on the prize of the Sans Pariel, and discharged her. If however individuals conceive, that they have a legal claim upon her, and draw her before a Court of law, the Executive of the United States cannot forbid them. The plea, … that the Court has no cognizance of French prizes, will be admitted if it applies, and the person, by whom the process is instituted, will be liable to a judgment for costs and damages, if he fails in his proof.” (Randolph to Fauchet, October 22, 1794 [LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 7, June 27–November 30, 1794, National Archives].)
This complex and prolonged dispute did have one positive result, for it produced a modification, or at least a clarification, of United States policy. On October 22, 1794, Randolph sent a circular letter to the governors of the states, which reads in part as follows:
“… Mr. Fauchet, the minister plenipotentiary of the French Republic, believes that he has reason to complain of the treatment, which French prizes have too often received in our ports.
“He represents, that by the machinations of the enemies of his country, the Captors are harrassed by seizures, arrests and detentions, the most vexatious and cruel: that as soon as the claimants are foiled in one attempt they betake themselves to another.…
“A late circumstance has … brought to view the practicability of oppression, unless precautions be adopted by the Executives. The claimants may often pursue a double chance by first procuring a trial before the Governors; and if defeated, by next resorting to the Courts of law. It is desirable therefore, that whensoever an application shall be made to your Excellency with respect to a prize, you should cause it to be examined well, whether the Courts have jurisdiction to inquire into the affair. If they have, then it seems proper that your Excellency should not interpose. If the Courts have not jurisdiction, and you are convinced that there is good ground for detaining the prize, in order to comply with the rules established by the President last year, then and then only your Excellency will so proceed.…” (LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 7, June 27–November 30, 1794, National Archives.)
4. For an account of the circumstances surrounding this alleged murder, see Fauchet’s letter to Randolph of September 18, 1794, which is quoted in note 2.