From Isaac Holmes
Collectors Office Charleston [South Carolina] 10th. Sepr 1794
The American Schooner named the Hawke Enroled and Licenced in this Office John Cook Master did on the 16 May last clear from this port for the port of St Marys in the United States during the period of the Embargo,1 but instead of proceeding to her place of destination while at Sea She altered her Voyage and proceeded to a Foreign Port in the West Indies vizt Port au Paix. While there Capn Cook Sold the Vessel to Capt Alexander Bolchez a French Citizen who fitted the American schooner Hawke as a Privateer and arrived in this Port with a Legal French Commission. I considered this Conduct as a gross Violation of the Laws of the United States2 and Seized the Vessel. The Trial commenced in the Court of Admiralty for the district and was argued for four days. A decree of Condemnation passed against the Hawke. The Claimants then appealed to the Fœderal District Court for the Ultimate decision of the Question whether the Vessel is liable to forfeiture for having departed to a foreign port without first delivering up her Enrolment and Licence to the Collector of the district. The Judge of the Court delivered up this Vessel to the Claimant Bolchez with her tackle furniture Apparel & Guns &ca upon receiving sufficient Security to the amount of the Value of the Vessel agreeably to 66 Sec: of the Collection Law3 for the Ultimate decision. Upon the delivery of the Vessel armed as She came into the Port to the French Capt Bolchez he immediately applied to me to clear out his Vessel armed as she came in—to which I refused as I considered the Hawke to be still an American Bottom, untill the Court of appeals had establised or rejected her Condemnation and therefore to suffer her to depart with arms & a Commission would have been in my Judgment a National Commitment. However to prevent a mistake I wrote to the Fœderal Attorney4 the enclosed Letter his answer you will See annexed. In consequence of that answer and the enclosed Order of Court I cleared out the Hawke much against my Judgment as I still hold She is an American Bottom untill her Case should be determined by the Court of appeals. I also wrote to the Governor5 a Similar Letter. He acquiesced with the Attorney. I will remark here that the appeal is made by the Claimant with no other View than to procure time for the payment of the Value of the Forfeiture 12,000 dollars as there never could have been a Clearer forfeiture. I have thought proper to represent this Matter to you as this Vessel from her Construction is Capable of doing vast Injury and I cannot my Self see that she was entitled to a Clearance from this port while her Case was undetermined. The probability that the injuries & damage She may Commit may upon this ground be retorted to the United States has induced me to be particular on this Subject and as our Neutrality may be committed I have thought it best to give this statement requesting your Opinion.
With great Esteem I am Sir Your most Obt Sert
Isaac Holmes Col
Alexander Hamilton Esqr
Secretary of the Treasury
LS, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
1. On March 26, 1794, Congress in a joint resolution authorized the President to impose an embargo on all ships and vessels in United States ports for thirty days (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 400). On April 18, 1794, the embargo was extended until May 25, 1794 (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 401).
2. Holmes is referring to “An Act for enrolling and licensing ships or vessels to be employed in the coasting trade and fisheries. and for regulating the same” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 305–18 [February 18, 1793]). Section 8 of this act provided that a vessel be seized and forfeited for sailing to a foreign port without first giving up its enrollment and license and obtaining a register. Section 32 provided for forfeiture if ownership of the ship was transferred to a foreign citizen.
3. On July 4, 1794, Thomas Bee, United States judge for the District of South Carolina, in United States v Schooner Hawke declared: “In this case there is sufficient proof that the 8th and 32d clauses of the act of congress for licensing coasters have been infringed. I decree therefore that the schooner Hawke, with her tackle, furniture, and apparel, be condemned as forfeited to the United State” (Bee, Reports of Cases Adjudged in the District Court of South Carolina description begins Thomas Bee, Reports of Cases Adjudged in the District Court of South Carolina by the Hon. Thomas Bee, Judge of That Court (Philadelphia, 1810). description ends , 38). Bolchos (Bolchez) then petitioned the court on the basis of Section 67 of “An Act to provide more effectually for the collection of duties imposed by law on goods, wares and merchandise imported into the United States, and on the tonnage of ships or vessels” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 145–78 [August 4, 1790]). Holmes is incorrectly referring to Section 66 of this law. For the confusion over the numbering of the sections of the “Collection Law,” see “Treasury Department Circular to the Collectors of the Customs,” August 6, 1792.
Although Holmes’s letter is dated September 10, 1794, the District Court did not act until September 15, when in British Consul v Schooner Favourite and Alexander Bolchos “A warrant of appraisement was accordingly issued, the other requisites of the act were complied with, and the vessel with everything belonging to her was transferred to the claimant accordingly. She then sailed from this port as French property, with the same equipment, crew, and commission, that she had obtained at Port-de-Paix” (Bee, Reports of Cases Adjudged in the District Court of South Carolina description begins Thomas Bee, Reports of Cases Adjudged in the District Court of South Carolina by the Hon. Thomas Bee, Judge of That Court (Philadelphia, 1810). description ends , 39).
4. Thomas Parker.
5. William Moultrie.