Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Oliver Wolcott, Junior, 17 June 1796

From Oliver Wolcott, Junior

Philadelphia June 17th. 1796

My Dear Sir,

I have your Letters of the 15th. & 16th. instant—that for the President will go on by the next mail.1

The affair of the Capture assumes a more equivocal character as respects the French Government than at first.2 In a confidential way from some of our Merchants I have reason to believe, that proposals were made to Mr. Murgatroy who built the Ship, by a Mr. Dunkinson an English Gentleman not yet naturalised, to become the purchaser, that Dunkinson on finding that he could not obtain a Register in his own name, made a conditional purchase of the Vessell deliverable in England; after which the Vessell was registered in Murgatroyds name. That the Loading though in the names of Willings & Francis is in fact British property & that these circumstances, were known or strongly suspected by the owner of the French Privateer.3 If these things are true, & the sole motives of the Capture, the thing though perhaps wrong, is not alarming. I do not find that any other capture has been made.

Mr. Adet I understand has written to Colo. Pickering that the Privateer was Commissioned by the French Government of Sn. Domingo, but that he is ignorant what the orders of the Privateer are, or what orders the French directory in the West Indies are authorised to give in respect to Neutral Vessells.4 This answer is neither satisfactory nor the contrary—it is nothing—except that it leaves ground to suspect that the West India Directory possess some discretionary authority, which may be used to distress us, if circumstances should render it expedient. What now gives me more concern than the capture, is the compliance of Baches paper, which is I think calculated to prepare the public mind, to expect a new course of conduct by the French, contrary to our Treaty, & distressing to our Commerce.5

I have for some time been inclined to think that Mr. Munroe ought to be recalled,6 but as others have doubted, & as the thing was not demonstrable I have not urged it, every event shews however new reasons for believing, that we must stop the channells by which foreign poison is introduced into our Country or suffer the government to be overturned—at all hazards the attempt must be made.

I have the power of the President to borrow,7 & have been making attempts in the manner you have intimated but without prospect of success.8 Bills can only be used in a case of the utmost emergency, as the discount would be ruinous. I will however carry on the public business this summer some way or other—though I know that we shall ultimately fail, unless some miraculous change in public measures, shall speedily take place.

I will write you if any thing occurs.

yrs. truly

Oliv. Wolcott Jr

Alexander Hamilton Esq

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; copy, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.

1H to George Washington, June 16, 1796. Washington had left Philadelphia for Mount Vernon on June 13, 1796.

3William M. Duncanson, who had arrived in the United States from England in August, 1794, invested heavily in real estate in the Federal City. From April 16, 1796, to June 13, 1797, Duncanson and James Ray, who had come to the United States in April, 1795, from England, were partners in a mercantile firm in Philadelphia.

In 1796 Duncanson and Ray purchased an American ship, the Delaware, from the Philadelphia mercantile firm of Thomas Willing and Tench Francis. Willing and Francis were the agents of Thomas Murgatroyd, a Philadelphia merchant and the owner of the Delaware. Duncanson renamed the ship Mount Vernon. In May, 1796, the firms of Duncanson and Ray and Willing and Francis loaded the ship with rum, and on or about June 1, 1796, the ship set sail for London. When only a short distance out from Philadelphia, the Mount Vernon was captured by the French privateer the Flying Fish. For additional information on the Mount Vernon, see Allen C. Clark, Greenleaf and Law in the Federal City (Washington, D. C., 1901), 278–82.

4The letter from Pierre Auguste Adet to Timothy Pickering is dated June 14, 1796, and reads: “I have received the letter you did me the honor to write me, relative to the seizure of the ship Mount Vernon by the French privateer the Flying Fish. I am vexed, sir, not to have it in my power to give you the information you request of me. I cannot say whether the privateer, which is certainly a vessel commissioned by the republic, and came from St. Domingo to this port, has or has not acted conformably to orders which have been transmitted to her; I do not know the instructions given by the Directory to its commissioners in the colonies, nor do I know what conduct it has prescribed to them to cause to be observed, by the armed vessels under orders, in regard to neutrals trading with the enemies of the republic. It is impossible for me, at this moment, to furnish you with precise explanations; I shall, therefore, write to the colonies to obtain them, and I will immediately transmit to you what shall come to my knowledge, as well as to this point, as concerning the event which is the object of your letter” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 652).

5See Wolcott to H, June 14, 1796. Wolcott’s complaints about the “compliance of Bache’s paper” were doubtless strengthened by a defense of the capture of the Mount Vernon which appeared in Benjamin Franklin Bache’s newspaper, the [Philadelphia] Aurora. General Advertiser, on June 16, 1796. The article reads in part: “In the Philadelphia Gazette of last evening the protest of Capt. Dominick of the ship Mount Vernon ‘is laid before the Merchants and Citizens of the United States for their full information in a point which both the honor of the country and the property of its subjects is so materially interested.’

“It is not a little remarkable, that as long as our property upon the high seas was seized libelled & Condemned by the British only—the honor of the country was never spoken of by certain friends to peace and order; indeed more—when the word honor then happened to be mentioned by the advocates for a respectable and substantial neutrality, it was called a chimera, an empty bubble, and interest, interest was echoed from all quarters—but now that a single ship is only captured by the French, the honor of the country is in jeopardy, tho’ it be not known yet upon what principles the capture is made, or whether the vessel or cargo will be condemned. Certainly we have not much lenity or generosity to expect from the French in our trade; for they have suffered materially by our deceptive neutrality, but if the claims of the owners of the Mount Vernon are founded in justice their property will no doubt be safe.…”

7On June 10, 1796, Washington wrote to Wolcott: “I do hereby authorize and empower you, by yourself or any other person or persons to borrow on behalf of the United States, of the Bank of the Ud. States or any other body or bodies politic, person or persons, any sum not exceeding in the whole Three hundred and twenty four thousand, five hundred and thirty nine Dollars and six Cents; and to make or cause to be made for that purpose such contract or contracts as shall be necessary and for the interest of the said States” (GW description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington (Washington, 1931–1944). description ends , XXXV, 87). This authorization was pursuant to “An Act making further provision for the expenses attending the intercourse of the United States with foreign nations; and to continue in force the act, intituled ‘An act providing the means of intercourse between the United States and foreign nations’” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 487–88 [May 30, 1796]).

Index Entries