Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from William W. Woolsey, 4 September 1801

From William W. Woolsey1

[New York] Sep. 4. 1801

Dr Sir

I am as much disatisfied with the recent conduct of the manumission Society as you can be,2 and have out of doors remonstrated against the measures which they have pursued,3 but without effect. My name appears as Vice President although I have not for several years attended a meeting of the Society.4 I had almost determined before your note,5 that I would remove my individual responsibility by a public protest against their measures. Your plea may be better, tho’ I am very doubtful of its efficacy. If you should after your return6 incline to have the Society called together7 I will apply to Mr Willet Seaman8 who is the President for that Purpose; one days notice will be sufficient.

Col Talmad[g]e9 resides in Litchfield, and is at present the Post master there.

With great respect   Your obed Servt.

W. W. Woolsey

Genl. Hamilton

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1Woolsey was a merchant and sugar refiner in New York City.

2H was one of the original sponsors of the New York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves, which was founded in 1785. He remained a member until his death. See “Attendance at a Meeting of the Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves,” February 4, 1785, note 1.

3The Manumission Society had attempted to assist blacks who had come to the United States from the Caribbean in the late seventeen-nineties with French émigrés who were their former masters. In several cases the French colonists, once they had arrived in the United States, attempted to re-enslave and sell their former slaves. Some of the members of the society, however, believed that it was not doing enough to ensure the freedom of the slaves in question. The minutes of the society for September 15, 1801, read: “The [Standing] Committee have been repeatedly applied to on account of Black people who were within the Jurisdiction of the French Government at the period when the decree of the Convention [which] abolished Slavery was passed & promulgated: These Black people have claimed the protection of the Society & have stated that being by that Decree completely restored to the rights of freemen and having chosen to come into this Country, they have here been held as Slaves by their former Masters, who are about to return to the West Indies & who not content with their services, have recently removed hence, to the Southern States & there sold them: And that by these means a very large portion of people, fully & completely entitled to the rights & privileges of Freemen are daily taken into perpetual slavery.…

“The Committee has for the last year found it necessary to act partially on this Decree & they have felt a pleasure in having during that period, Liberated a Respectable portion of these unfortunate beings. They had flattered themselves that on the Restoration of order in the West Indies, both white & blacks would return to their native Islands & that thus these unfortunate men would by thereown Government receive protection in their rights—but finding that the forbearance of the Society on this Subject has induced a belief that these people were Slaves & that the Emigrants had the right to dispose of them, & that this mode of Sale would be general, The Committee have found themselves constrained to agitate this Question.” (MS “Minutes of the Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves,” September 15, 1801 [New-York Historical Society, New York City].)

For the French decree, see “Décret qui abolit l’esclavage des nègres dans les Colonies,” February 4–April 11, 1794 (Duvergier, Lois description begins J. B. Duvergier, Collection Complète des Lois, Décrets, Ordonnances, Réglemens, et Avis du Conseil-d’Etat, Publiée sur les Editions Officielles du Louvre; de L’Impremerie Nationale, Par Baudouin; et Du Bulletin des Lois (Paris, 1824–1825). description ends , VII, 36).

4Woolsey became first vice president of the society in 1798 and was reelected on January 20, 1800. The last meeting at which his attendance is recorded was May 20, 1800 (MS “Minutes of the Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves,” January 16, 1798, January 20, May 20, 1800 [New-York Historical Society, New York City]).

5Letter not found.

6H was attending a session of the Circuit Court of the State of New York for Orange County, which met on September 8, 1801, in Goshen (Eugene Lucett to H, August 20, 1801, note 2).

7H requested a special meeting of the New York Society for the Manumission of Slaves, which met on September 23, 1801. At this meeting it was “Resolved that Alexander Hamilton, Peter J Munro & James Robertson be a Committee to draw up a mode of proceedure for the Standing Committee, in respect to Blacks held as Slaves by French Emigrants in this City: who were directed to call a meeting of this Society, when they are ready to Report” (MS “Minutes of the Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves” [New-York Historical Society, New York City]). Munro was a New York City lawyer; Robertson was a merchant at 132 William Street, New York City.

The committee of which H was a member never made a report to the Society, and it was dissolved on April 13, 1802 (MS “Minutes of the Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves,” January 18, April 13, 1802 [New-York Historical Society, New York City]).

8Seamen, a resident of New York City and a Quaker, was one of the original sponsors of the Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves.

9Benjamin Tallmadge, who was brevetted a lieutenant colonel at the close of the American Revolution, was a merchant and deputy postmaster in Litchfield, Connecticut, and treasurer of the Ohio Company. From 1778 to 1783 he had engaged in secret service and carried on a confidential correspondence with George Washington. In 1800 Tallmadge was elected to the House of Representatives as a Federalist.

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