Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to John Jay, 12 July 1785

To John Jay

Paris July 12. 1785.


My last letter to you was dated the 17th. of June. The present serves to cover some papers put into my hands by Capt. Paul Jones. They respect an antient matter which is shortly this. While Capt. Jones was hovering on the coast of England in the year 1779. a British pilot, John Jackson by name, came on board him supposing him to be British. Capt. Jones found it convenient to detain him as a pilot and in the action with the Serapis, which ensued, this man lost his arm. It is thought that this gives him a just claim to the same allowance with others who have met with the like misfortune in the service of the United states. Congress alone being competent to this application, it is my duty to present the case to their consideration, which I beg leave to do through you.

Dr. Franklin will be able to give you so perfect a state of all transactions relative to his particular office in France, as well as to the subjects included in our general commission, that it is unnecessary for me to enter on them. His departure, with the separate situation of Mr. Adams and myself will render it difficult to communicate to you the future proceedings of the commission, as regularly as they have been heretofore. We shall do it however with all the punctuality practicable, either separately or jointly as circumstances may require and admit.

I have the honour to be with sentiments of the highest respect Sir Your most obedient & most humble servt.,

Th: Jefferson

RC (DNA: PCC, No. 87). PrC (DLC). Tr (DNA: PCC, No. 107). Recorded in SJL as sent “by Houdon”; entry in SJPL under this date reads: “P. Jones and Jackson’s case. Dr. Fr.” Enclosures: (1) John Paul Jones to Franklin, 23 Sep. 1784, declaring that “Humanity and justice require that I should earnestly recommend that unfortunate man John Jackson for a Reward for the important service he performed and the great loss and suffering he sustained. I thought and still think he merited half Pay as a Pilot in the Service of the United States” (DNA: PCC, Nos. 87 and 107; printed in Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789, i, 621–2, under date of 1785). (2) An enclosure in the foregoing—Jackson to Franklin, 16 Oct. 1780, stating that, following the action of 22 Sep. 1779, Jones gave Jackson “a Hundred Ducats, and at the same time Promisd him, that he should be paid by the American Embassador at the Court of France—Half pay of a Pilot the remainder of his life to commence from the 22nd day of Septr. 1779,” and asking that this be done “agreeable to Mr. Paul Jones’ writing as he is rendered incapable of geting Bread for his poor family” (same, i, 622; copies in DNA: PCC, Nos. 87 and 107). (3) Jones’ certification of Jackson’s claim, 15 Nov. 1779, a copy of which was also enclosed in Jones to Franklin, 23 Sep. 1784, stating the facts as above, save that half-pay for life was to begin from the date of the certificate (Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789, i, 423–4; copies in DNA: PCC, Nos. 87 and 107).

Shortly after TJ transmitted the above papers to Jay, James Blunt wrote to Franklin that Jackson had “waited for some time the Arrival of the American Ambassador at this Court [London], to whom he has shown his Claim, but been referred by him to Mr. Jefferson at Paris”; this letter and its enclosed certified copy of Jones’s promise of half-pay, dated 15 Nov. 1779, were not transmitted by Franklin until three years later when he wrote Jay: “In arranging some old Papers I lately found the enclos’d Letter from Mr. Blunt, inclosing Copy of a Certificate of Comme. Jones in favour of John Jackson. I ought, (tho’ so long delay’d) to send some Answer. Can you inform me, whether any thing has been done for Jackson in consequence of the Commodore’s Promise?” (Franklin to Jay, Philadelphia, 27 June 1788; DNA: PCC, No. 82, iii; its enclosures are in same). Jay had transmitted TJ’s letter to Congress on 20 Sep. 1785 and a committee reported in favor of granting half-pay to Jackson in accordance with Jones’ promise (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , xxix, 733, 778); and, shortly before Franklin found the “old Papers,” TJ wrote the Secretary at War again enclosing the pertinent documents (TJ to Knox, 6 Feb. 1788). Again Congress took under advisement the report of 1785, at that time listed under “Reports Old, Obsolete, or Negative,” but no action was taken (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , xxxiv, 127, 134, 622). See also Garvey to TJ, 1 Feb. 1788.

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