Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Harcourt, 14 January 1787

To Harcourt

Paris Jan. 14. 1787.


In the conversation with which you were pleased to honor me a few days ago,1 on the enfranchisement of the port of Honfleur, I took the liberty of observing that I was not instructed by my constituents to make any proposition on that subject. That it would be agreeable to them however I must suppose, because it will offer the following advantages.

  • 1. It is a convenient entrepot for furnishing us with the manufactures of the Northern parts of France and particularly of Paris, and for recieving and distributing the productions of our country in exchange.
  • 2. Cowes, on the opposite side of the channel, has heretofore been the deposit for a considerable part of our productions, landed in Great Britain in the first instance, but intended for re-exportation. From thence our rice particularly has been distributed to France and other parts of Europe. I am not certain whether our tobaccos were deposited there or carried to London to be sorted for the different markets.2 To draw this business from Cowes, no place is so favorably situated as Honfleur.
  • 3. It would be a convenient deposit for our Whale oil, of which after the supply of Paris, there will be a surplus for re-exportation.
  • 4. Should our Fur trade be recovered out of the hands of the English, it will naturally come to Honfleur, as the Out-port of Paris.
  • 5. Salt is an important article in all our return-cargoes; because, being carried as ballast, it’s freight costs nothing. But on account of some regulations, with which I am not well acquainted, it cannot at present be shipped to advantage from any port in the Seyne.
  • 6. Our vessels being built sharp, for swift sailing, suffer extremely in most of the Western ports of France, in which they are left on dry ground at every ebb of the tide. But at Honfleur, I am told, they can ride in bold water, on a good bottom, and near the shore, at all times.

These facts may perhaps throw some light on the question in which, for the good of both countries, you are pleased to interest yourself. I take the liberty therefore of barely mentioning them, and with the more pleasure as it furnishes me an occasion of assuring you of those sentiments of respect and3

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “à Monsieur le Duc d’Harcourt, gouverneur du Dauphin”; complimentary close and signature lacking. Tr (DLC: TJ Papers, 235: 42125); a French translation in hand of St. John de Crèvecoeur; without date or indication of addressee, and lacking part of complimentary close and signature. Tr (DLC); copy of the foregoing French translation; in Short’s hand, with one correction by TJ; endorsed by TJ: “Freeport Duc de Harcourt”; also without date or indication of addressee.

Mitchell, Crèvecoeur, p. 152, suggests that TJ drafted the above text and gave it to Crèvecoeur, who was collaborating with him in the matter of the enfranchisement of the port of Honfleur, to be translated into French; that Short then copied it off, TJ signed and dated it (possibly after 14 Jan.), and the prototype of the above-described copy by Short was then dispatched to Harcourt. However, there seems to be no satisfactory explanation for the presence in TJ Papers of the three texts above, even if it is assumed—as the editors believe to be the case—that on 14 Jan. TJ sent to Harcourt the prototype of the above PrC in English. For if this were done, why should Crèvecoeur have translated it in view of the fact that TJ himself occasionally wrote in French and Short often translated for him? Assuming that Crèvecoeur did translate it, why should Short have copied that translation? Having done so, why did he not copy it precisely at the close (see note 3)? Why, too, did TJ make the alteration in Short’s text? If TJ did in fact send a French text to Harcourt, why did he not retain the customary press copy instead of Short’s transcript? The Editors believe that Crèvecoeur’s translation and Short’s copy of it may have been intended for distribution among the merchants who were interested in the enfranchisement of Honfleur, or for some other purpose. But this still does not explain the absence of a date and the incomplete complimentary close in both copies or the correction in Short’s.

1The phrase “a few days ago” does not appear in translation in either of the French texts. This may suggest that Crèvecoeur made the translation some time after 14 Jan.

2Short’s copy and its prototype read: “Je ne suis pas sûr que nos tabacs y aient eté deposés. Je crois qu’ils etoient conduits à Londres afin d’y être <frêtés> assortis pour les differents marchés.” The word “frêtés” (copied from “freittés” in Crèvecoeur’s translation) was struck out by TJ, who interlined the word “assortis.”

3Complimentary close in Crèvecoeur’s translation reads: “…des Sentiments de respect & destime avec lesquels Jay l’honeur detre.” Short’s copy ends: “…des sentimens de …” Short’s spelling and punctuation were more correct in general than Crèvecoeur’s.

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