Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Sullivan, 26 January 1787

From John Sullivan

Portsmouth New Hampshire
Jany. 26th. 1787


I have the honor to inclose your Excellency a petition from Mr. Darby to his most Christian majesty respecting a vessell condemned at port au prince with Copies of Depositions to Support the facts therein alledged. Your Excellencey will at once Discover how Injuriously Mr. Darbey has been treated and how by the Art and Design of the Two French Merchants mentioned he has suffered a Loss which must almost ruin him: may I entreat your Excellency to Interest your self in his favour at the Court of France, where the original Petition and Depositions are forwarded.

I have the honor to be with the most Lively Sentiments of Esteem Your Excellenceys most obedt. and very Humble Servt.,

Jno. Sullivan

RC (DLC). Recorded in SJL as received 16 June 1787. Enclosures (DLC): (1) Petition of Elias Hasket Derby to the king of France, dated at Salem, Mass., 24 Jan. 1787, stating that in April of 1786 he had dispatched the brig Nancy, Ichabod Nichols, master, to the French West Indies with a “very valuable Cargo” in order to carry on “a Trade there Agreably to the established Laws”; that at Port au Prince Nichols met with one of Derby’s snows laden with lumber; that “Messrs. Barrere & La Maire, Merchants of that place agreed for the purchase of both Cargoes at a price certain,” agreeing to pay in sugars at a stipulated price; that Nichols fulfilled his part of the contract only to find “to his extreme mortification and Disappointment … they had no intention to perform their engagement, which they now alledged to be impossible”; that in his dilemma Nichols had been persuaded to accept the merchants’ proposal “that his Snow should be conveyed to one of them, and made a French Bottom, and that they would lade on board a Cargo to the amount of the Debt and clear out the Vessell for Nantes”; that the transfer was made, the vessel loaded with 410,000 pounds of sugar, 4,000 pounds of coffee, 7,400 pounds of cotton, &c. so that the value of vessel and cargo amounted to a total of 230,473 livres, and clearance papers obtained for a voyage to Nantes; that, soon after, the vessel was seized “under a pretext of her being bound to the Continent of America,” and, after “Mr. La Maire appeared as Owner” and made what seemed to be a feeble opposition as claimant, the snow was condemned by the admiralty court; that an appeal was made but the verdict confirmed, “although some of the Judges, and the most learned Lawyers were clearly of opinion that the Vessell being still in port, there was not any transgression of the Law”; that it appears the merchants were interested in the condemnation, since their captain was the informer, caused the seizure, “and immediately Fled apparently to avoid the Public Odium and Indignation”; and that the petitioner now has “no resource but in that Royall power and Goodness … to relieve the distressed and Injured.” (2) Notarized deposition of Ichabod Nichols, dated at Portsmouth, N.H., 4 Dec. 1786, testifying to the same facts. (3) Notarized deposition of Richard Tibbets, mariner, of Portsmouth, N.H., dated 16 Nov. 1786, testifying that he was at Port au Prince in the summer of 1786 and “present at a conversation between Captain Ichabod Nichols and Messrs. Barrière and Lemaire” when the latter offered to purchase the cargoes of the Nancy and the snow, of which he, Tibbetts, was master; and that he also heard the merchants tell Nichols “it would be more for their Interest and his to make a French Bottom of his Vessell,” to which, “after a good deal of persuasion on their part he consented.”—Sullivan’s covering letter and its enclosures were sent to TJ by Derby with his letter of 1 Mch. 1787, q.v.

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