Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Jonathan Nesbitt, 7 February 1789

To Jonathan Nesbitt

Paris Feb. 7. 1789.


On further enquiry, I find it will be agreeable to custom for you to state your case to Monsieur de Villedeuil in a Memoire and if you will be so good as to send me this memoire I will inclose it to M. de Villedeuil in a letter on the same subject. I have already sketched my letter in substance as follows; ‘that Mr. Jay having occasion for a messenger to send special dispatches to me, a Mr. Nesbitt offered himself in that character; that in delivering the letters to me he explained his case to be that he had been settled in commerce at Lorient during the war, that losses by shipwreck, by captains, and by the peace which came in an unexpected moment had reduced him to bankruptcy, and obliged him to return to America, that he has been employed there ever since in making the most of his affairs, and being desirous now of seeing his creditors and taking arrangements with them, he had availed himself of Mr. Jay’s demand of a messenger to come under the protection of that character to Paris where he hoped to obtain a safe conduct which might enable him to consult with his creditors on their mutual interests, and that without this he must return immediately, not having seen his creditors, under the safeguard of his character of messenger.’ I state to you the substance of my letter, in order, if there be any thing wrong, that you may set me right, and that there may be no material variation between your state of the matter and mine. Your memoir must be in French. M. le Coulteulx will readily find you a person who can put it into the usual form, and, when ready, if you will be so good as to send it to me, I will inclose it to Monsieur de Villedeuil. I am with great esteem Sir Your most obedt. humble servt.,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC).

Messrs. Le Couteulx, the bankers who had acted as Robert Morris’ agent in the contract with the farmers-general, had forwarded Nesbitt’s request for a safe conduct even before Nesbitt, who was now on a mission for Morris, landed at Le Havre late in January, having been a voyager on the Henrietta with Gouverneur Morris (Le Couteulx to TJ, 20 Dec. 1788). Gouverneur Morris evidently was the one who actually delivered Jay’s dispatches of 25 Nov. 1789 (TJ to Jay, 4 Feb. 1789) though both those dispatches and TJ’s letter of 12 Mch. 1789 make it plain that the official courier was Nesbitt. Within a few days after the present letter was written, Nesbitt was arrested, TJ appealed again to Villedeuil, and the minister reported that the safe conduct had already been granted (TJ to Villedeuil, 10 and 17 Feb. 1789; Villedeuil to TJ, 20 Feb. 1789). But Nesbitt overstayed, and became imprudently involved so that, according to Morris, the bureau headed by Villedeuil was “violently” hostile to him. He fled to Morris’ quarters early on the morning of 17 Mch., hotly pursued by the police, who arrested him again. Morris again appealed to TJ, and also enlisted the aid of De Corny, Malesherbes, Madame de Tessé, Castries, and others in high position. Morris found the financial burden not inconsiderable, and even voiced an unaccustomed tinge of conscience over his effort to obtain Nesbitt’s release: “This is an awkward Situation when we have to request an illegal Act, especially in the present moment, for the whole Nation complains of such Interferences.” It was understandable that TJ should have declined further solicitation, but through Morris’ assiduous efforts Nesbitt was finally released on the eve of the fall of the Bastille. The king ordered him to leave the realm, and Morris again applied to TJ, this time with a request for “a Passport for Mr. Nesbitt which he refuses, as I expected he would; however, having asked and even urged it I have done all which was in my power” (Morris, Diary, i, 10, 12–13, 14, 15, 27, 28, 37, 40, 41, 132, 145, 147, 150, 179, 182, 539, 545). See TJ to Nesbitt, 11 Mch. 1789.

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