Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to the President of Pennsylvania, 24 June 1790

To the President of Pennsylvania

New York June 24. 1790.


I have the honor to inclose you an article taken from a newspaper, too interesting in it’s nature not to excite attention. If the persons therein mentioned be really in captivity with the Algerines, it is important that government be assured of it. At the same time there is within my knowledge a circumstance of strong presumption that we have no such captives there; and the suspicion is but too obvious that this tale may be contrived to cover an act of piracy committed by the pretended captives. The means of investigation are so slender that it is essential to omit none of them. I am therefore obliged to take the liberty of requesting your Excellency to have enquiry made into the facts stated to have taken place in your city, and that this be done so as to excite no alarm which might occasion the disappearance of the informants named in the paper. [It can doubtless be known in Philadelphia whether such a ship as the Julius Cæsar commanded by a Capt. Squires belonged about 5. years ago to that city? What was her crew, her emploiment &c. whether the circumstances of her disappearance indicate a piracy or a capture?]1 And such other particulars as your Excellency may think pertinent to the case, and will be so good as to honour me with the communication of. I have the honor to be with sentiments of the most profound respect and esteem Your Excy’s most obedt. & mo. hble. servt.,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); with following note by TJ in margin opposite bracketed passage (see note 1): “[Pres]ident [Pe]nsylva.” Tr (DLC: Washington Papers); at head of text: “Copy” at foot of text: “His Excellency the President of Pennsylvania.” FC (DNA: RG 59, PCC No. 120); at head of text: “To the President of Pennsylvania, and the Governors of South Carolina and Massachusetts.” Tr and FC are accompanied by copies of the extract from (N.Y.) Daily Advertiser (see enclosure printed below) and by the following note: “Note. In the Letter to the Governor of South Carolina, the scored Lines in the preceding Letter were omitted, and the following inserted.—“It can doubtless be known in Charleston whether about five Years ago such a Ship as the Julius Cæsar, commanded by a Capt. Squires and belonging to Philadelphia, sailed from Charleston for any Part of Spain—what was her crew—whether any circumstances of her Disappearance are known, which may lead us to judge whether she has suffered Capture or Piracy. If the informant, Archibald Ross, should proceed to Charleston, his further and more formal Examination may perhaps lead to further Discoveries. I shall thank you for these, and such other particulars. &c:”—Note. In the Letter to the Governor of Massachusetts, the scored Lines in that to the President of Pennsylvania were omitted, and the following inserted. “It can be known at Boston whether a Vessel has arrived there, as is stated, from Spain—whether such Persons as Archibald Ross and Archibald Deacon came on board her—where that Vessel picked them up, and under what circumstances; and if Archibald Deacon be at Boston, as this paper says, a formal Examination of him may perhaps lead to further Discoveries. I shall thank you for these, and such other Particulars &c:” Tr (DLC: Washington Papers; PrC in DLC: TJ Papers, 232: 41509). These letters are recorded separately, not as a circular, in SJL.

Thomas Mifflin of Pennsylvania replied on 1 July 1790 that “only one ship called the Cæsar and commanded by Capt. Miller, who lives at this Time in Philadelphia,” had sailed from that port since the treaty of peace, and that it was supposed there “that Archibald Ross has fabricated his Tale for the Purpose of obtaining occasional Aids in his Route to Carolina.” Mifflin enclosed a letter from Sharp Delany, collector of the port of Philadelphia, to Charles Biddle, 30 June 1790, reading: “I have carefully examined the Entries for six Years back, and find no such Ship as the Julius Cæsar, Squires. When I first saw the Article in the Newspapers I looked on it as a Forgery, and got one of my Clerks at that Time to examine. Doctr Phile this morning has made a Search, but could find no such Vessel or Master. The only Vessels partly similar even in name, are the Cæsar, William Miller, from Jamaica, April 13th. 1784, a Gentleman now with us” (Tr of both in DLC: Washington Papers and in DNA: RG 59, PCC No. 120; recorded in SJL as received 8 July 1790). Charles Pinckney of South Carolina replied on 2 Aug. 1790: “In answer to your favor of the 24th June I have the honor to acquaint you that I have made all the Enquiry in my power into the circumstances of the affair alluded to but without being able to obtain much information. The result of my enquiries is that Archibald Ross is not at present in Charleston or at least is not to be found and that no such Ship as the Julius Cæesar Captain Squires has cleared from this port since 1782” (RC in DNA: RG 59, Misc. Letters Received; recorded in SJL as received 26 Aug. 1790. Tr in DNA: RG 59, PCC No. 120). John Hancock of Massachusetts replied on 3 Aug. 1790 that he had “immediately directed that Enquiry should be made in a Manner so secret as not to excite an Alarm, which might cause the Disappearance of Archibald Deacon, upon the Supposition of his being in Town.” He added that several vessels had arrived from Spain but information could be obtained from only one: the master of that informed him that “while he was in Spain he heard nothing of the Matter, and that no Person under the Name of Archibald Deacon came Passenger with him; so that there is Room for Suspicion as you suggest, that this Tale may have been contrived to cover an Act of Piracy committed by the pretended Captives” (Tr in same and in DLC: Washington Papers; recorded in SJL as received 9 Aug. 1790). After receiving this information, TJ caused the story to be published as fraudulent. The New-York Journal, 31 Aug. 1790, said that this “lamentable story…has been discovered to be a forged story, to impose upon the fine feelings and charitable dispositions of the benevolent. The account above referred to was not published in this paper.” It should be noted that TJ started the investigation on the very day that the account was first published.

1This passage bracketed in PrC by TJ and substitute texts for it employed in the letters to the governors of Massachusetts and South Carolina, as indicated in note above.

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