Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Le Mesurier & Cie., 27 August 1790

From Le Mesurier & Cie.

Le Havre, 27 Aug. 1790. Enclose duplicate of theirs of 23rd by the ship Citoyen. TJ’s effects arrived on 25th from Rouen. “To save time, as the Ship Henrietta was kept in waiting and to prevent the Furniture’s being tumbled, we obtained a permit from the Custom House to Ship the Cases on board Capt. Weeks without landing, and were proceeding in that manner Yesterday morning, when a great number of people assembled and by force Obliged us to land the greatest part of the Effects. We applied to our Municipality who endeavoured by agreement to dissuade the Populace from insisting on having the Cases opened, but their endeavours being fruitless, we requested a Piquet from the National Guards to keep order and proceeded to the examination in the face of the multitude. You have a note hereunder of the Cases that were examined, and we hope that the Busts have received no damage tho’ we are sensible they are not repacked in so compleat a manner as when the Case left Paris. However we were ourselves present at the opening and handling of the contents of every Package, resolved as we were that no shadow of doubt should remain on the minds of the most ignorant of the regularity and fairness of every declaration. By the time we came to the opening of the eight Package the Ringleaders of the Tumult had sneaked off and we were enabled to close the business. This day we have embarked the whole, and inclosed you have the Bill of Lading of the 78 Packages shipt for Philadelphia on board the Henrietta, Captn. Weeks, the remaining Eight Packages shall be sent by the first Vessel for Virginia. We shall send our Account Charges to Mr. Short and draw on him for the amount.—We understand the populace had been excited against the passengers on board the Citoyen and foolishly imagined your Effects belonged to them and must of course contain a great deal of specie. Considering no mischief has ensued, we are not sorry the examination has taken place, for otherwise no power on earth could have dissuaded the people from their prevention, whilst now the most violent are both ashamed and convinced.”—The British fleet “of 31 Sail of the Line sailed last week from Torbay, and it is said the Spanish Fleet remains at sea.” [In postscript:] “Packages Opened. No. 7, 8, 14, 32, 57, 77, 82.” The two carriages, shipped from Rouen on second lighter, not yet arrived, must be sent to Virginia with six other packages, or by Philadelphia ship if one offers earlier. Invoice enclosed.

RC (DLC). Recorded in SJL as received 22 Nov. 1790. Dupl (DLC). Not recorded in SJL. Enclosures: (1) Le Mesurier & Cie. to TJ 22 (not 23 as stated above) Sep. 1790. (2) The preliminary list or invoice of the 86 parcels. Short’s letters of 4 and 15 Aug. were addressed to TJ under a double cover, with the preliminary invoice under the first. Short instructed Le Mesurier & Cie. to open it, copy off the items for Virginia, and then forward the original with the letters to TJ (Short to Le Mesurier & Cie., 16 Aug. 1790, and their reply, 13 Sep. 1790; DLC: Short Papers).

Le Mesurier & Cie. also described the actions of the mob to Short and gave the firm’s assurance that “nothing has been pilferr’d or … damaged in any shape.” They added that parcels Nos. 77 and 78 containing “the Marble Pedestals … were compleatly unpack’d, being suspected from their weight to contain money. The three Busts No 32 have likewise been unpack’d. The other packages opened were Books and wearing apparel. On the whole no mischief has been done and Mr. Jefferson’s character has appeared in its proper light in the eyes of an inflam’d and ignorant Multitude, whose passions had been excited against the Passengers on board the Citoyen which sailed a few days ago and who foolishly imagined these Effects belonged to the same persons.” They also stated that the workmen employed to open and repack the cases had caused “a few extra charges” but they said these would prove trifling (Le Mesurier & Cie. to Short, 27 [i.e. 29] Aug. 1790; DLC: Short Papers). The variations between the firm’s letters to Short and those to TJ arouse conjecture. If, as stated to Short, the mob thought the parcels belonged to the passengers on the Citoyen, it is difficult to see how TJ’s character could have been brought into question. The disappearance of the ringleaders, the fact that the cost of unpacking and repacking fell upon the innocent party, the random selection of parcels with the heaviest being brought ashore presumably before the mob could have had its suspicions fixed on them because of weight, and above all the failure of the consignee to oppose the examination of parcels on the ground that they were being shipped under diplomatic passport—these and other facts all point to the probability that Le Mesurier’s explanation to TJ was the true one: that is, that the examination resulted in allaying suspicions. They also suggest that the affair may have been preconceived by those having access to a complete invoice of goods, and so prearranged in order to divert well-grounded public suspicion from the secretive exportation of gold and objects of wealth by émigrés. Diplomatic passports were neither inviolate nor above suspicion, of course: John Adams related how his friend “Count Sarsfield, one of the most learned and sensible French Noblemen” he had ever known, once asked him in London to permit him to import mirrors under his diplomatic privileges. Adams replied that he had never done such a thing in any country and could not do it then. Sarsfield said that he had expected such an answer, and added: “Il ne vaut pas, un sous d’etre votre Ami” (Adams to Dr. Walsh, 10 Oct. 1790; FC in MHi: AM).

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