Thomas Jefferson Papers

VI. Christopher Gore to Tobias Lear, 10 December 1790

VI. Christopher Gore to Tobias Lear

Boston December 10. 1790

My dear Sir

A few weeks since, a gentleman by the name of Stokes, arrivd from Great Britain at some port in the Southern States on his way to Nantucket, to which place he went, and remained there some weeks. He then came to Boston, and embarked for Halifax.

From what I have heard I am induc’d to believe this gentleman came from England, by the direction of Lord Hawkesbury and Mr. Grenville, for the express purpose of knowing what priviledges, from the british government, woud induce the inhabitants of Nantucket to remove from that island to Great Britain, and carry on their whale fishery from thence.

It is well known, that many fishermen, who formerly went from Nantucket to Nova Scotia, return’d last autumn to that island— that those who went to France and establish’d themselves at Dunkirk, under the patronage of the french government are dissatisfied with their situation—that Lord Hawkesbury has at all times regretted his inattention to William Rotch, who, at the conclusion of the war, went to London for the purpose of proposing to the british court a removal from Nantucket of its inhabitants to Great Britain, provided, suitable priviledges cou’d be granted them by that Government. Not meeting with the encouragement expected, he went to France and established the Whale fishery at Dunkirk, which has proved advantageous to the merchant and master of the ship, but otherwise to the seamen, that is to say, to the large proprietors in the produce of the adventure but not to the sailors, who are small sharers.

That William Rotch went to France in August last to obtain the promis’d bounty from that Government, and probably to adopt the most prudent means of either retaining the seamen there, or establishing them with the navigation of him self and friends in Britain, or possibly return them to America.

I am inform’d by several british merchants who are well acquainted with the sentiments of Lord Hawkesbury on this subject—that the establishment of the Nantucket Fishermen, in some part of England, is an object very near his heart—that he has ever regretted the inattention of the british court to the proposals of Mr. Rotch, as occasioning the loss of a favorable opportunity, to obstruct the rise of the American Nation, and promote the wealth and importance of Britain—and that he is intent on remedying this neglect by discovering an effectual method to seduce those expert navigators from France and America. Perhaps it may be of some importance, that the views of the brit. ministry, as discover’d in the errand of Mr. Stokes, shoud be known to those who administer the government of the U.S. and it is possible, that it may not be known. This my friend is the only apology I offer for troubling you to read this letter.

I will not detain you longer, but request you woud present the affectionate regards of Mrs. Gore and myself to Mrs. Lear and believe me to be very truly your friend & obed servt,

C: Gore

RC (DLC). Not recorded in SJL.

While TJ made use of this letter in preparing his report, he refrained from identifying by name or nationality the agent who had been among the Nantucket whalemen “for the purpose of renewing the invitations to a change of situation.” Nor did he attribute this purpose to Hawkesbury and Grenville as did Gore, who doubtless reflected comments made by the emissary himself (see Document ix). The agent, Charles Stokes, was actually sent in the spring of 1790 by Charles Francis Greville (1749–1809), whose expensive tastes had led him by 1784 into such serious financial straits that he was obliged to offer for sale his collection of paintings and sculptures and to give up his liaison with Emma Hart in favor of his uncle, Sir William Hamilton, whom she married (Namier and Brooke, History of Parliament, ii, 5501). To recoup his finances Greville also sought from 1784 on to attract the Nantucketers to settle at the capacious harbor of Milford-Haven. He consulted both Hawkesbury and Grenville before dispatching Stokes to Nantucket. As a result the Committee for Trade and Plantations authorized him to “communicate to the Foreign Whale Fishers their resolution of 1790 that it would be expedient to renew the invitation [of 1786] to foreigners” (Greville to the Committee of South Whalers of London, 7 July 1792; British Museum: Liverpool Papers, xxxix, f. 9–18). This, however, was not confirmed by the Privy Council until 1791 when the result of Stokes’ mission was made known (Greville’s Memorandum, 22 Apr. 1793; same, XL, f. 14–15). Even then its action only advised that the renewal of the invitation be recommended to Parliament. Greville, however, imprudently proceeded on the assumption that the British government was committed to extend and honor such an invitation.

Hawkesbury, who in 1790 was gathering data for his famous report on trade relations with the United States, very likely gave instructions that Stokes report on commercial and political affairs in America as well as on the whalemen, for Stokes in fact did so both then and later. In November, from Boston, he wrote directly to both Hawkesbury and Grenville but confided his political observations to the former. To Hawkesbury he said that he had gone to Nantucket “to collect the present situation of the Inhabitants, their expectations from the Legislature of the United States, and their sentiments towards G.B.” He reported the Nantucketers to be in an extremely distressed situation, found them a virtuous, industrious people with a decency and sobriety of behavior quite uncommon among seafarers, and strongly recommended them as an object worthy of the attention of the ministry: “A colony of such men, My Lord, established at Milford Haven would be productive of the greatest national benefit. It would be a school for Naval adventure in which Welch youth might learn to unite good morals with a perfect knowledge of their profession. I was led to inquire what provision the government of this country had made or intended to make to secure to herself so valuable a people. I found none had been made or in contemplation. On the contrary the situation of these Islanders was much worse than any under Government.” Further, he thought favors granted by France to American oil had been or soon would be withdrawn. “Should a prohibition of this branch of the fishery either in British or American vessels take place,” he added, “… these people will have no resource left. They are, My Lord, sensible of these truths. Indeed, the daily depreciation of their property convinces them beyond a doubt that an adherence to their present pursuit is utterly impossible.” Stokes concluded with an accurate prediction of matters that would come before Congress—the bank, an excise tax, and a navigation bill discriminatory against Great Britain which, if adopted, would be followed with one designed to place the carrying trade of the United States in American vessels. However, he gave Hawkesbury the comforting assurance that the navigation bill would “receive a powerful and certain Negative from the Northern interest,” which he thought was almost unanimously opposed to it. But he also reported serious violations of the British navigation act in the forgery of Mediterranean passes and the sale of blank certificates of British registry falsely used to cover American vessels (Stokes to Hawkesbury, 25 Nov. 1790; British Museum: Liverpool Papers, xxxvi, f. 342–5; see also Stokes to Hawkesbury, 14 Nov. 1791, same, xxxviii, f. 131–8).

On the same day Stokes reported to Grenville on the situation of the Nantucketers. He found that the elder William Rotch had already returned to Dunkirk and that Samuel Rodman, his son-in-law who was concluding the family business at Nantucket, would soon follow. But the other inhabitants were more cautious. Stokes thought them generally uninformed “excepting what relates to the peculiarly beautiful system of sobriety and economy attached to their fishery,” hence not likely to make new arrangements unless there were immediate prospects of gain. Nevertheless, they had so much confidence in Rotch that if his interview with Hawkesbury were successful, Stokes thought eight or ten vessels could immediately be attached to the Southern whale fishery out of Milford-Haven, to be increased to forty in a year or so. However, if Rotch could not be induced to settle there, it would be difficult to persuade the others. “If then, Sir, G.B. is determined upon securing to herself this valuable people,” Stokes concluded, “now I think is the moment. … They have nothing to expect from their own Government. … The memorial they have presented has been unattended to, and these valuable people will be in the course of a few years entirely lost to every country.” Stokes left with Rodman the plans and measures adopted by the British government for the development of Milford-Haven, to be used “only with confidential people” until Rotch’s decision became known. He then departed for Halifax to try to persuade the fishermen there to use their influence with the Nantucketers (Stokes to Grenville, 25 Nov. 1790; British Museum: Liverpool Papers, xxxvi, f. 340–1).

But Greville’s ambitious plans did not materialize beyond the settlement of a few Nova Scotia whalemen at Milford, for the earlier invitation was not renewed by the British government. Even that had been stoutly opposed by merchants who believed that the admission of “40 ships foreign built and navigated and owned by foreigners to privileges of British ship owners would be such an infringement of the Navigation Act as would scarcely admit of adequate compensation,” besides being impolitic and unjust to unemployed British seamen (Samuel Green, Secretary of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, to Lord Penrhyn, 21 Apr. 1788; same, xxxiv, f. 39–40). But after Greville had set out to detach the Nantucketers and to build up his establishment at Milford, he ran into even more formidable obstacles in the form of the entrenched Committee of South Whalers from London. In 1792 in a blunt letter to the Committee, he charged that their influence with Hawkesbury in 1785 had “tended to limit the liberality and justice of this Country to the Nantucketers,” thus depriving him of the opportunity to settle Rotch and his family at Milford. The result, he declared, confirmed his “prediction to the Privy Council in 1784 that France would gain a Whale Fishery from our Folly and that we should lose that Market and establish a Competitor formidable if the fishery was established and the Trade conducted by Nantucketers.” But he did not come as a supplicant and had not previously asked their cooperation because he “neither wanted your Weight of Interest nor your Capital.” Further, he foresaw that the system of whaling “by Great Capitals who engage from the River with fresh Crews every voyage” would eventually fail for want of skilled and experienced whalemen, hence his own modest nursery at Milford would eventually benefit the whaling carried on by London capitalists. His own limited object was only to bring over the whalemen from Dunkirk and those Nantucketers connected by blood or property with those at Dartmouth whom he had agreed to settle at Milford-Haven. Thus, by destroying the competition from France and stifling those left at Nantucket, there would be “a common Interest existing between all the Whale Fishers of G.B. to embarrass and annihilate the Foreign and Colonial Whale Fishery, and a Nursery of Harpooners, Masters &ca. … be formed at home.” He desired to cooperate in all “subsequent measures necessary to confine to G.B. the benefits of the Whale Fishery, which has taken Root in France, N. Scotia and survives in America from the contracted policy which has prevailed since the year 1786” (Greville to John St. Barbe, 7 July 1792, British Museum: Liverpool Papers, xxxix, f. 19–20). The response was brief and emphatic: “You know the sentiments of our Committee. … We cannot join you on any account. The fishery being now perfectly established in Great Britain, we are under no apprehension of its being injured by the Trade carried on out of America. … If Government wishes to give encouragement to small ships fitting out on a frugal plan, it must be totally distinct and under a different head from that of the Southern Fishery” (St. Barbe to Greville; 2 Aug. 1792; same, xxxix, f. 19–20).

Greville then appealed to Pitt and Hawkesbury, reminded the latter of the assurances given him in the spring of 1790, and urged government to meet what he regarded as an honorable engagement. But Hawkesbury, deeply interested in the Southern whale fishery in whose fleet one vessel was appreciatively named The Lord Hawkesbury, declined to intercede (see especially, Greville to Hawkesbury, 2 Jan., 4 May, 14 and 25 Aug., 11 Sep. 1792; 21 Jan., 1 Feb. 1793; and Greville’s memorandum, 22 Apr. 1793; Hawkesbury to Greville, 29 Aug. 1792, 25 Jan. 1793; Greville to Sheffield, ca. Mch. 1793; Sheffield to Hawkesbury, 5 Mch. 1793; George Chalmers to Hawkesbury, 19 and 30 Apr. 1793; British Museum: Liverpool Papers, xxxviii, f. 203, 330; xxxix, f. 7–8, 9–18, 19–20, 21, 34–5, 51–2, 225–8, 235–6, 247–52, 351, 352; XL, 13, 14–15, 16–22).

The distressed Nantucket whalemen, Stokes had accurately predicted, had “nothing to expect from their own Government.” Greville who had sent him on his mission now discovered too late that the British ministry was equally apathetic.

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