Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Stephen Cathalan, Jr., 5 July 1791

From Stephen Cathalan, Jr.

Marseilles, 5 July 1791. He wrote on 10th of June by a vessel for New York. This goes by one direct for Philadelphia and is only to convey a letter from Captain Richard O’Bryen which will inform TJ of the situation of the captives in Algiers better than he could. He awaits TJ’s orders on that business and will not go further until he answers his letter of [22] Jan.

He hopes that the olive trees will succeed in Carolina. The parcel of 197 hhds. of tobacco mentioned in his of 20 [i.e., 23] May sold at about £4.5livre tournois per quintal. Little remains unsold. The first arrivals will find ready sales and good prices. No American wheat or flour has arrived. Wheat would bring £35livre tournois to 36.livre tournois and flour 38.livre tournois France has been in a crisis on account of the flight of the King and his family. There were no fatal accidents on his return because of the good measures taken by Lafayette. What turn events will take God knows! Foreign powers may interpose if a total change in the form of government should be adopted. Meanwhile, foreign envoys have declared to Montmorin that they could no longer correspond with him until they receive orders from their courts.

He is yet without news from William Short. He has performed sundry legal acts for merchants of Marseilles who have business in the United States, doing this “Gratis, till the Law will be established for Perquisites of the Consular offices.” [P.S.] He hopes all parties will save the kingdom from total ruin by “a Sincere reunion of hearths to a Single Sprit.”

RC (DNA: RG 59, CD). Recorded in SJL as received 22 Sep. 1791. Enclosure: “Abstract of a Letter from Capn. Richd. Obrien to Stephen Cathalan, Junr. at Marseilles,” dated “City of Bondage” 11 June 1791, acknowledging his of the 5th and assuring him that the Regency would never abate the price asked for their release, since it required slaves to build and fit out its cruisers; that the efforts of Lamb and others were known to be under the authority of Congress, hence the plain question to be faced is for that body or its envoys to declare that the price of 17,225 sequins is too great and the captives will not be redeemed on such terms, since this is the manner of the Algerines’ dealings with all nations; that he hoped “to the Almighty God that an answer will be given, either Liberty or Bondage, not to keep us in this state of suspence,” this being the sixth year of their captivity, during which time Congress has been kept fully informed of their situation; that he fears the favorable opportunity Congress had to make peace with the Regency has been almost irrevocably lost; that the sum asked for their release is not high considering the current price of slaves; and that no business could be done with the Regency without bribing the ministry. O’Bryen thanked Cathalan for his offers to help, but assured him that even the most miserable of the slaves would view this as a confirmation of a longer captivity and might “perhaps be the means through an abyss of Dispair and Grief of making some of us try to get clear of a Life which seems to be a Burthen of Torment.” He concluded by assuring Cathalan that anything he wrote would be kept as a profound secret and that any light he could shed on the subject of their ransom would be gratefully received, “Particularly what may be the answer of Congress to the enquiries of Monsr. Paret,” since all depended on that important response (Tr in DNA: RG 59, CD; attested by Cathalan with the seal of the consulate attached on 4 July 1791, from “the original … in the Chancelary of the Consulate”).

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