Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to David Humphreys, 26 July 1791

To David Humphreys

Philadelphia July 26. 1791.

Dear Sir

Mr. Robert Morris this moment informs me that a person of the name of William Duncan, formerly of this state, sailed from hence about the year 1785,1 and has never been since heard of till lately that his mother has been informed by some one, who says he has been at Algiers, that this Wm. Duncan is there in captivity. I am therefore to ask the favour of you to take the first opportunity of having enquiry made at Algiers into this fact, and if you find it true, Mr. Morris wishes you to ransome the person and obliges himself to answer the ransom-money. I presume Capt. Obrian can inform you if there be such a person, and it might be well to ask of him further if there be any Americans in the dominion of Algiers other than those I have named to you.—I am with sincere esteem Dear Sir Your friend & servt,

Th: Jefferson

RC (NjP); addressed: “A Monsieur Monsieur Humphreys Resident des E. U. d’Amerique à Lisbonne”; endorsed. PrC (DLC). FC (DNA: RG 59, DCI).

William Duncan, presumably lost at sea, was never one of the captives of the Algerines (Humphreys to TJ, 30 Mch. 1792). The “some one” who informed his mother that he was held prisoner there was one James Reynolds. On the circumstances which suggest that this was another instance of imposition practised upon the families of Algerine captives and that the person making the report was none other than James Reynolds, a known reprobate who was involved in the notorious episode concerning Alexander Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds, see Vol. 18: Appendix, note 89. The fact that Robert Morris interested himself in the case lends support to the supposition there advanced. It is also possible that Morris was the one who prompted the similar appeal to the British government in May 1791 which is referred to in that note.

William Duncan was probably the person of that name who was part owner of the ship Rebecca She was registered in Philadelphia in 1775 and was built there the preceding year (PMHB description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1877– description ends , xxxix, 195).

1Thus in MS, probably an error for 1775 (see Vol. 18: Appendix, note 89).

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