Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to George Hammond, 15 December 1791

To George Hammond

Philadelphia Dec. 15. 1791.


I am to acknolege the honor of your letter of Nov. 30. and to express the satisfaction with which we learn that you are instructed to discuss with us the measures which reason and practicability may dictate for giving effect to the stipulations of our treaty yet remaining to be executed. I can assure you on the part of the United States, of every disposition to lessen difficulties, by passing over whatever is of smaller concern, and insisting on those matters only which either justice to individuals, or public policy render indispensable. And in order to simplify our discussions by defining precisely their objects, I have the honor to propose that we shall begin by specifying, on each side, the particular acts which each considers to have been done by the other in contravention of the treaty. I shall set the example.

The Provisional and Definitive treaties, in their VIIth. article, stipulated that ‘his Britannic majesty should with all convenient speed, and without causing any destruction, or carrying away any negroes or other property of the American inhabitants, withdraw all his armies, garrisons and fleets from the sd. United States and from every port, place and harbour within the same.’

But 1. the British garrisons were not withdrawn with all convenient speed nor have ever yet been withdrawn from
Michillimackinac, on Lake Michigan: Detroit on the streight of Lakes Erie and Huron;
Fort Erie, on Lake Erie;

Niagara } on Lake Ontario;

Oswegatchie, on the river St. Laurence;

Point au fer, and } on Lake Champlain.
Dutchman’s point

2. The British officers have undertaken to exercise a jurisdiction over the country and inhabitants in the vicinities of those forts; and 3. they have excluded the citizens of the United States from navigating even on our side of the middle line of the rivers and lakes established as the boundary between the two nations.

By these proceedings we have been intercepted entirely from the Commerce of furs with the Indian nations to the Northward: a commerce which had ever been of great importance to the United states, not only for its intrinsic value, but as it was the means of cherishing peace with those Indians, and of superseding the necessity of that expensive warfare, we have been obliged to carry on with them, during the time that these posts have been in other hands.

On withdrawing the troops from New York, 1. a large embarcation of negroes, of the property of the inhabitants of the U.S. took place, before the Commissioners, on our part, for inspecting and superintending embarcations had arrived there, and without any account ever rendered thereof. 2. Near three thousand others were publicly carried away by the avowed order of the British commanding officer, and under the view and against the remonstrances of our Commissioners: 3. a very great number were carried off in private vessels, if not by the express permission, yet certainly without opposition on the part of the commanding officer, who alone had the means of preventing it, and without admitting the inspection of the American commissioners: and 4. of other species of property carried away, the commanding officer permitted no examination at all. In support of these facts I have the honour to inclose you documents, a list of which will be subjoined: and in addition to them, I beg leave to refer to a roll, signed by the joint commissioners, and delivered to your Commanding officer for transmission to his court, containing a description of the negroes publicly carried away by his order as beforementioned, with a copy of which you have doubtless been furnished.

A difference of opinion too having arisen, as to the river intended by the Plenipotentiaries to be the boundary between us and the dominions of Great Britain, and by them called the St. Croix, which name, it seems, is given to two different rivers, the ascertaining of this point becomes a matter of present urgency. It has heretofore been the subject of applications from us to the government of Great Britain.

There are other smaller matters between the two nations, which remain to be adjusted, but I think it would be better to refer these for settlement through the ordinary channel of our ministers, than to embarrass the present important discussions with them. They can never be obstacles to friendship and harmony.

Permit me now, Sir, to ask from you a specification of the particular acts, which, being considered by his Britannic majesty as a noncompliance on our part with the engagements contained in the IVth. Vth. and VIth. articles of the treaty induced him to suspend the execution of the VIIth. and render a separate discussion of them inadmissible. And accept assurances of the high respect & esteem with which I have the honor to be, Sir, Your most obedient & most humble servant,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “George Hammond esq. M.P. of G.B.”; TJ also listed at the end of the letter the “Documents referred to and inclosed.” Enclosures: (1) Sir Guy Carleton to Gen. Washington (Extract), 12 May 1783. (2) American Commissioners to Sir Guy Carleton, 24 May 1783. (3) Mr. Morgann (for Sir Guy Carleton) to American Commissioners, 29 May 1783. (4) American Commissioners to Sir Guy Carleton, 9 June 1783. (5) American Commissioners to General Washington, 14 June 1783. (6) American Commissioners to Sir Guy Carleton (Extract), 17 June 1783. (7) American Commissioners to General Washington, 18 Jan. 1784. FC (DNA: RG 59, SDR). Tr (DNA: RG 360, DL).

TJ copied the list of British occupied Garrisons in the U.S. from a letter written him by Henry Knox, probably at TJ’s request (Knox to TJ, 2 Dec. 1791, RC in DLC).

Hammond was caught off guard by TJ’s decision to raise the issue of the American slaves carried off by the British Army and that of the northeastern boundary between the United States and Canada. Consequently, when the minister transmitted a copy of the present letter and its supporting documentation to England, he noted in an accompanying dispatch to the British secretary for foreign affairs: “Your Lordship will perceive from the papers two points, to which no reference is made in my instructions, viz. the claim of the negroes carried away at the time of evacuating New York and the ascertainment of the boundary by fixing the true position of the St. Croix. With respect to the first point, whenever the discussion shall take place, it is my intention, in addition to the arguments, which were alleged by Lord Dorchester, to treat the matter upon principles somewhat more extended. With this view, I shall state that the letter (and I firmly believe the spirit) of the treaty of peace cannot be supposed to apply to any other description of Negroes than such as were the actual property of the inhabitants of the United States, at the period of the cessation of hostilities—that, of the Negroes, carried away from New York, under the permission and protection of Lord Dorchester, part may be presumed to have been captured during the war, and were consequently booty acquired by the rights of war: But that the principal part of them had fled to the British lines, in consequence of proclamations issued by the British Commanders in Chief (who were at the time in the exercise of legal authority in the country) which promised to them freedom upon their joining the British army—and that this description of Negroes, thus emancipated, had acquired indefeasible rights of personal liberty, of which the British government was not competent to deprive them, by reducing them again to a state of slavery, and to the domination of their ancient masters.—In regard to the second point (the ascertainment of the true position of the river St. Croix) I shall refer—to one of the negotiators of the treaty (Mr. Adams) who, I am privately informed, has expressed much uncertainty upon the subject—to the belief and knowledge of the inhabitants bordering upon that river—and (if it can be procured) to an authentic record, existing in the archives of Massachusets Bay, which is said to establish our interpretation of the boundary beyond the possibility of dispute” (Hammond to Grenville, 19 Dec. 1791, PRO: FO 4/11, f. 255–9).

TJ’s preliminary statement of alleged British violations of the Treaty of Paris was undercut from an unexpected quarter. Unbeknownst to the Secretary of State, Hammond conveyed the substance of TJ’s letter to Alexander Hamilton. In the Secretary’s opinion it was imperative for Great Britain to evacuate the western posts in accordance with its treaty obligations, but he assured the British minister that “it might perhaps still be possible to grant to his Majesty’s subjects such privileges and immunities in the respective posts as would protect and secure them in the undisturbed prosecution of the Fur Trade”; that he personally did not attach as much importance as “other members of this government” to the issue of slave compensation; and that he believed that the British position on the northeastern boundary would “be found accurate” (Conversation with George Hammond, [1–8 Jan. 1792], Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–1979, 26 vols. description ends , x, 493–4). This proved to be the first in a long series of secret efforts by Hamilton to interfere in the ongoing negotiations between TJ and Hammond.

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