Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Oliver Pollock, 27 February 1792

From Oliver Pollock

Philadelphia February 27th: 1792.


The peculiar predicament in which I am placed will I hope in some measure apologize for troubling you with this Letter.

In the year 1783 the United States were pleased to appoint me their Commercial Agent at the Havana at which place I resided in that character until 1785. It is not necessary to detail to you the Embarrassments that I met with in that Government from my Creditors or rather those of the United States and of the State of Virginia, by whose orders I had run in Debt for large sums at New-Orleans during my Agency in the Contest with Great Britain. Let it suffice to say that I have lately settled and paid off his Catholic Majesty’s Commissioners all the Debts which I had contracted with his Majesty or his subjects at New-Orleans and the Havana. I therefore now come to request your interference with his Catholic Majesty’s Commissioners respecting the sum of 9574 ¼ Dollars in the enclosed Affidavit mentioned with the Interest since the Day of attachment which sum was taken and detained from me ever since, on account of the Bills I drew by order of the Executive of Virginia, which you no doubt must recollect as that order was cloathed with your own signature as Governor of that State. I have made sundry attempts with the Commrs. of his Catholic Majesty to have this sum discounted out of the monies I owed to his subjects but all in vain, and all communication between the United States and the Havana being prohibited I have never had it in my power to receive the money or any compensation therefor. The fact I believe, is that the Government at the Havana has recovered the money for my account, in consequence of which I beg your application to his Catholic Majesty’s Commissioners for it.

It may probably be urged by that Government that the money or some part thereof was never recovered from the Bakers and that from the length of time they are now Dead or become Bankrupts, but as Government then put it out of my power to recover those Debts; I must expect redress from them or the State of Virginia for my private property that was wrested from me on account of her Debts. I make no demand of my carriage and Mules as the late Count de Galvez on his arrival at the Havana as Governor very generously restored them to me.—I have the Honor to be Sir, Your most Obedient and Most Humble Servant,

Olr. Pollock

RC (DNA: RG 360, PCC); endorsed by TJ twice as received 28 Feb. 1792 and so recorded in SJL.

Pollock’s claim stemmed from his failure to receive payment from some bakers in Havana for flour he supplied them during his term of service as American commercial agent to Cuba from 1783 to 1785. The government of Cuba made it impossible for him to recover this money by imprisoning him for eighteen months at the behest of some of his importunate creditors in New Orleans. TJ referred Pollock’s claim to the Spanish agents in Philadelphia, but Pollock never obtained the money he sought (TJ to Jaudenes and Viar, 4 Mch. 1792; Jaudenes and Viar to TJ, 7 Mch. 1792; James A. James, Oliver Pollock: The Life and Times of an Unknown Patriot [New York, 1937], p. 285–96, 327–44).

Prior to writing this letter, Pollock had given TJ information about the environs of New Orleans, where he had lived the previous two years between the time in Havana and coming to Philadelphia to press his claims. TJ’s notes, headed “Oliver Pollock’s informn. Feb. 18. 1792,” were used in his report to Washington of 18 Mch. 1792 and read as follows: “The country on the Western side of N. Orleans is not entirely sunken, but capable of being reclaimed by banks as the Eastern side. Particularly opposite to the town of N. Orleans the ground is as high as that of the town.—From the town of N. Orleans downwards quite to the Detour aux Anglois, if the bank was continued, it would reclaim the ground, and even below that turn. The site of Fort Ste. Marie is never overflowed, but the insulated ground is very small indeed, perhaps an acre. The fort was on a high bank. It is about 100 yards from the fort to the water side along a sloping descent, and for half a mile up and down the river the deep water is so close to the Eastern bank that a ship lays at it as at a wharf. About a league back to the lake where there is a Spanish town. The ground rises from the Missisipi to the lake. Fort St. Marie a fine place for a trading town, more accessible to the sea than N. Orleans, but N. Orleans has the advantage of a gut or water communication with the lake back.—The island of N. Orleans 60. leagues long, and the town is about half way it’s length. The channel of the river Missisipi is extremely crooked, crossing perpetually from one side to the other. And wherever there is deep water and a strong current on one side, there are shoals on the other and an eddy setting up <on the other>. Were it not for these eddies the river could not be navigated upwards. The boats cross over from eddy to eddy and go up the eddy. Hence the river would be useless to both Americans and Spaniards were not it free to both in it’s whole breadth” (MS in DLC).

Pollock’s information on New Orleans was one of several sources TJ drew on for his report of 18 Mch. One, undated, entirely in TJ’s hand was headed: “Mr. Wooster’s informn”, and docketed by TJ: “New Orleans Wooster’s informn.” (MS in DLC: TJ Papers, 80:13907); another undated document in the hand of James Madison was headed: “Information of Phil. Barbour, who resided long in West Florida” (MS in same, 80:13911); and an undated document entirely in TJ’s hand headed: “from commencmt. of the Iberville to N. Orleans,” docketed on verso containing some previous notations lined out: “Min. &c.-New Orleans” (MS in same, 80:13878).

Index Entries