Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from George Hammond, 5 July 1792

From George Hammond

Philadelphia 5th July 1792.


I have the honor of submitting to your consideration copies of certain papers, which I have received from Canada. They contain information that some persons, acting under the authority of the State of Vermont, have attempted to exercise legal jurisdiction within districts now occupied by the King’s troops, and have committed acts of violence on the persons and property of British Subjects residing under the protection of his Majesty’s garrisons.

At this period, when the grounds of the subsisting differences between our respective countries are become the subjects of serious and temperate discussion, I cannot but entertain the strongest confidence that the general government of the United States will entirely disapprove of the violent conduct observed by the State of Vermont upon this occasion, and will in consequence thereof adopt such measures as may be best calculated to prevent a repetition of it in future. I have the honor to be, with sentiments of the most perfect consideration, Sir, Your most obedient, humble servant,

Geo. Hammond

RC (DNA: RG 59, NL); endorsed by TJ as received 5 July 1792 and so recorded in SJL. FC (Lb in PRO: FO, 116/1). Tr (same, 4/16). Tr (VtMS); in the hand of George Taylor, Jr. PrC (DLC). Tr (Lb in DNA: RG 59, NL). Enclosures: (1) Order by Justices of the Peace Samuel Mott and Benjamin Marvin, Alburgh, 16 May 1792, in the name of the governor of Vermont, directing all qualified inhabitants of Alburgh to gather in town meeting on 7 June 1792 and organize a town government according to state law. (2) Judge Elijah Paine of the Vermont Supreme Court to the Sheriff or deputies of Chittenden County, Burlington, 15 May 1792, directing them to notify Patrick Conroy to appear before the court on 28 Aug. 1792 to answer a complaint by Vermont Attorney General Samuel Hitchcock that he was acting as justice of the peace at Alburgh without legal authority from the state. (3) Extract from Declaration of Minard Yeomans, St. Johns, 9 June 1792, stating that on the morning of 8 June 1792 Vermont Deputy Sheriff and Constable Eneus Wood with three assistants came to Patrick Conroy’s house in Caldwell’s Manor, found him absent, and seized his cattle; that Yeomans informed Captain Savage of these actions and was instructed to notify Captain Deschambault at Pointe-au-Fer; and that in the meantime Captain Savage with a party of British soldiers captured Wood and his associates and retrieved most of Conroy’s cattle (Trs in VtMS, in Taylor’s hand; PrCs in DLC; Trs in DNA, RG 59, NL). TJ enclosed Hammond’s letter in a brief note to Washington of the same date commenting that it “will be difficult to answer properly” (RC in DNA: RG 59, MLR; Tr in Lb in same, SDC).

Hammond’s complaints about the organization of town government in Alburgh, Vermont, and the legal proceedings brought against Patrick Conroy, a British official who occasionally acted as justice of the peace there, stemmed in the first instance from his government’s decision to retain possession of eight posts on American soil in contravention of the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War. Situated on Lake Champlain in the extreme northwestern corner of Vermont, Alburgh was located within several miles of the disputed post of Pointe-au-Fer and just a few miles south of the 45° boundary line between Canada and the United States. Because of its close proximity to Pointe-au-Fer, the British laid claim to a right of jurisdiction over Alburgh, opposing efforts by federal and state officials to exercise authority over any British subjects in the area and seeking to discourage further American settlement there. Lord Dorchester, the governor-general of Canada, instructed British civil and military officials that such American efforts were to be regarded as hostile acts and repelled by force. These British jurisdictional pretensions were extremely unpopular in Vermont, as TJ had learned during a tour of the state in the course of his northern journey in 1791 (Report on Canadian Archives, [1890], 281–2, 285–6, 288; Mayo, British Ministers, description begins Bernard Mayo, ed., “Instructions to the British Ministers to the United States 1791–1812,” American Historical Association, Annual Report, 1936 description ends 15–16; TJ to Washington, 5 June 1791, Document vii in group of documents on Jefferson’s northern journey in Vol. 20: 466–7; James B. Wilbur, Ira Allen: Founder of Vermont, 1751–1814, 2 vols. [Boston, 1928], ii, 4–5; W. A. Mackintosh, “Canada and Vermont: A Study in Historical Geography,” Canadian Historical Review, viii [1927], 9–30; Edward Brynn, “Vermont and the British Emporium, 1765–1865,” Vermont History, xlv [1977], 5–26).

Alburgh’s population of 500 consisted mainly of Canadians and Americans holding conflicting land titles and professing different national loyalties. For almost a decade a dispute had subsisted between Ira Allen, a political ally of Governor Thomas Chittenden, and Henry Caldwell, a prominent Canadian political and military leader, over conflicting claims to the township. Allen asserted the priority of his grant from the Vermont legislature while Caldwell grounded his claim on a prior French grant that had been accepted as valid by the British government (hence the frequent designation of Alburgh as Caldwell’s Manor in correspondence at this time). The conflict between Allen and Caldwell had prevented the formation of civil government in Alburgh and encouraged the Americans and Canadians who had settled the town under their respective auspices to withhold rents from the opposing claimants (Wilbur, Ira Allen, i, 180, 437, 492–3, ii, 26–9, 343; Report on Canadian Archives, [1889], 53, 56; Abby Maria Hemenway, The Vermont Historical Gazetteer, 5 vols. [Burlington, Montpelier, and Brandon, 1868–91], ii, 487–9; Guy O. Coolidge, “The French Occupation of the Champlain Valley from 1609 to 1759,” Vermont Historical Society, Proceedings, vi [1938], 229–31; Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 11 vols. [Toronto, 1966– ], v, 130–3).

Governor Chittenden’s decision in May 1792 to organize a town government in Alburgh initially provoked a sharp British reaction. Early in June 1792 British soldiers from Pointe-au-Fer arrested and temporarily detained a Vermont deputy sheriff and some of his assistants for attempting to serve a writ of attachment on Patrick Conroy (Enclosure No. 3 above). Soon thereafter Conroy and another party of British troops from this post sought to prevent two Vermont justices of the peace from carrying out their duties in Alburgh. In justification of this action, the commander of Pointe-au-Fer cited “orders directing him to oppose & take into Custody any Officer Acting under any other Power than that of Great Briton within those Limits which are now known & distinguised by the Name of Alburgh.” Chittenden thereupon complained to Lieutenant Governor Alured Clarke of Lower Canada about these efforts to frustrate the extension of Vermont’s authority over Alburgh, and referred what he deemed to be “so flagrant a breach of the Laws of Nations, and the late treaty with great Britain” to the President, who immediately brought his complaint to the attention of the Secretary of State (Deposition of Benjamin Marvin, 15 June 1792, Chittenden to Washington, 16 June 1792, Vermont Records description begins E. P. Walton, ed., Records of the Governor and Council of the State of Vermont, Montpelier, 1873–80, 8 vols. description ends , iv, 459–60, 468).

Fearful that unilateral action by Vermont might imperil his diplomatic efforts to secure British evacuation of the posts, the Secretary of State, after conferring with Washington, asserted the paramountcy of the federal government in the conduct of foreign affairs. He urged Chittenden to respect the status quo in those parts of the state over which the British claimed jurisdiction so as to avoid giving Britain any pretext for suspending negotiations on this issue, while at the same time asking the governor to comment on the substance of Hammond’s complaints so that he could deal more effectively with them (TJ to Chittenden, 9, 12 July 1792). In keeping with this policy, the Secretary of State refrained from taking any action on Chittenden’s charges pending the governor’s response to his request for information, and he informed the British minister of the steps he had taken to prevent a recurrence of the conflict (TJ to Washington, 30 July, 19 Aug. 1792; TJ to Hammond, 6, 9, 12 July 1792). Hammond soon after notified his government that in addition to these welcome measures, “Mr. Hamilton and General Knox have expressed to me the most pointed, unequivocal disapprobation of the violent conduct of the State of Vermont, and their conviction, that it is the duty and interest of the United States to use every effort to prevent a repetition of it” (Hammond to Grenville, 17 July 1792, in PRO: FO 4/16).

TJ satisfied the British minister at the cost of offending the governor and legislature of Vermont. Chittenden ignored TJ’s requests for an explanation of his actions in the Alburgh affair, and in October 1792 submitted the letters he had received from TJ and a host of other pertinent documents to the Vermont Assembly. Resentful at TJ’s failure to support Vermont’s claims in this dispute, the assembly praised Chittenden’s actions throughout the Alburgh controversy and charged that “the letters written by Mr. Jefferson, to his Excellency the Governor of this State, must have been founded on a mistaking of facts, which must have been received from Canada.” In consequence, the legislators advised the governor to submit a statement of the case to the President in order to show that “Alburgh is not occupied by the British troops, nor under their protection.” Chittenden evidently saw no need to prepare such a statement because by this time the British had abandoned their efforts to prevent the institution of town government in Alburgh, thereby tacitly recognizing the legitimacy of Vermont’s jurisdiction (Report of Committee of Vermont Assembly, 20 Oct. 1792, and Depositions of Reuben Garlick, 31 July 1792, and Benjamin Marvin, 18 Oct. 1792, Vermont Records, description begins E. P. Walton, ed., Records of the Governor and Council of the State of Vermont, Montpelier, 1873–80, 8 vols. description ends iv, 469–71).

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