Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from David Humphreys, 23 January 1793

From David Humphreys

Lisbon Janry 23d. 1793.


My last public letter to you was dated Janry. 7th. and acknowledged the receipt of yours of Novr. 6th. Since that time, I have received your previous Dispatch in date July 12th, by way of Madeira. By these it appears that all my letters, except No. 52. had come to hand. Should that have finally miscarried, I will send a copy that the series may be complete.

The Papers transmitted herewith relate to our Captives at Algiers. No. 1. is the letter from Captn. Obrian, which I omitted by mistake to enclose in my last. No. 2. is the extract of a letter of Novr. 2nd. 1792 from him to Messrs. John Bulkeley & Son. No. 3. is my answer to Captn. Obrian. And No. 4. my last letter to Mr. Carmichael. From these, and former communications an adequate idea may be formed of the state of the subject. And I hope by this ulterior arrangement the Captives cannot fail to receive all the relief of which, in their situation, they are susceptable; and that my proceedings will meet the approbation of Government.

Mr. Barclay, Consul for Morocco, who arrived here from Cadiz on tuesday last, died on Saturday. His sudden death is supposed to have been occasioned by an inflamation of the lungs. After having received Dispatches from Mr. Pinkney, by a special Messenger, he informed you from Cadiz of the necessity he found himself under of coming here to obtain the Money he had occasion for, and that he could probably effect it without informing any Person but myself of the business. Two days before his death, we went to the Exchange together, and entered into arrangements for drawing the Money. He complained of a slight fever, costiveness and raging thirst for water, for some time. That night he took Medicine. On friday he mostly kept his bed; I conversed with him, however, a good deal on business; and when I left him he told me he hoped to be well in two or three days. Next morning I was sent for early, and finding his life despaired of by the Physicians, I immediately took possession of all the Papers contained in the Dispatches from Mr. Pinkney to him. And I am fully certain, no Person in Europe (except Mr. Pinkney and myself) is acquainted with their contents. I have written to Mr. Pinkney, that I shall await your or his orders for their disposal; of which I take the earliest occasion to advise you.

Happily we had not proceeded so far in the Money transaction, but that I have been able to break it off without incurring loss. For had the business proceeded there must have been some loss in the Exchange.

From the time Mr. Barclay was apprehended to be in danger, he was never able to pronounce more than a word or two at a time; or to give the least information respecting the public affairs or his own. After his death, upon searching (with the assistance of Mr. Harrison Consular Agent for the U.S.) the Papers which he brought here, I have not been able to find any Invoice, Receipt, Memorandum or Document, relative to the Property of the U.S. which was destined for the Morocco negociation; nor any Key except one which appears to belong to a small Portfeuille. I am confident the Presents &c. are at Gibralter, but I do not know in whose possession they are. To ascertain this, and prevent their being lost or embezzled, I propose making use of the earliest possible opportunity to go myself to Gibralter. In taking this step without waiting for orders, I hope my zeal may not be imputed to me as a fault: since it must be known, I could not have any motive, but a desire to serve the public interest even beyond the line of my immediate duty, in encountring the inconvenience and expence of the voyage, at this very inclement Season. With Sentiments of sincere respect & esteem I have the honour to be Sir, Your most obedt. & most hble Servt

D. Humphreys

RC (DNA: RG 59, DD); at head of text: “(No. 64.)”; at foot of text: “The Secretary of State &c. &c. &c.”; endorsed by TJ as received 16 Mch. 1793 and so recorded in SJL. Dupl (same, MDC); at head of text: “(Duplicate)”; note at foot of text: “N.B. I have not time to copy the enclosures sent in the original, or a letter addressed to the President in the same; I shall, therefore, be anxious to hear of their arrival. D.H.” Tr (Lb in same, DD). Enclosures: (1) Richard O’Bryen to Humphreys, Algiers, 12 Nov. 1792, describing efforts by the Spanish consul in Algiers to bring about a treaty between Algiers and Portugal, reflecting on the adverse consequences such a treaty would have on the fate of the American captives in Algiers and on American commerce, noting attempts by the same consul to persuade Algiers to break its peace with France so as to engross the Mediterranean trade, and bitterly lamenting the failure of efforts to free the American seamen (RC in same; Tr in Lb in same). (2) Extract from O’Bryen to [John Bulkeley & Son], Algiers, 2 Nov. 1792, stating that, since receiving William Carmichael’s letter of November last acknowledging Congress’s orders to pay the captives’ debts and continue their usual pay, he has written “many letters but can obtain no answer,” and that on the basis of Carmichael’s letter he has tried to procure some monthly subsistence for the most desperate of his fellow prisoners, “but as we can have no farther account on this subject, our credit has entirely failed.” (3) Humphreys to O’Bryen, 19 Jan. 1793, stating that there was no prospect of an Algerine-Portuguese peace treaty, expressing surprise at the failure of Carmichael and Robert Montgomery to provide subsistence for the captives, and authorizing O’Bryen to contract for the supply of provisions and clothing to the prisoners formerly furnished by the Spanish consul, to collect the accounts of bona fide debts due for their subsistence and maintenance, and to draw bills of exchange for both purposes on Humphreys’s bankers, John Bulkeley & Son. (4) Humphreys to Carmichael, 20 Jan. 1793, authorizing him to pay the bills of exchange for the debt the United States owes to Don Joseph Torino in the event Humphreys is in Gibraltar attending to the property of the United States relating to the Moroccan business left by the recently deceased Thomas Barclay, and enclosing a copy of his letter to O’Bryen (Trs in same; Trs in Lb in same).


For the dispatches from Mr. Pinkney, see TJ to John Paul Jones, 1 June 1792, and Washington to Thomas Barclay, 11 June 1792, and note. Concerning the Morocco negociation, see Instructions for Thomas Barclay, 13 May 1791. The 23 Jan. 1793 “letter addressed to the President” that Humphreys mentioned in his note on the Dupl consisted for the most part of an appeal for the appointment of someone to take custody of the goods entrusted to Barclay for his mission to Morocco (DLC: Washington Papers).

TJ submitted this letter and its enclosures to the President on 16 Mch. 1793, and Washington returned them the next day (Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 91–2, 93).

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