Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Biddle, 31 May 1793

From James Biddle

May 31. 1793


I have taken proper measures to discover the person complained of for the Insult to the national flag of France tending to provoke the french Citizens to Acts of Outrage and breach of the publick peace—and have issued a Warrant to apprehend the Offender which I doubt not will be executed. While I am now sitting in Court an Application is made on behalf of one John L. Steele Second Mate of the Ship Active Captn. Blair who it is alledged was assaulted while peaceable in the street the Night before last about ten o’Clock by a large body of the Crew of the Ambuscade and taken and carried on board the Little Sally and from thence to the Ambuscade where he has been and still is1 kept confined in Irons.

I have requested Mr. Dunkin Merchant of this City who makes the Complaint to apply to you for redress which I doubt not you will readily obtain. I am Sir wth. great respect Your obedt. servt.

James Biddle

RC (DNA: RG 59, MLR); endorsed by TJ as received 31 May 1793 and so recorded in SJL.

James Biddle (1731–97), a lawyer who had lived alternately in Philadelphia and Reading, was President Judge of Pennsylvania’s first judicial district, which included the city and county of Philadelphia (James S. Biddle, ed., Autobiography of Charles Biddle … 1745–1821 [Philadelphia, 1883], 236n; John H. Martin, Martin’s Bench and Bar of Philadelphia [Philadelphia, 1883], 49, 52).

The insult to the National Flag of France probably occurred in Philadelphia on 26 May 1793, when the boatswain of the British merchant ship Grange, who had recently been released from French captivity, went on board the Amiable, Captain Paul, which had just arrived from St. Vincent’s, and tore down and trampled the French colors that had been hoisted as a compliment to that nation (General Advertiser, 28 May 1793; National Gazette, 1 June 1793). TJ had apparently called on Biddle after receiving a note from French minister Edmond Charles Genet on 28 May 1793 complaining about the incident (see TJ to Genet, 1 June 1793, and note). Steele, whose ship had been brought to Philadelphia as a prize of the Citoyen Genet, was one of several English sailors confined on board the French frigate Embuscade during clashes with French seamen on 29 May 1793, although he was soon released (General Advertiser, 4 June 1793).

1Preceding three words interlined.

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