Thomas Jefferson Papers

Memorial from George Hammond, 6 September 1793

Memorial from George Hammond

The undersigned, his Britannic Majesty’s Minister plenipotentiary to the United States, has the honor of submitting to the Secretary of state the accompanying papers, relative to the capture, by the French brig le Cerf, of the British brigantine the William Tell, which, with its cargo, is the property of subjects of Great Britain, resident in the island of Dominica.

From these papers it is manifest, that this vessel was taken at the distance of about half a mile from the shore of the American coast, and consequently under the protection of the American territory, and that the Marshal of the district of New-York was prevented, by the menaces of the principal agent of the actual rulers of France, from taking it into his custody, and from thereby subjecting the validity of the capture to the decision of a Court of judicature in the United States. In its present situation therefore, the restitution of this vessel, and of its cargo, can be only effected by the intervention of the executive government of this country.

It would certainly be improper for the undersigned to offer any observations on the various aggressions on the sovereignty of the United States, which a review of this single case presents—in the particulars of the capture itself—in the extent of the powers arrogated by the pretended tribunal of the French Consul—and in the nature of the threats thrown out by the person representing, in this country, the ruling party of France. At the same time he conceives it to be strictly within the line of his duty, to express the solicitude, which, from a consideration of the last mentioned circumstance, he naturally feels, to obtain as early and explicit a knowledge of the determination of this government, as may be convenient, on the subject of the memorial, which he had the honor of presenting on the 4th. of this month. For if, added to the establishment of a regular succession of cruizers from New-York, and to the facility, which this government has afforded them of disposing of their prizes, the Commanders of the French ships of war exercise the right also of opposing their force to the functions, of a judicial officer acting under the authority of the United States, exerted for the purpose of procuring justice to British subjects, it is become more and more important for the undersigned to learn with as little delay as possible—whether it be the intention of the executive government of the United States to grant to the French ships of war the permission of an indefinite continuance within its ports.

Philadelphia 6th September 1793

Geo. Hammond

RC (DNA: RG 59, NL); in a clerk’s hand, signed by Hammond; at foot of first page: “The Secretary of State”; with penciled notation by George Taylor, Jr.: “to be filed with the other letters”; endorsed by TJ as received 7 Sep. 1793 and so recorded in SJL.FC (Lb in PRO: FO 116/3). Tr (same, 5/1). Tr (Lb in DNA: RG 59, NL). Enclosures: (1) Extract from the Protest of Charles Choler, New York, 3 Sep. 1793, stating, as master of the Dominican brigantine William Tell, that on 29 Aug., while “nearly opposite to the Light House on Sandy Hook and not farther from the shore than one Mile and he verily Beleives Scarcely more than half a mile,” which he supposed to be within the jurisdiction and under the protection of the United States, his vessel was fired at and boarded by armed men from the French ship-of-war Cerf, Captain Emeriau, with 10 guns and 2 swivels mounted; that the boarding party took possession of the William Tell, as well as its cargo and papers, in the name of the French Republic, and brought him, all but three members of his crew, and two Negroes belonging to the ship’s owners to the Cerf as prisoners; and that, despite his repeated protests that these actions violated the law of nations, the Cerf took the William Tell to New York, where it was being held as a prize and where the day before he was allowed to go ashore after giving security that he would return on demand. (2) Deposition of Isaac Sears, New York, 4 Sep. 1793, stating that, after learning on 31 Aug. that the brig Cerf had captured the William Tell, owned by Samuel Chollet and Peregrine Bourdieu of Dominica, within the territorial limits and protection of the United States—about half a mile from Sandy Hook—he and Paschal N. Smith, New York City merchants and agents for the owners, on advice of counsel, informed Hauterive, the French consul, that they intended to notify the executive authority of the United States of the capture and requested his assurance that the ship would remain in his custody until it had acted; that after Hauterive, with Edmond Charles Genet present but silent, insisted that the case must be decided by his consular tribunal, they filed a libel in the District Court of New York seeking restitution of the ship, cargo, and two slaves, and obtained a precept authorizing the marshal of the New York district to take custody of the ship and cargo pending the outcome of the suit; and that when the marshal went with him this day to serve the order on Hauterive, “Mr. Genet assumed the Business and observed that an Agreement having taken Place between him and the President by which the Consuls of France had a Right to keep Possession of all Prizes taken by French Vessels, he would not permit the Marshal to have any Thing to do with the said Brig William Tell—that he had given Orders to the Squadron in Hudson’s River to prevent any Person taking the said Brig from the Protection she was then under—and that he hoped no Person would attempt it” (MSS in same, in clerical hands, with No. 1 bearing subjoined notarization of 4 Sep. 1793 by John Wilkes of New York, before whom the original was made, and No. 2 signed by Sears and attested by Mayor Richard Varick; Trs in Lb in same; Trs in PRO: FO 5/1; Trs in DLC: Genet Papers, in French).

TJ submitted this memorial to the President and the Cabinet on 7 Sep. 1793 (Cabinet Opinions on Relations with France and Great Britain, 7 Sep. 1793).

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