Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Henry Knox, 10 November 1793

To Henry Knox

Nov. 10. 1793.

Th: Jefferson presents his compliments to General Knox, and sends him some papers received last night by the President from the Govr. of North-Carolina, respecting the money and vessel taken from the Spaniards by the sloop l’Amée Marguerite (formerly the British sloop Providence prize to the Vainqueur de la Bastille, armed in the US.). It would seem from this as if both vessels should be given up.

PrC (DLC). Enclosures: (1) Richard Dobbs Spaight to George Washington, New Bern, 21 Oct. 1793, stating that he was extremely mortified to learn in September from the collector of Wilmington that the privateer Vainqueur de la Bastille, Captain François Henri Hervieux, and its prize, the British sloop Providence, had come to the bar of Cape Fear river, where Hervieux had armed the sloop with guns from the privateer, and that after both ships had cruised off Wilmington the Vainqueur de la Bastille returned there; that in pursuance of the Secretary of War’s 16 and 21 Aug. 1793 instructions he immediately directed the major of the New Hanover militia to order the Vainqueur de la Bastille to leave port, to deny the use of Wilmington to that or any other privateer fitted out in the United States, and to take possession of any prizes brought there by such privateers so that they could be delivered either to their former owners or to the consul of the nation to which they belonged; that on 15 Oct. he received Nos. 2 and 6 from Colonel Benjamin Smith of Brunswick County and Major Thomas Wright of New Hanover describing the frustration by “some evil disposed persons in Wilmington” of their efforts to take possession of a Spanish brig that had recently been brought there as a prize by the Aimée Marguerite, commanded by Hervieux, and Hervieux’s refusal to obey Smith’s order to leave port on the grounds that his privateer was in distress and could not put to sea until his crew recovered and his ship was repaired; that since No. 4 convinced him that the Aimée Marguerite was genuinely in distress he ordered Smith and Wright to allow it to remain at Wilmington until it had been refitted for sea; that since the Spanish brig was on the high seas with eight guns and a crew of twenty to thirty men and since North Carolina lacked an armed vessel, he merely instructed them to secure it for its original owners if it returned to port; that he has instructed Wright to order the marshal to keep possession of a chest from the Spanish brig reportedly containing 30,000 to 40,000 dollars, which had been given to the marshal by the revenue officers who seized it from Captain Cook’s revenue cutter, on which Hervieux had put it before being informed that an effort would be made to deprive him of his prize; that he wishes to know what to do with the Aimée Marguerite now that it is lying at a Wilmington wharf dismasted and unrigged and with no one on board to comply with an order for it to leave port; that the case being a national one he expects the federal government to reimburse North Carolina for its expenditures on ammunition, pay, and subsistence for the militia called out to execute the President’s orders; that he will instruct Wright to punish the New Hanover militia according to state law for the disobedience described in No. 6; and that he encloses Nos. 2–6 so that Washington will be fully acquainted with the case (FC in Nc-Ar: Governor’s Letterbooks and Papers). (2) Smith to Spaight, Belvidere, 11 Oct. 1793, stating that Hervieux had refused to comply with his order that the Aimée Marguerite leave Wilmington, where it had arrived the week before, for reasons explained in No. 3; that he failed to take possession of the armed Spanish brig captured by Hervieux, which arrived at Wilmington a few days later, because of “the extraordinary conduct of some of the Inhabitants of Wilmington,” about which he hopes the governor will be informed fully, and because of Captain Cook’s inability to come to his aid; that he wishes to know what to do about the armed Spanish brig, which “lies within sight of land some leagues from the Bar and outside thereof”; and that he was enclosing Nos. 3–5 (No. 5 being a substitute by Hervieux for No. 3). (3) Hervieux to Smith, Wilmington, 7 Oct. 1793, stating that he was unable to comply with Smith’s order of this date for the immediate departure of the Aimée Marguerite on the grounds that it had come there in distress and was entitled as a ship belonging to a friendly allied nation to make necessary repairs before putting out to sea, because the condition of the ship and crew described in No. 4 had to be corrected first, and because of the seizure by customs collectors or other federal officials of a trunk containing his commission, dispatches from the French consul to the French Commissioners at Saint-Domingue, various ship papers, and 30,000 to 40,000 dollars belonging to himself and some of his crew had to be returned before the vessel could proceed on its intended voyage from Charleston to Cap-Français, lest otherwise he appear “totally unavowed and unauthorized.” (4) Certificate of Nathaniel Hill and Others, Wilmington, 4 Oct. 1793, stating that the Aimée Marguerite came here in distress, with all but two of its crew unfit for duty because of intermittent fevers and with various parts of the ship in urgent need of repair in order to make it seaworthy again. (5) Hervieux to Smith, [7 Oct. 1793], reiterating at somewhat greater length the substance of No. 3 and adding that he would be willing to obey Smith’s commands as soon as the Aimée Marguerite was made seaworthy and his papers and effects were returned, “supposing your interference duly authorized by the Government of your Country.” (6) Wright to Spaight, 12 Oct. 1793, stating that, having received on 5 Oct. a letter from Spaight about the arrival of the Aimée Marguerite with a Spanish prize and accompanying copies of letters from the Secretary of War, he decided to act upon the former even though it was not addressed to him; that he obtained the assistance of the revenue cutter and asked the militia officers to have twenty-five men ready to aid him on 7 Oct., but only four militia men obeyed orders to this effect, many others “declaring they would not render any assistance in such a case”; that a “Gentleman of Wilmington” warned Hervieux beforehand of Wright’s intention to seize the Spanish brig, which led Hervieux to send it out to sea, where it now lay eight miles south of the bar; that unless Spaight issues a proclamation reproving such conduct and recognizes the need for raising a volunteer company it will be impossible to enforce neutrality here; that Hervieux gave Captain Cook of the revenue cutter custody of a chest from the Spanish brig supposedly containing about 30,000 dollars, which Cook seized in accordance with acts of Congress and handed over to the marshal; that efforts by Hervieux’s lawyers to have the chest restored to him have failed and an appeal has been made to the federal judge; that in accordance with Spaight’s orders he has felt obliged to state that since the chest is part of the prize and its former owners are confined, it should be made subject to the orders of the Spanish consul; and that he wishes to know how the state plans to pay for the expenses involved in his actions prior to reimbursement by the federal government (Trs in same).

On the previous day the President had sent TJ the above enclosures “for his perusal & consideration” (Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 250).

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