Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Charles Williamson, 26 November 1793

From Charles Williamson

Bath Ontario County 26. Novr. 1793


I have the Honor to enclose You an Affadavit made before me as a Magistrate of this County. The Outrage complained of being attended with the most distressing consequences to some of the complainants who are Citizens of the United States—and not only highly alarming to the Settlers on this Frontier, but a Gross insult to this Goverment—I think it my Duty as a Magistrate to request You will do me the Honor of laying it before His Excellency the President of the United States.

The Individuals who have suffered by this unwarrantable exertion of Local Power on the Part of the British Look up with confidence to the Executive Officers of the Goverment of the United States for that redress which every good citizen feels himself entitled to.

I beg leave to say that in whatever light this transaction may be viewed by those who reside in situations inaccessible to the under strappers of an Arbitrary Power—it is here viewed as a Precedent of the most dangerous Nature (as the British may with the same propriety seize Stores on any part of the County of Ontario, where they are accessible to their depredations) and as a most shameful and Gross insult to the Goverment under which we Live, and I make no doubt will make the same impression on the breast of every American.

As a Magistrate I have done my Duty in making this Statement, which I have done with the more confidence as before this transaction Came before me I was personally acquainted with Mr. Rankin whom I regard as a Man of Honor and Truth. But as a Man that feels for the Dignity of this Goverment, and as an Extensive Proprietor in this County If such insults are submitted to, and the British Governors are permitted to Exercise a Jurisdiction within the County of Ontario, by no means even connected with the districts round the Forts they with-Hold from the United States—I beg leave to ask Whether on approaching Lake Ontario, within the bounds of the County of Ontario, and within the limits of the United States, are my settlers to consider themselves under the Protection of a Goverment that will secure them from Authorised Robberys and insults—And to secure that Protection must they cringe and Fawn on some underlin revenue Officer of Upper Canada. I have the Honor to be with the Greatest respect Sir Your most obt. and very humble Sert.

Chas. Williamson

RC (DNA: RG 59, MLR); at foot of text: “The Honble. Thomas Jefferson Esqr”; endorsed by TJ as received 13 Dec. 1793 and so recorded in SJL; with penciled notes by TJ on verso: “copies to be taken & sent Genl. Chapin at […] between […].” PrC of Tr (same). Enclosure: Deposition of George Rankin, Bath, Ontario County, New York, 26 Nov. 1793, stating that he and three other men in two boats had passed the British garrison at Oswego in New York territory about 20 Aug. with a a cargo of castings, iron, tar, and gin worth about $500 and subsequently unloaded about half of their goods at the Eighteen Mile Creek and the rest at a spot about a dozen miles from the British garrison at Niagara, both of which landing points were within the jurisdiction of Ontario County; that he then went to Toronto and obtained permits to bring the goods within the British lines but that in his absence they were seized under the direction of a revenue officer of Upper Canada; that he then applied to a sheriff in Upper Canada for a writ of replevin but was refused because the seizure had taken place within American jurisdiction; that to his knowledge prior to the seizure his goods had never left American jurisdiction; that at Niagara he had seen his goods advertised for sale as contraband property and believes they were sold as such by the advertiser McKnab, whom he thinks is a revenue officer of Upper Canada; and that Mr. Lafferty and James McDonald, the chief owners with himself of the shipment, were duly named in the permits and are so circumstanced that the seizure will materially hurt them (MS in same, in a clerk’s hand, signed by Rankin and attested by Williamson as a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Ontario County; PrC of Tr in same, in a clerk’s hand).

Charles Williamson (1757–1808) was a Scotsman whose colorful career had included service as a British army officer, capture at sea and imprisonment in Boston on his way to join Cornwallis’s army, and a secret mercantile journey to Constantinople. He came to western New York in 1792 to promote a 1,200,000 acre tract of land purchased from Robert Morris by a group of investors headed by Sir William Pulteney, and during a decade there he took American citizenship and served four terms in the state assembly. After returning to Britain in 1803 he acted as an informal advisor to the British government, took an interest in the schemes of Aaron Burr and Francisco de Miranda, and died while carrying a message from Castlereagh to the Spanish West Indies (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Arthur C. Parker, “Charles Williamson: Builder of the Genesee Country,” Rochester Historical Society, Publication Fund Series, vi [1927], 1–34).

On 13 Dec. 1793 TJ submitted this letter and its enclosure to the President, who returned them the same day (Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 267). Although TJ’s penciled notes on this letter indicate that the Outrage complained of here was referred to General Israel Chapin, the American agent to the Iroquois at Canandaigua, for further information, TJ evidently did not correspond with Chapin directly and the matter remained unresolved when he left office (Washington, Journal, description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends 32; TJ to George Clinton, 30 Dec. 1793).

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