Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, 4 April 1800

To Peter Carr

Philadelphia Apr. 4. 1800.

Th:J. to P. Carr

Mr. Ross’s Kitt setting out for Charlottesville where he has a cause to be tried with James Ross, and apprehending personal danger from him, has asked me to interest some person to ensure him the protection of the laws. I assured him every one would see that protection extended to him, however as he intreated it, I promised to write to yourself, mr Randolph & Colo. Bell to have an eye to him. he furnishes me an earlier occasion of writing to you than the post.

Capt Barry in the frigate US. arrived last night from Corunna. our envoys landed Nov. 27. at Lisbon, from whence their Secretaries proceeded by land to Paris. the principals reimbarked Dec. 21. for Lorient but after long beating against contrary winds in the bay of Biscay, they landed at Corunnã Jan. 11. & sent a courier to Paris for their passports. they proceeded to Burgos & there recieved their passports from Paris with a letter from Taleyrand, expressing a desire to see them at Paris, & assuring them that the form of their credentials, addressed to the Directory would be no obstacle to their negociation. Murray & the Secretaries were1 already at Paris. the letters from our envoys to the Executive brought by capt. Barry are dated at Burgos Feb. 10. they would have about 800. miles to Paris, where they will have arrived probably about the 1st. of March, & by the 1st. week of May we may expect to hear of their reception. the frigate Portsmouth is about sailing from N.Y. to France. the object a secret.— the Senate yesterday rejected mr Pinckney’s bill against appointing judges to any other offices; & to-day they have rejected a bill from the H. of R. which forbade the presence of troops at an election on the day of any election. you have seen the warrant against Duane. he has not yet been found. I think we shall rise about the 1st. or 2d. week of May. I shall stay to the last hour.— being pressed by the departure of the bearer I refer Colo. Bell to you for the news, and I pray you to communicate it also to Colo. Nich. Lewis with my affectionate respects. I presume you will recieve it at Court & can communicate it readily. my affectionate respects to mrs Carr. her brother & mr W. C. Nicholas are here & well. salutations of esteem & attachment to yourself. Adieu.

RC (MdAN); at foot of text: “P. Carr.” PrC (DLC); endorsed by TJ in ink on verso.

Mr. Ross’s Kitt: Christopher McPherson, son of Clarinda, a slave in Louisa County, and Charles McPherson, a Scottish merchant. Purchased by David Ross, the young slave obtained several years of schooling. In the late 1770s he served as Ross’s clerk and in 1782 accompanied him to Fluvanna County where he supervised Ross’s store. In 1792 Ross signed and filed a deed of emancipation for McPherson, noting that the document legalized what long before had taken place. McPherson remained in Fluvanna County until 1799 when a religious experience and difficulties with Ross’s family led him first to Norfolk and then, by late November, to Philadelphia, where he obtained a position as an enrolling clerk in the House of Representatives. During this time, McPherson shared his belief in millennial prophecies in letters to John Adams, George Washington, Wilson Cary Nicholas, and Stevens Thomson Mason. Upon his return to Virginia in 1800, McPherson served briefly as William W. Hening’s clerk in Charlottesville and then as clerk of Virginia’s High Court of Chancery in Richmond. When Ross’s brother James died in June 1800, McPherson served as an executor of the estate (Edmund Berkeley, Jr., “Prophet without Honor: Christopher McPherson, Free Person of Color,” VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 1893– description ends , 77 [1969], 180–90; McPherson to Adams, 27 Nov. 1799, and McPherson to Nicholas and Mason, 28 Jan. 1800, in MHi: Adams Papers). The cause to be tried in the district court at Charlottesville concerned McPherson’s suit against James D. Ross, son of David Ross, for damages sustained when he was driven from his property in 1799, including an allowance for the “crop that was growing and about to be pitched.” McPherson also brought an indictment against Ross in Fluvanna County Court for lost wages and expenses incurred when he was forced to flee. Ross was present at the courthouse on 27 May 1800 when McPherson proposed a settlement, by which Ross would admit “that misrepresentation had Caused him to act in an error,” leading McPherson to be “discarded” by Ross’s father. In consequence McPherson had “found it absolutely necessary for his safety” to leave. But now “heat & passion” would give way to “Cool & deliberate reason & Justice.” McPherson wanted Ross to post a bond or security to ensure that the family would not attack him over “past matters.” On the same day Ross signed an agreement promising to influence his father to pay some of the expenses incurred (the amount later determined to be $1,000) and himself to pay another $1,000, giving property as collateral. McPherson signed the agreement, and it was witnessed by three persons. After James D. Ross’s death in 1801 McPherson brought suit against William Pasteur, administrator of the estate, claiming he had not received the $2,000. The suit was brought before the Albemarle County Court at Charlottesville, with the documents of 27 May 1800 submitted as evidence. In 1806 judgment was found for the defendent (MSS in Albemarle County Court Records: Judgments, 1806, at Library of Virginia, Richmond; Fluvanna County Will Book, No. 1, 1777–1808, Fluvanna Court House, Palmyra, Va.). A letter from McPherson (Macpherson) to TJ dated 3 Apr., recorded in SJL as received the same day, has not been found.

A letter from TJ to Thomas Bell of 4 Apr. is recorded in SJL but has not been found.

On 4 Apr. the Philadelphia Gazette reported the arrival of the frigate United States, commanded by John Barry, carrying dispatches from Davie and Ellsworth and news of the mission. Talleyrand forwarded the passports from Paris in his letter to Ellsworth and Davie of 30 Jan. 1800, which arrived in Burgos on 9 Feb. (ASP, description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends Foreign Relations, 2:307–8). Letters from our envoys to the executive: Davie and Ellsworth to Pickering, 10 Feb. (same, 2:308).

TJ noted the progress of the bill passed by the House which forbade the presence of troops at an election from its first reading in the Senate on 14 Mch. to its rejection by that body on 4 Apr., by a 17 to 12 vote (“An Act To prevent the interference of any military force in certain elections” in DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 6th Cong., 1st sess.; JHR, description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends 3:626; JS, description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends 3:48–9, 57, 63–4, 67).

1TJ first wrote “Murray was.”

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