Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Amos Windship, 2 May 1801

From Amos Windship

George Town 2d May 1801


I beg leave to state to you some Circumstances attending, the Court Marshall held on me in Novr. last past—I Confess I had not the smallest Idea of its being any thing more than a Court of inquiry—and for this reason, no Notice had been given me—untill the day before it took place—on Sunday at four OClock PM—I recd a Billit from Capt Talbot, by one of his Midshipman, requesting my attendance on Board of his ship, the next Morning at Nine oclock to answer to certain charges—the Ship lay Six Miles from Town—unprepared as I was I appeared—found Capt Talbot & all his officers & one other officer belonging to the Ship Herald—composed the Court—had I have thought their openion was to be final, I should have asked for time to prepare myself—and I should have made a Very different defence—I must say, I think myself hardly delt by—

It is a Matter of great concern to me & My family—if I Suffer the disgrace of being discharged the Service—I have had no other means of Support—have been keept in suspence for six Months, prevented me from doing any other Business—and Besides I know myself innocent of the Charges Brought against me, excepting not obtaining leave of Capt Talbot who was off the harbour, at the time, and who has since tould me, that had I have sent to him, he had no doubt but what he should have granted me leave to return home—I Can prove by Mr. Levy Naval agent, then at the Cape, who is here present, that I was very sick, and I Confess I was alarmed at my own situation—It was the Openion of Doctr. Stevens, our Consul-General, the only chance for my recovery was, to quit the place as soon as possable—I am sorry for what ever has been amiss—I humbly beg Sir, you will consider of my situation—and so far Mitigate the sentence of the Court as you in your goodness, shall think proper—in duty Bound shall ever Pray—

Amos Windship

RC (DNA: RG 125, GCMCI); at head of text: “Thomas Jefferson President of the United States of America”; endorsed by TJ as received 2 May and so recorded in SJL with notation “N”; also endorsed by TJ: “remitted to be filed with the other papers—Th:J.”

Amos Windship (1745–1813) was a physician and apothecary from Massachusetts, with an established history of fraud, deception, and misconduct in his public and private affairs. He was expelled from Harvard in 1768 for theft. During the Revolutionary War he served as surgeon on the Continental frigate Alliance. After quitting the service, he embarked on a series of commercial misadventures, which led to a term in debtor’s prison. In September 1799 he was appointed surgeon on the ship Herald (NDQW description begins Dudley W. Knox, ed., Naval Documents Related to the Quasi-War between the United States and France, Naval Operations, Washington, D.C., 1935–38, 7 vols. (cited by years) description ends , Dec. 1800 to Dec. 1801, 358; Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Publications, 71 vols. [Boston, 1895– ], 25:141–71; Sibley description begins John L. Sibley and Clifford K. Shipton, Sibley’s Harvard Graduates: Biographical Sketches of Those Who Attended Harvard College, Cambridge, Mass., 1873– , 18 vols. description ends , 17:673–9).

In April 1800, while the Herald was at Cap-Français, Windship left the vessel without permission and returned to Boston. Brought before a court-martial in Boston on 24–25 Nov., he was charged with deserting his post, selling the ship’s medical stores for his own profit, and habitual drunkenness. Finding Windship guilty of the first two charges, the court sentenced him to be cashiered and forever banned from employment in the service of the U.S. and to forfeit any pay and subsistence due him. On 30 Apr., Samuel Smith forwarded a paper to TJ respecting Windship’s trial, adding that it was up to the president “to approve or disapprove” the sentence (RC in DLC, at foot of text: “President of the U. States,” endorsed by TJ as received 30 Apr. and so recorded in SJL; FC in Lb in DNA: RG 45, LSP). The paper was probably a transcript of Windship’s court-martial, at the bottom of which TJ wrote on 2 May: “The President of the US. approves of the preceding sentence in the case of Amos Winship Surgeon except as much thereof as forfiets his pay due at the time of his departure from the ship without leave, towit the 22d. April 1800” (MS in DNA: RG 125, GCMCI).

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