Thomas Jefferson Papers

Petition of Lewis Freeman, 3 June 1801

Petition of Lewis Freeman

The Petition of Lewis Freeman of the City of New Haven, in the state of Connecticut Humbly Shewith—That your Petitioner, at A Circuit Court of the said United States Holden at Hartford in the said State of Connecticut in September last was commited by the oath of one Cornealius Smith of Having Passed a Counterfeit Bank bill, of the Bank of the United States, knowing it to be a Counterfeit, and on such Conviction was Sentenced to pay a fine of One Hundred dollars and to be Imprisoned two years—your Petitioner is fully Sensible, the court and Jury, by which he was tryed Acted a Very honnest Part in convicting him upon the Proof which was Exibited to them against your Petitioner, but your Petitioner knows, that the oath of said Smith was in Every Particular false and Totally Groundless, and was Fabricated by said Smith to Exonerate himself from a Prosecution, under which he was then Held, for Passing in a Variety of Instances a Number of Bills of the Manhattan Bank and on which Prosecution he must Inevitably have been convicted, had he not fabricated the charge against your Petitioner on which he has been convicted—Under such circumstances it being Impossible for your Petitioner to Vindicate his Innocence—He was at the time of his Tryal and for a long time before in a Very Declining state of Health, which has increased upon him Very Rapidly since his Imprisonment—And if your Petitioner must still be Confined in Goal, he must Lay down his Life as a punishment, for the supposed Crime, instead of enduring a two years imprisonment, for his Physicians all Assure him, that it is Impossible that his life should hold out to the End of the time Provided he be kept in Prison.

your Petitioner supposes it cannot be the design of Government to Punish Consequnshally with death, an offence which by Law and the Decree of said Court was only to be Punished by a fine and Imprisonment your Petitioner therefore makes an humble Application to you as in your hands is his life, with you it is only to say whether he shall die or shall be Permitted still to Continue in Life—the Testimony which will be herewith Perfixed will shew most clearly, that the Situation of your Petitioner, is what your Petitioner has herein stated it to be—He therefore implores that your Excellency will be Pleased to remitt the Remainder of the Imprisonment and fine to which he has been Sentenced And your Petitioner as in Duty bound will Ever Pray—

Lewis Freeman

your Petitioner Prays your Excellencys Answer as soon as may be as your Petitioner has been Obliged to find himself all the Necessarys of Life since his tryal and is at Last without Resources to Support himself and Family

Lewis Freeman

This May [cerify?] that Luis Freeman has been Confined in the Common Goal in Newhaven in my Care & Charge About twelve Months Past and During that time he has be’n Deprived of his health and his Life has be’n Repeatedly Dispaired of

Elisha Frost Goaler

RC (DNA: RG 59, GPR); at head of text: “To His Excellency Thomas Jefferson President of the United States of America”; endorsed by TJ as received 18 June and so recorded in SJL with notation “for pardon”; also endorsed by TJ: “petn for pardon.” Enclosures were probably: (1) Transcript of Freeman’s trial before the U.S. circuit court at Hartford on 17 Sep. 1800, certified as a true copy by Simeon Baldwin, clerk of the circuit court, 8 June 1801 (Tr in same). (2) Statement of New Haven physicians Obadiah Hotchkiss, Walter Munson, and Elijah Munson, dated 22 May 1801, certifying that Freeman’s claim of poor health “has not been exagerated,” with a statement appended below text signed by Samuel Bishop and seven other residents of New Haven, dated 25 May 1801, certifying that Hotchkiss, Munson, and Munson are “established & reputable Physicians in this City and that full Credit ought to be given to their Certificate” (MS in same). (3) Certificate of Pierpont Edwards, U.S. attorney for Connecticut, 8 June 1801, stating that “little confidence ought to have been placed” in the testimony of Cornelius Smith and that it was unfortunate that Freeman’s guilt “could not have been made to appear by testimony drawn from a truer source” than Smith (MS in same; in Edwards’s hand and signed by him; with TJ’s instructions for pardon subjoined on same sheet as indicated below).

New Haven resident Lewis Freeman was a silversmith and former British officer. In April 1800 he was arrested and charged with counterfeiting, specifically for altering a bill of the Bank of the United States from $5 to $10. Unable to post bail, he was imprisoned to await trial before the September meeting of the U.S. circuit court at Hartford, which convicted him and sent him to be incarcerated in the New Haven jail. Freeman petitioned John Adams for his release on 15 Feb. 1801, citing his declining health, but no pardon was issued (New York Commercial Advertiser, 2 May 1800; petition of Lewis Freeman to John Adams, 15 Feb. 1801, in DNA: RG 59, GPR).

On 21 April 1800, Cornelius Smith of Pittstown, New York, was arrested in New Haven for attempting to pass two counterfeit $20 bank notes of the Manhattan Company. In addition, his pocketbook was found to contain a note for $100 and one for $20 on the same bank as well as several notes of the Bank of the United States, all but one of which were found to have been altered from small to large bills. Unable to secure his bail, Smith was lodged in jail to await trial before the July session of the state superior court (New Haven Connecticut Journal, 24 Apr. 1800).

In a note dated 19 June 1801 located at the foot of Pierpont Edwards’s certificate, TJ wrote: “A pardon to be made out for Lewis Freeman now in confinement in New Haven on a conviction of having forged a note of the bank of the US. on these grounds 1. that he was convicted on the sole evidence of a person of ill character who was himself at that time under prosecution for a similar offence; & whose testimony was thought to be very questionable: 2. that he has already been confined one year before & since the sentence; & 3. that it is the opinion of respectable persons of the faculty of physic that his health has been already so much impaired by the confinement that a continuance of it will probably endanger his life. Th: Jefferson” (see Enclosure No. 3, listed above). A presidential pardon of Freeman was issued the following day (FC in Lb in DNA: RG 59, GPR).

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