Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Rose, 16 June 1801

From William Rose

Richmond 16th. June 1801.


That you have known me many Years, and while Governor of Virginia, were pleased to entrust to my management the Office, which I yet hold, is, perhaps, all I dare, or, ought to offer, as an apology for this Letter.

Mr. Norton, the bearer, whose distressful situation on account of the long absence, and painful imprisonment of Captain Marchant, his Son in Law, of which the Paper, he has to present, will furnish the grounds, has prevailed with me to certify the conduct, and behavior, of the Captain, and what I know of his case.   Captain Gage, of Boston, who was here a few weeks ago, told me, he had seen the first Captain of the Brigg, Enoch Sheffield, a Bostonian, in one of the Islands, after he had treacherously left her, and, verily believes, Marchants misconduct originated more from the advice he gave him, than any ill intention of his own, viz, to take the Vessel, and make the best of her, and to discharge the Seamens Wages, and his own, who, from the best accounts he could gather there, had never received from him a single farthing, and were then almost naked, and the Vessel in great want of Provisions. In order to effect which he sailed for Cape May where he disposed of 3 or 4 of her Guns and purchased a load of Salt with which he came to Alexandria. Captain W. Weymouth, of Rockets, with whom I am well acquainted, saw Marchant and the Crew in Prison, but just before their trial, and told me in the presence of the whole that, on the passage to Madeira, where he had sent his Vessel under the Care of his Mate, that voyage, and who also was present, that he hailed him, and requested some provisions to enable him to reach the Capes, and gave an order, on a House in Madeira, for the amount, which was honored—that he behaved well, told him he was from the Isle of May with Salt, and going to Virginia, for a Market. Soon after their arrival at Alexandria they were imprisoned, and, after a rather lengthy confinement were sent in October to Richmond and on the 24h. of the next Month were tried and sentencd. Their peaceable behavior and conduct inducd me soon after their conviction to raise a contribution among the Inhabitants sufficient to Clothe them, for, as I observed before, they were almost naked, and, some without Shoes, or Stockings. I happily succeeded, and they were soon clad with every Thing necessary to pass over the Winter—I have had no reason since to repent of my exertions in their Favour.

The Seamen 12 in Number, whose imprisonment expird the 25h. of last Month, I that day discharged, having previously collected their Fines, in like manner, as I had before done for their Clothing, and paid the amount to the present Marshall, whose receipt I have.

If this Account can contribute to the Captains enlargement I shall esteem myself happy in the attempt to restore him to his disconsolate Wife, and aged Parents.

I will now add only a few Words in behalf of the Mate, and conclude—William Bell is a native of Philadelphia, friendless and quite unknown, save to a few Navigators in different Ports of the United States, whose aid he cannot by any means procure. He is thirty years old, and says his whole Life from eight has been chiefly spent upon the Ocean. The Evidence against him, an English Boy, about 14 years of Age, and indeed the only witness against the Captain and the Crew, declared to the late Marshall, and others, that he was a sober, quiet well behaved Man, and much respected—this Account was confirmed to me by a Pilot, of New-York, who came passenger with them from the isle of May with a property in Salt, on board—indeed I cannot doubt these reports, his good demeanour with me has verified them.

If, Sir, it be your pleasure to extend Mercy to the Captain, let it, I beseech you, embrace the Mate, that he may have it in his power to thank you, as long as he lives.

I wish you a good State of Health—every other happiness is within you.

I beg leave to subscribe my self, great Sir, with true reverence, Your most obliged, and very obedient Servant,

Wm: Rose

RC (DNA: RG 59, GPR); at foot of text: “His Excellency the President”; endorsed by TJ as received 19 June and so recorded in SJL; also endorsed by TJ: “Marchant & Bell.”

William Rose (1734–1817) became keeper of the public jail in Richmond around 1781. Before the Revolution, he tutored Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson, served as a master at the Matthew Whaley Free School in Williamsburg, and acted as librarian to the governor’s council. He may also have been the same William Rose that served as a deputy quartermaster during the Revolutionary War, who corresponded with TJ on supply matters in 1780 and 1781 (CVSP description begins William P. Palmer and others, eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers … Preserved in the Capitol at Richmond, Richmond, 1875–93, 11 vols. description ends , 1:418–19; 2:540; MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 1:262n; Richmond Enquirer, 8 July 1817; Vol. 3:541; Vol. 4:531–2; Vol. 5:17–18; Vol. 32:101, 235).

Beriah Norton of Edgartown, Massachusetts, was a militia colonel during the Revolutionary War and a leading citizen of Martha’s Vineyard. His daughter Sarah married Elihu Marchant in 1796 (Charles Edward Banks, The History of Martha’s Vineyard, Dukes County Massachusetts, 3 vols. [Boston, 1911–25; repr. Edgartown, Mass., 1966], 3:297, 379). According to court records, at its November 1800 term the U.S. circuit court for the middle circuit of Virginia indicted Marchant and 12 other crewmen of the British armed brig Three Brothers, alias the Ranger, for “unlawfully, unjustly, and Corruptly” confederating on 4 June 1800 to seize the vessel near the island of Terceira. Marchant was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment and fined $100, the mate 18 months and $50, and each member of the crew 6 months and one dollar (Trs in DNA: RG 59, GPR; Vol. 32:213n).

The Paper may have been a memorial to TJ dated Edgartown, Dukes County, 5 Mch. 1801 and signed by Norton, William Jernigan, and 22 others in support of Marchant. The memorialists noted that Marchant was born and raised in Edgartown and was “esteemed an orderly Citizen, a Vigilent Mariner, an Obedient Son, & a kind and tender husband” before leaving the island some three years before. Believing that Marchant could “render essential Services to his unfortunate family & to Society,” the memorialists asked that he be “Constitutionally” discharged from his present confinement. On the verso of the memorial, a statement dated 31 Mch. and signed by 39 residents of Nantucket declared the circumstances set forth in the memorial to be true and requested that “the Prayer of the Petition might be granted” (RC in DNA: RG 59, GPR; at head of text: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson Esquire President of the United States of America”).

Captain W. Weymouth: possibly Captain William Walker Weymouth, who had carried a shipment of TJ’s tobacco from Richmond to Philadelphia in 1792 (Vol. 23:498, 513, 521, 543, 545).

Present Marshall: Joseph Scott.

Late Marshall: David Meade Randolph.

TJ issued a presidential pardon for Marchant on 16 June 1802, remitting his fine and the remainder of his prison term. Explaining his actions, TJ declared that Marchant had already served “near three fourths” of his jail term and that “such circumstances have been represented to me as show that the Clemency of the Government may be properly extended to the said Elihu Marchant” (FC in Lb in DNA: RG 59, GPR).

Index Entries