Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Stephen Drayton, 20 June 1801

From Stephen Drayton

Paris, 20 June 1801. He addresses TJ with the respect due to him as president and as the “Patriot & Virtuous Citizen” that Drayton knows him to be. Without entering into a discussion of the constitutionality of “the prosecution which took place in 1794 against those Americans who had engaged in the Service of the french Republic at the invitation of the Citizen Genet,” Drayton declares his belief that he “infringed no Law—& that the absolute right remained with me to enter into any foreign Service whatever which was not in War against my Country.” However, he “fell a Victim to a party who viewed things in a different light, & which occasioned my utter ruin.” During the Revolutionary War he faithfully served America, his native and ancestral country, without compensation, and suffered financial losses. For his later actions, however, he has been labeled a traitor. He found that no post was open to him and “that should I apply for the place of Constable I would be refused.” Yet he has never been false in his dealings with anyone. He is now almost 66 years of age, “near 50 of Which have been engaged in the duties of Soldier, Citizen, Patriot & Statesman.” He came to France on invitation, but the French government has not fulfilled its promises to him. Fearing that he might “fall a victim to chagrin & want” in a foreign land, he begs TJ “to beleive a Solemn truth that I am not—nay that I cannot be an Ennemy to my Native Country.” He asks for an appointment in any European country: “I implore it as an Act of mercy, as an Act of grace.” An appointment would allow him to prove his attachment to the United States and its current government. His property in America has been reduced to a small amount of land, the rest of his estate having been lost “by the vicissitudes attending a ruinous War,” by a naive trust in the integrity of others, and by his advancing his own credit to aid the American cause during the Revolution, especially during the siege of Charleston; his claim for “more than £2000 Sterling” remains on the government’s books “unpaid and unnoticed.” He hopes that this plea will stir TJ’s compassion, appealing to “the goodness of your heart.”

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); 4 p.; dated 1 Messidor Year 9 and also as 20 June 1801; signed “Etienne Drayton”; endorsed by TJ as a letter from Etienne Drayton received 3 Sep. and so recorded in SJL.

During the American Revolution, Stephen Drayton (1736–1810) became a deputy quartermaster general with the rank of colonel in the Continental Army. On at least one occasion he carried correspondence between TJ, who was then the governor of Virginia, and Horatio Gates. In 1781, Drayton, who had been a member of the Georgia Council of Safety and the South Carolina assembly, was captured and paroled by the British in North Carolina. The British seized his estates during the war, and afterward he was unable to get compensation from the United States for the loss of his slaves. When Edmond Charles Genet landed at Charleston in 1793, Drayton, who was the secretary of the governor of South Carolina, became the president of a newly formed republican society. In coordination with Genet and Michel Ange Bernard de Mangourit, the French consul at Charleston, Drayton started to recruit men for a military campaign to capture Spanish territory. He considered his actions to be for the cause of “Universal Liberty,” but a committee of the South Carolina House of Representatives seized papers from his house. He refused to comply with an order to appear before the legislature, attempted to sue the members of the committee, and was indicted by a grand jury. He perhaps left the United States in 1795, when William Tate, another leader of the effort to enlist Americans to aid Genet, went to France. TJ did not reply to the letter above, which is the only correspondence between him and Drayton recorded in SJL (S.C. Biographical Directory, House of Representatives description begins J. S. R Faunt, Walter B. Edgar, N. Louise Bailey, and others, eds., Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives, Columbia, S.C., 1974–92 , 5 vols. description ends , 2:202–3; Alexander Moultrie, An Appeal to the People, on the Conduct of a Certain Public Body in South-Carolina, Respecting Col. Drayton and Col. Moultrie [Charleston, 1794], 5–8, 22–8; American Minerva, 7 June 1794; Eugene P. Link, “The Democratic Societies of the Carolinas,” North Carolina Historical Review, 18 [1941], 262–4; Eugene P. Link, Democratic-Republican Societies, 1790–1800 [Morning-side Heights, N.Y., 1942], 135–7; John D. Ahlstrom, “Captain and Chef de Brigade William Tate: South Carolina Adventurer,” South Carolina Historical Magazine, 88 [1987], 186–7; Richard K. Murdoch, “Correspondence of French Consuls in Charleston, South Carolina, 1793–1797,” South Carolina Historical Magazine, 74 [1973], 76; Robert Alderson, “Charleston’s French Revolutionary Consul: Michel-Ange-Bernard de Mangourit, 1792–1794,” Proceedings of the South Carolina Historical Association [1998], 150–3; Richard K. Showman and others, eds., The Papers of General Nathanael Greene, 13 vols. [Chapel Hill, 1976–2005], 6:429–30; 9:312n, 556–7, 629–30; 10:73; Vol. 3:550; Vol. 27:296–7n, 619–20n).

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