Thomas Jefferson Papers

Notes on John Morton, [October 1801]

Notes on John Morton

[October 1801]

John Morton. Consul at the Havana

he employed the US. Sloop Warren to go from the Hava to La Vera Cruz to bring up 102,000 Spanish money, & property1 for which he was to recieve a commission. she went, lost 50. or 60. of her men by sickness. her absence occasioned many captures of American vessels by privateers: and a British frigate cruised to take her on her return. she escaped & got in with the money.

George Morton his brother is now acting as Consul.

Mr. Coffyn, a candidate for the office gives me this information.

MS (DNA: RG 59, MCL); entirely in TJ’s hand; undated, but written before Morton’s departure for Havana in late October 1801 (see below).

In June 1800, John Morton, the U.S. consul at Havana, persuaded the commander of the U.S. ship Warren, Timothy Newman, to abandon temporarily his station and sail to Veracruz in order to collect a considerable sum of specie owned by American merchants. Shortly after departing for Veracruz, yellow fever broke out in the Warren, which claimed the lives of some 42 men, including Newman, by the time the ship returned to Havana in mid-August. The mission infuriated Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert, who ordered an investigation into Morton’s role in the affair. Hastening to Washington in the fall of 1800, the Havana consul defended himself to the satisfaction of the Adams administration and he retained his appointment. He remained in Washington, however, to defend himself to the new administration. In a 4 June 1801 letter to James Madison, Morton justified his conduct by claiming that the Warren’s term of service was nearly expired, that the Havana station had already been cleared of French vessels, that another American navy ship was soon expected to relieve the Warren, and that Secretary Stoddert had previously expressed a willingness to accommodate American merchants in transporting their property from Veracruz. The explanation apparently satisfied Madison and TJ, and Morton was permitted to return to his post. The illness and death of a relative, Dr. David Jackson, delayed his departure until late October, prompting Morton to offer his resignation if the president desired. In a 30 Oct. letter to Madison, Morton expressed his gratitude for the “indulgent accommodation of the President.” He resumed his post at Havana in December, but resigned shortly thereafter (Palmer, Stoddert’s War description begins Michael A. Palmer, Stoddert’s War: Naval Operations during the Quasi-War with France, 1798–1801, Columbia, S.C., 1987 description ends , 228–9; 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 , June to Nov. 1800, 345–6, 385–6; Dec. 1800 to Dec. 1801, 244–5; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser. description begins J. C. A. Stagg, ed., The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, Charlottesville, 1986–, 8 vols. description ends , 1:263; 2:191, 212, 306; Morton to Madison, 17 Apr. 1805, in DNA: RG 59, LAR; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States … to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828, 3 vols. description ends , 1:406; Vol. 32:544).

1Preceding three words and ampersand interlined.

Index Entries