Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Nathaniel Ingraham, with John Steele’s Note, 10 April 1802

From Nathaniel Ingraham, with John Steele’s Note

Rhode Island District &c. Bristol R.I.
April 10th. 1802.

The petition of Nathaniel Ingraham of Bristol in the District aforesaid, mariner,

Respectfully sheweth,

That at the February term of the District Court, for Rhode Island District, AD. 1801, an Action quitam was prosecuted against him by John West Leonard, who sued as well in behalf of the United States as of himself for the sum of   Dollars:—That said Action was continued from said term to the May term of said Court, and thence certified up to the Circuit Court, at their Novr. term AD. 1801, when a Verdict & Judgment were rendered against your Petitioner for the sum of Fourteen Thousand Dollars & costs of suit:—And that Execution hath been sued forth thereon, & your Petitioner committed by virtue of said Execution to Gaol, where he is now confined a Prisoner.

Now your Petitioner would beg leave humbly to represent, that the vessel, of which he was master, and about which he was prosecuted was captured, carried into New Providence and there condemned together with all her Cargo:—That all the Property he had in the world, a small quantity of necessary household furniture and wearing apparel only excepted,—was lost in that condemnation:—That he is now poor, without any thing but the Labor of his hands to depend upon, advanced in life with a large and helpless family, besides a Parent bowed down with old age and sickness, to support:—And, that he must necessarily remain a Prisoner, without hope, the remnant of his days, dependent on charity for the necessaries of life, & afflicted with the cries of an afflicted family involved in equal distress, without the interposition of executive mercy.—Wherefore he humbly prays the Presidt. to take his unhappy case into his wise and humane consideration, and to remit the aforesaid Judgment in behalf of the United States, and to direct a discharge therefrom, or to extend such other relief as in the Executive wisdom & humanity may seem meet & proper, and he as in duty bound will ever pray, &c.

Nathaniel Ingraham

[Note by John Steele]

I have no knowledge of the prosecution, except what may be collected from the petition. Before the Presidents decision, it wd. be well to obtain from the court or the Dist. Attn. a report on the case. By this report, if properly made, it will be easy to determine whether the Executive ought to interpose or not. The violations of the act to prohibit the slave trade have been very frequent in R Island, and the difficulty of convicting offenders greater than elsewhere.

J. S.

RC (DLC); in an unidentified hand, signed by Ingraham; at head of text: “To Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States”; a certificate subjoined below signature signed by 51 officeholders, merchants, tradesmen, and mariners of Rhode Island, including Jonathan Russell, Nathaniel Phillips, Gustavus Baylies, and several members of the D’Wolf family, testifies that Ingraham’s circumstances are “truly represented” in his petition and “earnestly” recommending that his prayer be granted; note in Steele’s hand written perpendicular to TJ’s endorsement on verso of last sheet of petition signatures; endorsed by TJ as received 22 Apr. and “Petition to be discharged from jail” and so recorded in SJL.

Nathaniel Ingraham was captain of the sloop Fanny, a vessel owned by Rhode Island slave trader James D’Wolf. In the summer of 1800, the Fanny was returning from Africa with a cargo of 70 slaves bound for Savannah when it was captured by a British privateer and taken to New Providence, where the vessel was condemned. On 31 Dec. 1800, JOHN WEST LEONARD, a special prosecutor appointed by the Treasury Department, charged D’Wolf and Ingraham in the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island with engaging in the slave trade. A jury acquitted D’Wolf after a brief trial, but a U.S. circuit court found Ingraham guilty in November 1801, fined him $14,000 ($200 for each slave), and sentenced him to two years in prison. According to the historian Jay Coughtry, Ingraham was the only Rhode Islander ever imprisoned for violating the federal slave trade laws. TJ received additional petitions from Ingraham throughout 1802 and 1803, but the president was hesitant to grant a pardon, declaring that Ingraham’s situation “merits no commiseration.” After permitting him to serve out his two-year prison term, TJ remitted and released Ingraham from the federal government’s moiety of the $14,000 judgment against him (Jay Coughtry, The Notorious Triangle: Rhode Island and the African Slave Trade, 1700–1807 [Philadelphia, 1981], 222–3; TJ to Christopher Ellery, 9 May 1803; David Leonard Barnes to TJ, 8 Feb. 1804; presidential remission for Nathaniel Ingraham, 24 Feb. 1804, FC in Lb in DNA: RG 59, GPR).

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