Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Davidson, 10 June 1802

From William Davidson

To the President of the United States

With due deference the Subscriber prays leave respectfully to submit the following remarks on the Causes which most probably led to his recent arrest and detainer by General LeClerc in Hispaniola

As soon as General LeClerc got possession of Cape Francois, he laid an embargo on all American vessels, which continued for the space of fifteen days. By the expiration of this period several battles had been fought between the White and Black Troops, in which it was generally believed the former had been beaten. The Americans now wrote to their friends in the United States, and many of them blamed General LeClerc for the loss of the Town, alledging that had he came in the first day of the fleet’s appearance off the harbour, it might have been preserved. Some of these called him—Coward! others a Fool,—many both, and imputed to his want of skill the many losses that had been sustained. These letters became subjects for publication in the Gazettes in the United States, which immediately finding their way out, were read by General LeClerc and his Officers. A coolness soon took place towards the Americans, which shortly ripened into enmity, and we were either insulted or treated with contempt whenever our business necessarily led us to appear before any of them. This to me obviously appeared the natural consequence resulting from the provocations given by my Countrymen as before mentioned, which had so often and so decidedly met my disapprobation, as can be testified by many of them.

At length an extract of a letter dated at Cape Francois the 20th February came out in one of the American Papers. This publication I heard read by its reputed author. I then reprobated it as highly improper and impolitic, and insisted that the Americans ought to observe a neutral conduct, and as I then expressed myself I trembled for the consequences. To this letter I beg leave to refer the President. Two or three days afterwards I was arrested as stated in my protest

I now submit to the consideration of the President what I conceive to be the real causes of my imprisonment.

First, General LeClerc had been told by the Inhabitants of the Cape that the Americans had plundered the Town after the fire

Secondly The before mentioned publications which no doubt gave him offence, particularly the last and of which he had no other clue to discover the author than the mere circumstance of his mentioning the date of his arrival which would also apply to me as by a reference to the Custom House Books it appeared that the Ship Orion of Philadelphia, a Schooner of New York and myself in the Ship Saint Domingo Packet had all arrived on one and the same day; the two former vessels had sailed (tho’ the Super Cargo of the Schooner was then in the town)—added to which the General by this time had received information that the head of my Ship was the Effigy of Toussaint and (as he has told an American in a private conversation since) that he had been informed that the Ship belonged to that Chief and had brought Powder and Arms for his use.

And in as much as General LeClerc had now become highly irritated by the conduct of the Americans as already mentioned, he thought it expedient to select me as the most proper object, on whom to manifest his displeasure.

Permit me here to subjoin a statement of the actual losses I have sustained in consequence of the arrest and detention of myself and property as beforementioned

My expences in prison Dolls 81.–
Demurrage of the Ship 22 days @ $20 440.–
Commission on the Cargo consigned
to myself which I was obliged
to put in a Merchants hands
in consequence of my being
ordered away say $22000 @ 2½ pct
} 550.–
My passage home and stores 50.–
Master employed to conduct the Ship
after I left her, his wages one
month and a half
} 75.–
Dollars 1196.–

My expences to and from Washington not ascertained.

The loss of the above sum will be sensibly felt by me, particularly so as the Ship was built just before the close of the late European war, the one half cost me all the property I was worth, the other half I obtained on credit. The whole of the Ship will not at this day sell for more than will pay the residue of what I am indebted thereon. My personal suffering I shall set no value on, viewing it in the light of one of those misfortunes from which no man is exempt in perilous times.

Remuneration for my losses is in the present case only a secondary object—I have been interdicted from a personal intercourse with the Island of Hispaniola, and that under a severe penalty, no less than the pain of death! It is this trade to which I have been most accustomed and with which I am most intimately acquainted. From this source has been chiefly derived my living. And it is principally with a view to the establishment of my innocence, and of being released from an injurious proscription that the present representation is made, having for its aim a governmental interference in my behalf.

Wm. Davidson

RC (DNA: RG 76, Claims against France); in an unidentified hand, signed and dated by Davidson.

The EXTRACT OF A LETTER from Cap-Français dated the 20TH OF FEBRUARY cited by Davidson was carried to Philadelphia by the schooner Lydia, appeared in the New York Daily Advertiser on 19 Mch., and was subsequently reprinted in other American newspapers. The unidentified author claimed to have arrived at Cap-Français six days after the city’s destruction by rebel forces on 4 Feb. He accused Leclerc of “timidity” and condemned him for not using French forces to protect the city. “Had the troops boldly entered at first, lives and property would have been saved,” the author claimed, “but instead of that, they keeped aloof, and allowed the cosmopolites to do all the mischief that time would admit.” The letter went on to deride Leclerc’s promise to conquer the island in six weeks, asserting that Toussaint’s forces would “baffle all his skill.” Leclerc’s assertions that American property and lives would be protected were also ridiculed by the author. “French gratitude is in every clime the same,” he wrote, adding that he has been “perfectly satiated with complaints of French plunder, French oppression, and French cruelty.” Leclerc’s declared embargo was followed by the requisition of American vessels and crews, then by demands that American cargos be sold at prices fixed by Leclerc and payable in bills on France. Trade has ceased for lack of money and every cargo liable to seizure. “It would be madness to send further supplies to such a faithless people,” the author concluded.

AS STATED IN MY PROTEST: Davidson refers to a “Public Instrument of Protest,” dated Wilmington, Delaware, 2 June, in which he recorded a detailed narrative of his arrest, imprisonment, and release, which included sworn declarations that he abided by all known American and French regulations during his voyage and was not involved in any illicit trade (MS in DNA: RG 76, Claims against France; in a clerk’s hand; attested by Edward Roche, notary public for the state of Delaware).

Davidson’s memorial was evidently presented to TJ in person on 21 June, along with letters of recommendation from Caesar A. Rodney of 31 May (printed above) and another from William Jones of Philadelphia, dated 16 June, in which he describes Davidson as sustaining “a fair character” and as a man of “strict integrity and good conduct, and in all respects a very worthy citizen” (RC in DLC; at foot of text: “The President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 21 June and “by Capt Davidson” and so recorded in SJL). Davidson’s narrative, as well as one by fellow captive John Rodgers, were forwarded to Robert R. Livingston by James Madison on 6 July, with instructions “to press the subject on the French Government with the advantage to be derived from an accurate knowledge of its details” (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962–, 32 vols. Sec. of State Ser., 1986–, 8 vols. Pres. Ser., 1984–, 6 vols. Ret. Ser., 2009–, 1 vol. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 3:372–5).

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