Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John P. Whitwell and Andrew Oliver, Jr., 6 June 1803

From John P. Whitwell and Andrew Oliver, Jr.

Boston 6th June 1803

We, the Subscribers, citizens of the Town of Boston, with the greatest deference, and respect, humbly beg leave to enclose a Copy of a Letter from ourselves to the Secretary of the Navy; and to solicit thereto, the momentary attention and interference of the Chief Magistrate of the Union; whose exalted Character, whether Moral, Political, or Literary, we have ever beheld with the highest attachment & veneration.   The ground of this application rests upon the commonly receiv’d maxim, That the Inhabitants of a City, possess a superior claim to the emoluments arising from the outfit of a Public Vessel where She may happen to be Station’d or constructed.—

The grievance specified in the enclos’d may at first appear to be merely personal and interested; but, we are at liberty to State as the belief of others, whose opinions are more influential than our own, that similar deviations from established customs might serve to excite, the regret of the well-wishers to the present policy; and the open exultation of its political opponents—

With due reflection, and adequate respect, we subscribe ourselves, Your Servts. & political adherents

John P. Whitwell

Andrew Oliver Junr

RC (MiU-C); at head of text: “To Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 12 June and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Whitwell and Oliver to Robert Smith, dated Boston, 4 June 1803, identifying themselves as “extensive Importers of Drugs and Medicines from England, Holland, Mediterranean, and most parts of Europe and Asia”; due to their “political principles,” the authors never obtained the patronage of previous administrations; they “heard with a great degree of exultation a projected Naval Armament from this Post,” and subsequently made applications to the navy agent in Boston, Samuel Brown, to supply medicines, which were supported by Charles Jarvis and Benjamin Austin; as a result, Whitwell and Oliver received “every assurance that anticipation cou’d suggest, or promises bestow” from Brown; these expectations, however, were frustrated when they received news that prior arrangements had been made at Washington; the authors will not dwell on the unprecedented nature of this measure, or on the losses they sustained, but rather emphasize their just pretensions to government patronage; Whitwell and Oliver have long been loyal Republicans, they have paid nearly $10,000 in duties to the government, and have lately been “great losers by Bills of Exchange”; nevertheless, they claim to be able to supply medicines at half the cost of any that have heretofore been furnished; they ask Smith to consider their case and, if it is not too late, to “countermand any orders your disposition may dictate, or judgment conceive will ultimately prove beneficial to the existing Government, or the common Interests of the United States”; they note in a postscript that they were promised the business by the Boston navy agent almost 12 months ago (Printed in Jefferson Correspondence, Bixby description begins Worthington C. Ford, ed., Thomas Jefferson Correspondence Printed from the Originals in the Collections of William K. Bixby, Boston, 1916 description ends , 101–2).

Writing Whitwell and Oliver on 13 June 1803, secretary of the navy Robert Smith acknowledged receipt of their 4 June letter and explained that procuring medical supplies in the ports where vessels were outfitted had caused considerable “inconveniencies & losses.” Under Smith’s new arrangements, when vessels arrived in any United States port, their medical chests and instruments are removed and sent to Washington, “where all the medicines that are good are taken out and carefully preserved & the instruments are kept in order so as to be ready for immediate use.” When chests were allowed to remain in vessels, it was found that the remaining medicines were lost and the instruments became rusty and “in many instances entirely unfit for future use” (FC in Lb in DNA: RG 45, MLS).

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