Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Henry Dearborn, 8 August 1803

To Henry Dearborn

Monticello Aug. 8. 1803.

Dear Sir

It is suggested to me (indirectly from the person himself) that Jerome Bonaparte is at Baltimore under the name of Monsr. Dalbarton, with a son of Rewbell, and that they mean to ask a passage to France in one of our frigates. if this be the fact, he will have satisfied thereof the minister of his nation, thro’ whom we shall be apprised of it, and relieved from all trouble in deciding on it. this may yet be done, perhaps just as a frigate is ready to sail, and accompanied with a request of a passage in her, when no time will be left for consultation. our duty to our constituents would require us to lose no occasion of conferring personal obligation on the first Consul of France, and of procuring by just attentions the advantages of his good will to them. the same duties require us equally to give no just offense to the other belligerent party, and that we should not expose our flag to the humiliation of having a frigate searched by superior force,1 the search proved rightful by it’s result, & ourselves placed in the wrong. we should therefore be prepared with an answer, yea or nay, should the application be made in proper form; for which reason I ask the favor of yourself, as I do of the other gentlemen of the administration, to advise me as to the answer to be given. I presume there is little time left for my recieving it.

I inclose you an address from Kaskaskia. I presume our late acquisition will have given them more confidence in their safety. Accept my affectionate saluations & assurances of constant esteem.

Th: Jefferson

RC (NN: Lee Kohns Memorial Collection); addressed: “Genl. Henry Dearborne Secretary at War Washington.” PrC (DLC). Recorded in SJL as a letter to the War Department about Jerome Bonaparte and with notation “address from Kaskaskia.” Enclosure: Address from citizens of Randolph County, Indiana Territory, at Kaskaskia, undated, recorded in SJL as received 29 July, but not found.

suggested to me: see TJ to Madison, 8 Aug.

Serving as a naval officer in the West Indies, 18-year-old jerome bonaparte had contracted yellow fever and was under orders to return to France to recuperate. Expecting interception by the British if he tried to sail directly from Martinique, he traveled to the United States with the intention of continuing on to France from an American port. With him were Pierre Meyronnet, another officer of the French navy; Alexander Lecamus, Bonaparte’s secretary; and Jean Jacques Reubell, son of Jean François Reubell, one of the original members of the French Directory. Bonaparte traveled up Chesapeake Bay from Norfolk and on 22 July arrived in Washington, where he stayed for two days and conferred with Louis André Pichon before going to Baltimore. Meyronnet arranged for a merchant vessel to take them to France, but Bonaparte decided to remain in Baltimore and let Meyronnet sail without him. The young officer then pressed Pichon to obtain passage for him on a U.S. frigate (Glenn J. Lamar, Jérôme Bonaparte: The War Years, 1800-1815 [Westport, Conn., 2000], 6-10; Edouard Dentu, ed., Mémoires et correspondance du roi Jérôme et de la reine Catherine, 7 vols. [Paris, 1861-66], 1:128-37; Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon description begins Jean Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon, Paris, 1987 description ends , 969, 1455-6).

under the name of monsr. dalbarton: the attempt to disguise the young Bonaparte’s identity could have only limited effect. A brief, unconfirmed newspaper story, which first appeared on 23 July and received wide circulation thereafter, reported his arrival in the United States. Later in August a report circulated that he and an accompanying entourage of gentlemen and ladies received a 21-gun salute during a public visit to a Spanish corvette at Baltimore (Baltimore Federal Gazette, 23 July; New York Commercial Advertiser, 27 July; Boston Columbian Centinel, 30 July; New York Daily Advertiser, 30 Aug.; Salem, Mass., Salem Register, 1 Sep.).

1Word written over partially erased “power”; compare TJ to Gallatin, TJ to Madison, and TJ to Smith of this date, below.

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