Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson’s Extract of William Lewis to Charles W. Goldsborough, 7 September 1811, and Jefferson’s Notes, [ca. 27 September 1821]

Extract of William Lewis to Charles W. Goldsborough, with Jefferson’s Notes

[ca. 27 Sept. 1821]

Extract of a lre from Lt W.1 Lewis of the navy to Chas W. Gouldsborough.

dated Pernambuco Sep. 7. 1811.

‘I think it is proper to communicate to you for the information of the Secy of the Navy that Capt James Barron while in this place, in a merchant brig from Norfolk, did say to a mr Lyon, British Consul at that time, and now residing here that even if the Chesapeak had been prepared for action, he would not have resisted the attack of the Leopard, assigning as a reason that he knew (as did also our govmt) there were deserters on board his ship. he said to mr Lyon farther that the Pres. of the US. knew there were deserters on board, & of the intention of the British ships to take them, & that his ship was ordered out under these circumstances with the view to bringing about a contest which might embroil the two nations, in a war. he told mr Lyon that he had private letters in his possn from officers high in the govmt approving his conduct in the affair with the Leopard. I obtained this informn from mr Thos Goodwin of Baltimore (brother of Lt Ridgeley) who recd it from mr Lyon himself, not in confidence, but in company where a number of Americans were present’

the govmt applied to Goodwin who wrote them a letter assuring them that what Lt Lewis said in his letter was every word true, and that he believed the fact to be true. Barron was advised by mr Smith Thomson Secy of the navy to see mr Goodwin and obtain explanations. Barron past thro Baltimore and did not call on Goodwin, and Goodwin died before Barron’s trial. or he would have been summoned as a witness. the court gave an opinion that the above fact ‘was not proved.’ Lewis had been dead some time.

MS (DLC: TJ Papers, 194:34442); written entirely in TJ’s hand on a narrow slip; undated, but presumably composed after the receipt of James Monroe to TJ, 27 Sept. 1821, and its enclosures; endorsed by TJ: “Barron James. a fact.”

William Lewis (ca. 1781–1815), naval officer, was a resident of Fredericksburg when he studied at the College of William and Mary in around 1798. He briefly studied medicine in Fauquier Court House (later Warrenton), then read law before entering the United States Navy as a midshipman in 1802. Lewis was posted first on the USS New York under James Barron and ultimately served for five years in the Mediterranean aboard several different ships. In 1807 he carried diplomatic dispatches to Paris and London on TJ’s orders. For four years beginning in 1811 he was furloughed from the navy to captain a merchant ship to China. Lewis returned to military service at the rank of master commandant in 1815, and later that year was lost at sea while returning home from the Mediterranean on leave as a passenger on board the USS Epervier (Frederick C. Leiner, The End of Barbary Terror: America’s 1815 War Against the Pirates of North Africa [2006], esp. 70–1; Mary Lewis Cooke and Charles Lee Lewis, “An American Naval Officer in the Mediterranean, 1802–7,” United States Naval Institute Proceedings 67 [1941]: 1533–9; WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892–  description ends , 2d ser., 11 [1931]: 345–6; 13 [1933]: 254–5; ViW: Conway Whittle Papers; William and Mary Provisional List description begins A Provisional List of Alumni, Grammar School Students, Members of the Faculty, and Members of the Board of Visitors of the College of William and Mary in Virginia. From 1693 to 1888, 1941 description ends , 25; Callahan, U.S. Navy description begins Edward W. Callahan, List of Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900, 1901, repr. 1969 description ends , 332; Gardner W. Allen, Our Navy and the Barbary Corsairs [1905; repr. 2005], 224, 281, 289; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 2:627 [2, 3 Mar. 1815]).

The letter from Lewis to chief naval clerk Charles W. Goldsborough begins with his offer to man and equip “a fast sailing schooner” at the Brazilian port of Pernambuco (now known as Recife) to attack British shipping if war breaks out. In the portion of the letter following the extract by TJ, Lewis adds that “I always knew that Barron was a man of the most vindictive heart. He has no doubt, said these things with a view to revenge himself. I am now convinced that he is not only a coward but a traitor, for I can call by no other name a man who would talk in this way to an Englishman,—and an Englishman in office.” The letter concludes with Lewis’s regret that he left the American frigate United States and took command of a merchant vessel at a time when war might be imminent (printed in Proceedings of a Court of Enquiry, held at the Navy Yard, Brooklyn, New York, upon Captain James Barron of the United States’ Navy, in May, 1821 [Washington, 1822], 5–6).

Paul Hamilton was the secy of the navy in 1811.

1Manuscript: “N.” Signature of this letter in Proceedings of a Court of Enquiry: “W.”

Index Entries

  • Barron, James; charges against search
  • Chesapeake, USS (frigate); incident (1807) search
  • Goldsborough, Charles Washington; correspondence of search
  • Goodwin, Thomas Parkin search
  • Hamilton, Paul (1762–1816); as secretary of the navy search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Extract of William Lewis to Charles W. Goldsborough, with Jefferson’s Notes search
  • Leopard, HMS; andChesapeakeincident search
  • Lewis, William (ca.1781–1815); identified search
  • Lewis, William (ca.1781–1815); letter from, to C. W. Goldsborough search
  • Lewis, William (ca.1781–1815); on J. Barron search
  • Lyon, Mr.; as British consul at Pernambuco search
  • Ridgely, Charles Goodwin; family of search
  • Thompson, Smith; and charges against J. Barron search
  • United States, USS (frigate) search