James Madison Papers

To James Madison from DeWitt Clinton, 19 June 1804

From DeWitt Clinton

New York 19 June 1804


As very serious aggressions have been recently committed in this port upon our national rights, I have thought it my duty to communicate the particulars to the President as soon as possible.

In the afternoon of the 17 inst I received a letter from Genl Rey the Commissary of the French Republic informing me that the French frigates Didon and Cybele then in this Port intended to sail with the first fair wind and requesting the detention of certain British vessels of War until the expiration of 24 hours after their departure. As this request appeared to me to be warranted by the usage of nations and as I had on a late occasion made a similar requisition to the French Commissary in favor of some British Merchant vessels, which had been instantly complied with, I addressed a letter the same evening to Colo Barclay the British Consul Genl of which I send you a copy marked No 1.1

The next morning Dr Bayley assistant to Dr Rodgers the health officer and Mr John Squire Lieutenant of the Cutter Vigilant called upon me: the former delivered me the letter No 22 and the latter made the deposition marked No 3.3 I immediately wrote the letter marked No 4 to Colo Barclay to which I have as yet received no answer.4 On the same day I received the letter marked No 5 from Colo Barclay:5 and as it did not appear from this Communication that he had informed the Commander of the British vessels of my request I sent him the letter marked No 66 to which I received the answer marked No 77 but without the letter of Capt Bradley therein mentioned. Colo Barclay has since informed me that it was omitted by mistake, which he would rectify by sending me a copy. This I have not as yet received.

Finding that the British Commander was resolved to proceed to sea in defiance of my request, I determined to withhold from him every aid or facility in my power and I accordingly wrote the letter No 8 to the wardens of the port.8

The letters No 9 & 10 from Dr Rodgers9 will inform you of the state of things at the quarantine ground subsequent to the first aggression: and the quarantine laws of the state, which I now transmit,10 will enable you in addition to other information in your power to take a view of the whole subject.

The British vessels proceeded to the Hook this morning without the Assistance of Pilots and they are now stationed within the Bar.

It will appear from this Statement that the aggressions committed, consist

1st of a violation of our territory

2   —————– of the Revenue laws of the UStates

3   of the quarantine laws of this State

& 4   of a request authorized and enjoined by the Law of Nations.

I shall immediately communicate any further proceedings which may be of importance for you to be acquainted with. I have the honor to be &c

Signed   De Witt Clinton

PS. I understand that the Capt of the Cambrian took the impressed men with him to the Hook.

RC and enclosures (DNA: RG 59, ML); letterbook copy (NNC); Tr of enclosures (PRO: Foreign Office, ser. 5, 42:48–49, 61–63, 68). RC in a clerk’s hand; marked “(copy).” For surviving enclosures (12 pp.), see nn. 1–9.

1Enclosure no. 1 is a copy of Clinton’s letter to Thomas Barclay, 17 June 1804, requesting that the British warships Cambrian and Driver be held for twenty-four hours after the departure of the French frigates Didon and Cybele.

2In enclosure no. 2, a copy of John R. B. Rodgers to Clinton, 17 June 1804, Rodgers protested the conduct of officers from the Cambrian in violating the quarantine laws of New York State.

3Enclosure no. 3 is a copy of the deposition of John Squire, 18 June 1804, who testified that on 17 June in the course of his duties as revenue officer he attempted to board the ship Pitt, from Greenock, and was prevented by a party of British officers and men, one of whom “damned the Revenue officers and the Revenue laws of the UStates.” “Being menaced with being cut with Swords,” Squire withdrew to the U.S. cutter Vigilant.

4Enclosure no. 4 is a copy of Clinton to Barclay, 18 June 1804, protesting the actions of the commanders of the British armed vessels in the port of New York (the Cambrian and Driver) for violating the territory of the U.S. in impressing eighteen men from the Pitt as well as violating the revenue laws of the U.S. and the quarantine laws of the state. Clinton asked Barclay to order the commanders to give up the impressed men and turn over the Pitt to the superintendence of the health officer.

5Enclosure no. 5 is a copy of Barclay to Clinton, 18 June 1804, acknowledging Clinton’s 17 June request (see n. 1, above) and promising to transmit the request to Anthony Merry for his direction. Barclay noted, however, that he doubted that Captain Bradley, the commander of the British ships, would comply with such a request, as he had orders to proceed as soon as possible to cruise off the U.S. coast against French privateers.

6In enclosure no. 6, a copy of Clinton to Barclay, 18 June 1804, Clinton, “without entering into a discussion of the merits” of his former request “or of the solidity of the positions advanced” in Barclay’s reply, asked Barclay to inform him if he had passed Clinton’s request on to the commander of the British warships.

7In enclosure no. 7, a copy of Barclay to Clinton, 18 June 1804, Barclay wrote that he had sent Clinton’s letter asking for a twenty-four-hour delay to Captain Bradley with a request that Bradley comply with it “if in his power” and that he was enclosing Bradley’s reply. Barclay noted that he assumed that the ships were “on their way to the Hook” and promised to visit Clinton the next day to discuss the infraction of the quarantine laws.

8Enclosure no. 8 is a copy of Clinton to the wardens of the port of New York, 18 June 1804, requesting them to order the harbor pilots to refrain from “conducting British vessels of War out of the port until the expiration of 24 hours after the sailing of the French Frigates, provided the latter leave the port with the first fair wind.”

9Enclosure no. 9 is an extract of a letter from Rodgers to Clinton, 18 June 1804, in which Rodgers reported that after boarding the ship Pitt and finding that “fourteen of her hands and one passenger had been forcibly taken from her, and among them two men having protections as American Citizens,” he placed the ship under quarantine and wrote a letter of protest to the captain of the Cambrian (William Bradley), a copy of which is included. Enclosure no. 10 consists of an extract of Rodgers’s letter to Clinton, 19 June 1804, noting that Bradley was evading the charge of impressing men with American protections, and the enclosed copy of Bradley to Rodgers, 18 June 1804, acknowledging the impressment of fourteen men from the ship Pitt, “all of which except one genoese acknowledged to be English and Scotch,” and declaring: “I afforded the ship every assistance and … therefore cannot suppose that any injury to the vessel ought to attach to me. I can only repeat that I am extremely sorry any altercation should have happened and will most readily do every thing in my power to do it away.”

10Enclosure not found.

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