James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William C. C. Claiborne, 1 August 1804 (Abstract)

§ From William C. C. Claiborne

1 August 1804, New Orleans. “More than two months ago, I received information that a small French privateer, in company with two brigs, the one under French and the other Spanish Colours had entered the Mississippi.

“The brigs anchored in the river below Plaquemines, and the privateer with my permission passed that Fort, and came to, about two leagues below this city. Rumour soon pronounced both the brigs to be prizes, and a variety of circumstances seemed to confirm it. The privateer admitted visits from no one not attached to her, and except her officers no person was permitted to go on shore.

“The brig under Spanish Colours was loaded with coffee, and information was received at the collectors office, that partial sales thereof had been made to persons coming up the river at very reduced prices. An Officer of the Customs was immediately dispatched to detect the abuses, but previous to his arrival the vessel had weighed anchor and passed out of the river Mississippi by the South west pass, and destined as was said to Pensacola.

“The brig under French Colours proceeded up to this city, in character of a French Merchant vessel from St. Domingo consigned to citizen Blanque (the gentleman named by M. Laussat the French commercial agent for this port[)]; but he having declined the assignment, the same was accepted by Mr. Evan Jones and on Saturday last that gentleman entered the vessel, gave the customary bonds for securing the duties and obtained a permit to land the cargo: by this time, I had information on which I could rely, that the brig purporting to be a Merchantman from St. Domingo, was in fact a prize; whereupon Mr. Trist was requested not to suffer the execution of the permit to land the cargo, until he heard further from me on the subject: An examination relative to the vessel was immediately commenced, and after the exhibition of much contradictory testimony and wilful perjury, it appeared, that ‘the French privateer somewhere in the latitude of Havannah captured an American brig called the Mary Captain Linn on her passage from Jamaica to Norfolk in Virginia, and the British brig Active Captain Raison on her passage from Jamaica to London, and brought both prizes into the Mississippi: The American brig after laying several days in the Mississippi and making sale of much coffee again went out to sea, was run aground near Cat Island, the cargo landed and the vessel burnt. The British brig came up to the city, was entered at the Custom house, as the Hector from St. Domingo; that the papers produced at the Custom House were all forged at sea, and that a sale of the cargo had been conditionally made to Mr. Evan Jones, and who had, himself, offered the same for sale to others,’ all which will more fully appear, from the depositions and other documents enclosed from No. 1 to No 16 inclusive.1

“It now remains for me only to observe, that upon the exercise of my best judgment, it seemed to be my duty to cause the brig Active thus entered illegally and corruptly, and the cargo sold contrary to our solemn treaties, to be seized and to hold the same subject to the orders of the President of the United States.”

RC, two copies, and enclosures (DNA: RG 59, TP, Orleans, vol. 4); letterbook copy (Ms-Ar: Claiborne Executive Journal, vol. 13). First RC 4 pp.; in a clerk’s hand, signed by Claiborne; docketed by Wagner as received 4 Sept., with his notation: “French Privateer & her prizes.” Second RC marked “(Duplicate)”; docketed by Wagner as received 8 Oct. For enclosures, see n. 1.

1The enclosures (32 pp.; partly in French) are copies of (1) a rôle d’equipage for the brig Hector, certified at Santo Domingo, 18 Germinal an XII (8 Apr. 1804); (2) a statement of the Hector’s cargo and destination by Henry LePage, the ship’s captain, 18 Apr. 1804, along with a consignment of the cargo to Evan Jones, 23 July 1804; (3) an “Inward Entry” form, signed by Jones, 28 July 1804; (4) a “Report and Manifest of the Cargo” form, signed by LePage, 28 July 1804; (5) the declaration of William M. Johnson, first pilot at the Balize, 30 July 1804, describing the movements of the privateer and brigs at the Balize; (6) the deposition of Joseph Glaister, 30 July 1804, detailing conversations held with three British sailors who had served on board the Active; (7) the deposition of Henry LePage, 30 July 1804, affirming that he took command of the Hector at Saint-Domingue and fell in with the privateer on the way to New Orleans; (8) the deposition of William Curracoa, 30 July 1804, testifying that he shipped on board the Hector at Saint-Domingue and never saw the privateer until the day the brig reached the Balize; (9) the deposition of Theodore Thore, clerk on board the French privateer Eugene, 30 July 1804, who swore that the privateer had taken the American brig but merely convoyed the other brig to the Balize and who also testified to making out the rôle d’equipage at sea; (10) the deposition of Joseph Dumas, owner of the privateer, 30 July 1804, testifying that the Hector was taken as a prize and some of the privateersmen, including LePage, put on it; (11) a list of “Questions Put to Mr. Evan Jones” by Claiborne and the answers, 31 July 1804, about the Hector and the disposition of its cargo; (12) the deposition of Captain L’Oiseau, the commander of the French privateer, 31 July 1804, to the effect that both brigs had been taken as prizes and that he had changed the name of the British brig Active to Hector; (13) the deposition of Benjamin DeWilber, mate of the brig Active, 31 July 1804, who swore that the French privateer Eugene took his ship captive after the Active left Jamaica and that they sailed straight for the Mississippi River; (14) the deposition of James Olson, seaman on board the American brig Mary, 31 July 1804, attesting to the capture of his ship by the Eugene; (15) the deposition of George T. Philips, swearing that Evan Jones offered him half of the cargo of the Hector, but as a price could not be agreed on, the sale was not made; and (16) an affidavit by Edward C. Nicholls, a New Orleans attorney, giving the substance of a conversation held on 1 Aug. 1804 between Claiborne, Captain L’Oiseau, and Joseph Dumas, describing the purchase of the Hector’s cargo by Evan Jones.

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