James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Anthony Merry, 15 September 1804

From Anthony Merry

Philadelphia September 15th. 1804.


I received a Letter from Mr. Wagner, dated the 29th. of last Month,1 inclosing sundry Documents said to prove that William Blake, and Samuel Robbins, or Robinson or Robertson, who were stated to be detained on board His Majesty’s Ship Cambrian, and John Holmes, said to be also detained on board His Majesty’s Ship Leander, as impressed Men, are Citizens of the United States, and, therefore, requesting me to use my good Offices for procuring their Release.

I lost no Time, Sir, in transmitting the Documents abovementioned to His Majesty’s Consul General at New York, in Order that they might be communicated, together with the Request from your Office, to the Captains of the said Ships, and I have now the Honor to send you inclosed Copies of the Answers which the latter have made on the Subject,2 by which you will perceive the Circumstances that are alleged respecting William Blake, that Samuel Robbins, or Robinson or Robertson, is at present absent from the Cambrian Frigate, which puts it out of Captain Bradley’s Power to identify his Person by the Description given of him in the Document, whilst an Observation, which would seem to be just, is made upon the Singularity of the Individuals who have sworn to a Knowledge of his Person not being acquainted with his real Name, and that there is a Person named Holme on board the Ship Leander, who is a Swede by Birth, who does not claim any Protection as an American Citizen, and who declares that he has never been at New-Port, and whose Person, moreover, does not answer to the Description given in the Document which relates to John Holmes,3 from all which Circumstances it would appear that he cannot be the Person for whom Inquiry has been made. I have the Honor to be, with high Respect and Consideration, Sir, Your most obedient humble Servant

Ant: Merry.

RC and enclosures (DNA: RG 59, NFL, Great Britain, vol. 3). RC in a clerk’s hand, signed by Merry; docketed by Wagner as received 19 Sept., with his notation: “Seamen.” For enclosures, see nn. 2–3.

1See Wagner to JM, 1 Sept. 1804, and n. 4.

2Merry enclosed an extract of a letter from Capt. William Bradley of the Cambrian to Thomas Barclay, 5 Sept. 1804 (2 pp.; with marginal notes by Wagner), stating that Samuel Robertson might be the person mentioned in Wagner’s letter, but it was “a very extraordinary Circumstance” that the witnesses could describe him so exactly yet not be sure of his name; that he could not pursue the matter due to Robertson’s absence from the Cambrian; that he doubted William Blake, whom he had received from H.M.S. Andromache, was American; and that he would require further proof before releasing Blake, who had no protection when he was taken on board the Andromache. According to a State Department list JM submitted to the House of Representatives on 19 Jan. 1805, Blake had been impressed on 25 July 1803 (DNA: RG 233, Reports and Communications from the Secretary of State, 8A-E1).

3Merry also enclosed a copy of a letter from Alexander Skene of the Leander to Barclay, 5 Sept. 1804 (1 p.; docketed by Wagner), stating that he had no one named John Holmes on board but that he did have a Swede named Holme, found on board the British ship Thomas, who did not claim American protection. George W. Erving’s report on impressed seamen, 31 Aug. 1804, indicates that on 31 Mar. 1804 Erving had applied for the release of John Holmes, who was impressed at Liverpool from the Bellona, Capt. Thomas Delano, into the Salvador del Mundo. He applied again on 16 Apr. 1804, stating that Holmes had been impressed into the Courageux. Although Erving enclosed an affidavit from William Saltonstall on both occasions, it was judged insufficient proof for discharge. For Erving’s report, see Erving to JM, 1 Sept. 1804 (second letter), and n. 1.

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