James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William C. C. Claiborne, 23 November 1804

From William C. C. Claiborne

New Orleans November 23rd. 1804

Dear Sir,

Within a few days past events have occurred here, which I conceive it my duty particularly to represent to you. I have heretofore informed you of the Arrival in this City of Governor Folch and several other Spanish Officers on their return from Baton-Rouge to Pensacola,1 and that their passage by this route was with my consent.

Governor Folch and Suite have now departed, but during their Stay, a Fleet of small Vessels with near three Hundred Troops on Board, lay in the Lake about Six Miles from the Bayou St. John. A Supply of Provisions for those Troops was purchased in this Territory with my approbation, nor did I oppose a wish which was expressed by the Spanish Officers generally to visit New-Orleans. In this State of things, all remained quiet for Several days, and frequent acts of civility were exchanged between the officers of the United States and those of Spain. On the 13th Instant an American of the name of Morgan who had been taken a prisoner by Governor Folch in West-Florida (but with what offence charged I know not) made his escape from the Fleet; he was pursued and overtaken near Fort St. John: But upon declaring himself to be a Citizen of the United States, and claiming protection, a Non-Commissioned Officer commanding the Fort, would not permit his pursuers to take him; and he Morgan came up to this City. This event did not seem to excite the displeasure of Governor Folch, and not a word was said upon the Subject.

Between the 12th and 14th instant Several Frenchmen who had made their escape from the Barque Hero (whose case I have acquainted you of)2 reached the City, and it was reported that they had been enlisted in the Army of Spain by Governor Folch. Being in the Vicinity of the Lodgings of the Marquis of Casa Calvo, when this information was received by me, I immediately determined to pay him a visit and to mention the Subject verbally.

The object of my visit was promptly communicated and I expressed my regret that so direct an insult to the Sovereignty of my Country should have been offered. The Marquis assured me, that the report was not correct, he observed “that four or five individuals had offered their Services to Governor Folch, but were told they were now on American ground and that he the Governor could not recruit them; if however they thought proper to visit Pensacola, and would there tender their Services, it was probable they might be enlisted.”

The Marquis added that the subject would be mentioned by him particularly to Governor Folch, and assured me no indignity or disrespect should be offered to this Government. On the 16th instant, Morgan (the person mentioned as effecting his escape near Fort St. John) Sued out a writ from the Office of the Superior Court, against Manuel García a spanish officer, and the particulars attending its execution you will find fully detailed in a Letter to me from the Alguazil Mayor herewith enclosed marked No. 1.3

I was early advised by a message from Governor Folch of the arrest of Captain García, and his release was required in terms not very delicate. The impropriety nay impossibility of an Official interference on my part was communicated (in terms the most conciliatory) to Governor Folch; but he was irritated and indulged himself in Language intemperate and highly exceptionable. Shortly afterwards I received a Letter from the Marquis, the original of which No. 2 is enclosed,4 and I returned an answer of which the enclosure No. 3 is a copy.5

When the Marquis’s Letter was handed me I was informed by the Bearer of it, “that the Marquis requested an immediate answer, and the release of Captain García, or he would immediately leave the Territory and would not be answerable for the consequences and Revolution that might ensue.”

The Gentleman delivering this message expressed himself in English, and I desired him “to inform the Marquis that the Letter would be answered when convenient; and if he wished to withdraw from the Territory, the customary passports should on application be furnished him.” In the course of the evening I was informed that a Mob of more than 200. Men had assembled in Front of the Marquis’s House, and evinced a disposition for Mischief; I immediately requested Colonel Butler to strengthen the Guards and directed the Alguazil Mayor to proceed to the place of this assemblage and Solicit (in my name) the people to repair to their respective Homes; But previous to the arrival of the Alguazil many had retired, and the few which were then remaining immediately seperated at his request. Several Letters have since passed between the Marquis and myself upon this Subject copies of which are enclosed Nos.  .6

I was on a visit to Judge Prevost’s when I heard the particulars of the Spanish Officers arrest, and there continued until the verbal Messages between the Marquis Governor Folch and myself had ceased. On my return to the Government House, I found that many Americans had repaired there, under an impression that a Serious riot would ensue. But throughout the night the most perfect tranquility reigned, and I take pleasure in adding that on this occasion the great body of the Citizens manifested no disposition unfriendly to good order, or to the existing Government. I am Sir with great Respect and esteem, your Hbe. St.

William C. C. Claiborne

RC and enclosures (DNA: RG 59, TP, Orleans, vol. 5); letterbook copy and letterbook copy of enclosures (LU: Claiborne Letterbook). RC in a clerk’s hand, signed by Claiborne; docketed by Wagner as received 2 Jan., with his notation: “Manuel García’s case.” For enclosures, all of which are docketed by Wagner as received in this dispatch, see nn. 3–6.

2See Claiborne to JM, 3 (first letter) and 18 Nov. 1804.

3Enclosure no. 1 is Alguazil Mayor (sheriff) Lewis Kerr to Claiborne, 17 Nov. 1804 (5 pp.; printed in Bradley, Interim Appointment, 80–83), describing in detail the escape of U.S. citizen David B. Morgan, who had been a surveyor in West Florida, from Spanish custody, his institution of a suit for six hundred dollars against Capt. Manuel García for “the value of a negro, some wearing apparel and other moveables which he stated to belong to him,” García’s retreat to “the house of a Spanish gentleman,” his resistance to the process server when he was finally discovered, Folch’s instructions to García to resist, Kerr’s several discussions with García to persuade him to surrender, the use of American troops in the affair to support Kerr’s authority, García’s belief that he was protected by international law, and his eventual surrender.

4Enclosure no. 2 is Casa Calvo to Claiborne, 16 Nov. 1804 (2 pp.; in Spanish; translation printed ibid., 77–78), stating that he had been informed by Folch that García had been taken into custody in spite of his having a safe-conduct from Claiborne, that the case was one in which the U.S. government should not have been involved any more than the Spanish government interfered in cases under U.S. jurisdiction involving Spanish subjects, and that he expected that as soon as Claiborne became aware of the situation he would command the repeal of the judge’s orders lest the issue disrupt the harmony between the two states.

5Enclosure no. 3 is a copy of Claiborne to Casa Calvo, 16 Nov. 1804 (2 pp.; printed ibid., 79), in which Claiborne acknowledged receipt of Casa Calvo’s letter of the same date (see n. 4, above), explained that the court operated independently of his jurisdiction but that he had no doubt García would be released if his arrest was illegal, and took exception to the language used by both Casa Calvo and Folch in discussing the matter.

6Left blank in RC. The other four enclosures, two of which are unnumbered, are Casa Calvo to Claiborne, 17 Nov. 1804 (4 pp.; in Spanish; translation printed ibid., 84–86), acknowledging receipt of Claiborne’s 16 Nov. letter, commenting on his own status under his commission from Charles IV, expressing his concern about the arrest of García, who had been acting under the orders of Folch, citing several other cases which he believed demonstrated that the rights of the Spanish government had been abrogated, and requesting that Claiborne repudiate the actions taken and prevent any further such incidents; a copy of Claiborne to Casa Calvo, 18 Nov. 1804 (9 pp.; marked “No. 5.”; printed ibid., 87–89), stating that he had no authority to recognize diplomatic characters, reiterating that the courts of the province were independent of him and had acted so in both the García case and the other cases Casa Calvo cited, and explaining that García’s refusal to obey court orders had left the civil authorities no alternative but to call on military aid; Casa Calvo to Claiborne, 19 Nov. 1804 (8 pp.; in Spanish; approximate translation printed ibid., 89–93), reiterating his assertion of his diplomatic status and stating his willingness to drop the argument for the moment, denying that he had asked Claiborne to exceed the authority of his office, agreeing that local laws must be obeyed, stating that García and other military men must obey their superiors, denying that overt resistance had been offered in the case, restating his objections to the handling of the Pedro Villamil case and Thomas Randall’s behavior (see Claiborne to JM, 19 Jan. 1805), denying that Governor Folch, López Armesto, or Lt. Estebán Folch had issued threats of hostility against the United States or Claiborne, expressing his appreciation of Claiborne’s courtesy, and stating his certainty that Claiborne would comprehend the Spanish desire for justice and good relations between the two countries; and a copy of Claiborne to Casa Calvo, 22 Nov. 1804 (4 pp.; marked “No. 7.”; printed ibid., 94–95), acknowledging receipt of Casa Calvo’s 19 Nov. letter, expressing approval of Casa Calvo’s acceptance of his explanation of García’s case, stating again that only the federal authorities were empowered to recognize any diplomatic character that Casa Calvo claimed, and answering Casa Calvo’s earlier complaint about problems collecting debt orders by explaining that only decrees issued by American courts were enforceable in the territory.

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