James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Jacob Ridgway (Abstract), 26 March 1805

§ From Jacob Ridgway

26 March 1805, Antwerp. “The preceding are duplicates of my last respects of the 24th Jan:y.1 and 8th Ulto. to which I beg leave to refer you as also to the Duplicates of the several Letters and Vouchers therein mentioned.

“Permit me now, Sir to call your attention to a subject alluded to in your standing Instructions but not Sufficiently explicit to determine my Conduct; I mean the Case when Vessels are under the American flag provided with regular Papers altho’ wholly or partly owned by a foreigner not a Citizen of the United States.

“Two Brigs of Petersburg, Virginia, Viz, The Mount Vernon, James Cox Master, and the Eliza, Henry Brown Master, both from Norfolk and loaded with Tobacco, entered this Port about the middle of February; The former had a Sea Letter and a mediteranean Passport but no Register or Certificate of Property and was enterr’d here by her Consignees Mess. Brothers Debaugue as a french Bottom navigating under american Colours with the approbation of the french Minister in consequence of which I refused recognising her as an american Vessel. The Latter, the Brig Eliza, was provided with regular Papers, but her Certificate of Property being filled up in the Name of the Said Master, a young man, not likely to be her true owner, created suspicions which were confirmed two days after by discovering she had likewise enterred at the Custom house as a french Bottom and had a Double set of Papers Copies of Which I enclose together with my several Letters to Mr Armstrong on the subject and his replies.2 You will observe, Sir, by the enclosed Copies that a french house living in Ghent, Mess. DeCoest freres, appear to be the Present Owners of the Brig Eliza whose french Papers I have had in my possession the necessary time to peruse them and have them Copied but that having obtained them by indirect means I could not make use of them. The french Papers of the Mount Vernon I have not seen, but Mr. Robertson, my secretary, having been an Eye witness, at the Custom house, to her having enterred as a french Bottom, I immediately called on the Collector who confidentially confirmed this, but declined giving any official proof. I then requested the Captain to call at my office and took his affidavit as per Copy enclosed which may throw some light into this business.

“If you judge it advisable, I shall be glad to have your Instruction, which will govern my future Conduct in similar Cases.”

RC and enclosures (DNA: RG 59, CD, Antwerp, vol. 1). RC 3 pp.; in a clerk’s hand, signed by Ridgway. For enclosures, see n. 2.

1See PJM-SS description begins Robert J. Brugger et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Secretary of State Series (9 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1986–). description ends , 8:503.

2Ridgway enclosed copies (15 pp.; partly in French; docketed by Wagner) of (1) Ridgway to John Armstrong, 17 Feb. 1805, informing him of the situation of the Mount Vernon, declaring that he would detain the vessel until he heard from Armstrong, and appending a copy of Capt. James Cox’s 16 Feb. 1805 affidavit, which stated that so far as Cox knew, the vessel belonged to Robert Pollock of Petersburg; (2) Ridgway to Armstrong, 20 Feb. 1805, introducing Thomas B. Manlove, supercargo of the Mount Vernon, who was carrying the pertinent documents to Paris; (3) Ridgway to Armstrong, 21 Feb. 1805, referring Armstrong to his 17 Feb. letter and informing Armstrong about the Eliza, Capt. Henry Brown, which had entered Antwerp with a cargo of tobacco claimed to be French-owned and carried on a French vessel; (4) Ridgway to Armstrong, 22 Feb. 1805, enclosing a copy of the Norfolk customhouse certificate given to the Eliza along with copies of the papers identifying the Eliza as a French ship, commenting that since he had obtained the latter informally they could not be used officially, and asking Armstrong’s advice about this case; (5) a copy of the “Acte de Francisation,” describing in detail the Eliza, which was English-built and had been captured by a French privateer, listing all owners since the capture, including the latest transfer of ownership to the DeCoest brothers, who were French merchants, and certifying the ship as a French vessel; (6) a copy of the undated “Congé” issued to the Eliza, giving a brief history and physical description of the vessel, granting permission for it to navigate under French colors, and asking all allies of France to honor the pass; (7) Armstrong to Ridgway, 23 Feb. 1805, acknowledging receipt of the latter’s 17 Feb. letter, and stating that he saw nothing unusual in the case of the Mount Vernon that would necessitate Ridgway’s obstructing the vessel’s return to the United States; and (8) Armstrong to Ridgway, 5 Mar. 1805, acknowledging receipt of his 21 and 22 Feb. 1805 letters, and suggesting that “as there seems to have been some personal ill conduct on the part of Brown,” Ridgway should send a copy of the “act of Francisation” to Norfolk collector Wilson Cary Nicholas, or to the collector of any other port that might be the vessel’s destination. He added that there was also the possibility that Brown may have come into ownership of the property “honestly and regularly, since the date of the Francisation.

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