James Madison Papers

To James Madison from George W. Erving (Abstract), 23 April 1805

§ From George W. Erving

23 April 1805, London. No. 55. “I had the honor to receive in course your letter of December 27th.1 directing my attention to the Case of the ‘Richmond’ Captain Brattell, a Vessel which has been seised by the Governor of St. Helena, and requiring my assistance to the Claim instituted by the Captain before the Courts here.

“Captain Brattell on his arrival in London represented to me his case, & requested me to act for his Owners in the management of it. Public occupations not allowing of my undertaking agencies in Private affairs, I advised him that as it woud not be in my power to give all the attention to it which it merited, to employ some Merchant who had been used to such Agencies, & woud be able to attend him personally to the Commons and the Courts; and recommended for this purpose Messrs. Thomas Mullett & Co. a very respectable American house, offering at the same time my assistance wherever it might be useful; accordingly in the progress of the Business Mr. Mullett frequently advised with me; and I have the satisfaction of assuring you that the case received every possible attention & was conducted in the very best manner by that gentleman. The decree has been unfavorable; and that you may be informed of the grounds of this decision, I have requested Mr. Mullett who was present at the hearings, to make a statement of the Council’s Arguments, & the opinion of the Court, which he has done in the Paper herewith inclosed.”2

RC and enclosure (DNA: RG 59, CD, London, vol. 9). RC 2 pp.; in a clerk’s hand, signed by Erving; docketed by Wagner. For enclosure, see n. 2.

1PJM-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 8:425–26.

2The enclosure (3 pp.; in a clerk’s hand, signed by “Tho. Mullett & Co / Agents for Capt. Brattell,” with arguments against the British position written in the margin in Wagner’s hand) is Mullett’s 30 Mar. 1805 report stating that the Richmond sailed from Newport, Rhode Island, to St. Helena and the Île de France carry ing flour, bread, rice, tobacco, “Provisions,” gin, soap, candles, pitch, tar, and lumber, and arrived in July 1804 at St. Helena where part of the cargo was sold. After some discussion with Capt. Brattell, Governor Robert Patton bought the remainder of the cargo and offered to buy the vessel also lest it be sold at the Île de France and used by the French as a privateer. When Capt. Brattell declined selling the ship the governor refused to take the pitch and tar and seized the ship on the grounds that it was carrying more of those commodities, both of which were defined as contraband by the law of nations and the Jay treaty, than was necessary for its own use. The Admiralty Court at London agreed and issued a decree on 7 Dec. 1804 ordering the ship sold. Mullett and Company had entered an appeal that would keep the case open until December 1805 should JM wish to pursue the matter. Mullett noted that without a convention between the United States and Great Britain declaring how much tar a vessel might “lawfully carry, in proportion to her Tonnage, no criterion will exist whereby an American Citizen shall be assured of safety whenever he may give umbrage to a Colonial Governor.” For the trial, see Robinson, Admiralty Reports 5:325–29.

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