James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Charles W. Goldsborough, 21 January 1813

From Charles W. Goldsborough

6 oClock 21 Jany 1813


I have this moment received information, which I deem it my duty to lay before you without a moments delay.1

A gentleman of great integrity & patriotism—has stated to me that Mr. Salvador Catalano2 Sailing master in the navy & generally employed to prove the powder &c. residing near the navy Yard here, is ready to make oath.3

1st that Capt Tingey gave him orders to pass all the powder, made at Docr Ewells mills, that would carry a 24pd ball 80 yards—when in Mr Catalano’s judgment he ought not to have received any that would not have carried the ball 100 yards.

2d. that when Lt. Neill (who has no experience in proving powder) was going to Docr. Ewell’s powder mills to prove the powder for the Constellation, Capt Tingey ordered Mr Catalano to attend but not to say a word!

3rd. that Mr Catalano did see Docr Ewell privately put in the Prouvette, a paper (which he verily believes contained powder) which was partly concealed in the Sleeve of his coat, after the regular charge, viz I oz., had been put in!!

4h. That Mr Catalano, who is a very honest man & a very competent judge, does from these & other facts known to him, verily & sincerely believe that the Powder which has been sent on board of the Constellation is entirely unfit for use.4

If these facts be as stated, the Constellation would not be able to contend with an Enemy’s Sloop of war; & if Capt Stewart should under these circumstances proceed to sea: seeking as I know he will the Enemy, his capture is inevitable.

In order to satisfy yourself as to the correctness of these facts, I respectfully would suggest your sending immediately for Mr. Catalano: as, if they be true, an express ought, I should think, to be sent to Capt Stewart to stop him.

Excuse this hasty scrawl. This intelligence has excited feelings which I can not well suppress even in addressing you. With the highest respect & esteem, I have the honor to be sir yr mo o st.

Ch: W: Goldsborough

The bearer Jos Sutherland will if commanded by you proceed immediately for Mr Catalano5

RC and enclosure (DLC). For enclosure, see n. 3.

1Goldsborough’s information related to a test that had been made at Bladensburg, probably on 15 Jan. 1813, of gunpowder manufactured in Ewell’s mill and reported in the Daily National Intelligencer three days later. Lt. Benedict Neal of the USS Constellation, John T. Frost, and Fielder Parker all swore certificates to the effect that Ewell’s gunpowder, with the exception of only one barrel, could throw a twenty-four-pound cannonball a distance of at least 200 yards, the standard of proof required by the navy. Accompanying these certificates was one sworn by Thomas Tingey, superintendent of the Washington Navy Yard, on 28 Oct. 1812 that he had tested 250 barrels of Ewell’s gunpowder and found, “with the exception of very few barrels,” that it was “of good and sufficient proof and quality.” These certificates accompanied the announcement that Ewell’s mill was “now in complete operation” and “in hope of securing a continuance of public patronage” (Daily National Intelligencer, 18 Jan. 1813).

2Salvadore Catalano (d. 1846) was appointed sailing master on 9 Aug. 1809 (Callahan, List of Officers of the Navy description begins Edward W. Callahan, List of Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900 (New York, 1900). description ends , 106).

3Goldsborough enclosed a 19 Jan. 1813, one-page note he had received from Thomas Carbery, stating that Catalano was reluctant to respond to Goldsborough’s summons to the Navy Department without having received “an official order” from either Goldsborough or JM: “he is a timid man & is fearfull of Comod Tingeys turning him out of the yard.” Once Catalano received written instructions, Carbery added, he would “go & relate all the facts relative to the Powder before the President.”

4In his pamphlet Conclusion of the Evidence of the Corruption of the Chief Clerk of the Navy Department (DLC: Rare Book and Special Collections Division), Ewell responded to the four charges made by Goldsborough as follows: (1) He stated that Catalano was “an ignorant fellow; deluded by Mr. Goldsborough, and until within a few days stated to commodore Tingey, that the powder was excellent.” Ewell added that he would seek a court-martial of Catalano on the grounds that he could not have witnessed all the tests made of Ewell’s gunpowder. (2) He stated that Lieutenant Neal, who had loaded the eprouvette, had showed “great resentment” at Goldsborough’s allegation that he had practiced deception in the test of the gunpowder. Ewell also published a certificate from John T. Frost to the effect that Frost had carried a letter from Ewell to Capt. Charles Stewart of the USS Constellation offering to retest the powder and that Stewart had replied that he had been satisfied by the first test. (3) Ewell stated that the eprouvette used in the test had been found to be faulty and that “it was only as an experiment, when the Eprouvette was dirty, that the ball was forced in.” Ewell conceded that on the day of the test, some of his powder had been damp and thought to be faulty, but it had been tested again “and at this moment the powder which is not damp is as good as any in the country.” (4) Ewell declared that Catalano was “a most ignorant Italian” and that he had “expressed the strongest approbation of the powder.” Ewell concluded this rebuttal by reaffirming that his gunpowder was “superior to most the public have heretofore had” and that representations made to JM to the contrary were not to be believed (6, 13).

5Aside from agreeing to hear Catalano’s testimony (see Goldsborough to JM, 22 Jan. 1813), JM appears to have made no further intervention in the Ewell-Goldsborough quarrel. After reviewing the matter, the new secretary of the navy, William Jones, decided to offer the chief clerk the option of resigning or being discharged. Goldsborough chose the former, but Jones, who did not wish to offend Goldsborough or his friends throughout the naval officer corps, took pains to emphasize that nothing more should be inferred from Goldsborough’s resignation than the fact that he had intended to retire from his position (Jones to Goldsborough, 27 Feb. 1813, Goldsborough to Jones, 8 Mar. 1813, Jones to James Ewell, 10 Mar. 1813, and Jones to Eleanor Jones, 22 Mar. 1813 [PHi: William Jones Papers]).

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