James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Riley, 19 December 1818

From James Riley

New York Decr 19th 1818.

Honoured & respected Sir

Having (since my return from Slavery in Africa) been appointed by Mr. James Simpson1 our old Consul in Morocco his agent, for settling his accounts with Government (now of about 23 Years standing) & to Petition Congress in his behalf for arrearages of pay to which he has always considered himself Justly entitled, or such other relief as Congress shall think fit to afford him, in his present embarrassed circumstances, occasioned by his long residence in A Barbarous Country, where his necessary expenditures have from the first been far more considerable than his salary allowd by Law.

I take the liberty to enclose you a copy of his representation & Petition which I shall in the course of a few days cause to be presented to Congress2 & I beg leave to request you to examine the document, particularly, as numerous facts & circumstances therein mentioned, must have come within your official knowledge when secretary of State and President of the United states.

If Mr Simpsons statements are correct, (and from his general Character I cannot doubt his statements), and if he has uniformly, faithfully, and economically discharged the Various duties of his Office, in protecting & redeeming our Commerce and our Citizens, thus promoting the Public welfare I cannot doubt but he is entitled to & should receive the consideration & munificence of the Government & the Country.

I have Visited Mr Simpson & partook of his bounty and Hospitality when I was in distress & I can aver, that he is a gentleman of the greatest respectability & worth but he has expended all his private property in the public service of our Country and has been forced to the humiliating necessity of applying to congress, to enable him to pay debts he has been obliged to contract for his ordinary subsistence as his actually necessary expenditures have from the first, been far more considerable than the salary allowed him by Law, nor was he allowed by Government to transact any mercantile or other business.

I have also to request you by the pa[r]ticular desire of Mr Simpson to make such remarks on his representation & Petition, as your knowledge of facts your benevolent character and your Justice shall dictate, with such observation in favour of his claim as you deem consistent with his services & that you will forward them to the secretary of state as early as convenient, so that he may be in possession of facts that will enable him to answer promptly such enquiries as a Committee of Congress shall propound on this (to Mr Simpson) most interesting Subject.

I shall ever remember with feelings the most gratefull, your kindness in ordering the payment of my ransom & that of four of my late companions in distress, & the directions you gave respecting the ransom of my late mate & four of my crew, who if Living, are still groaning in arabian Slavery.

I should be happy to receive a line from you in Washington where I expect to be in 10 Days if your avocations will permit. Wishing you health & every blessing I have the Honour to be with the highest Considerations of respect, esteem, grattitude and Veneration, Your Most Humble & devoted Servant

James Riley3

RC (DLC). Addressed by Riley to JM “late President of the United States / Virginia.” Docketed by JM.

1James Simpson (d. 1820) was U.S. consul at Gibraltar, 1794–96, and at Tangier, Morocco, from 1796 until his death (Daily National Intelligencer, 13 May 1820; Senate Exec. Proceedings description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (3 vols.; Washington, 1828). description ends , 1:157, 158, 209).

2The enclosure has not been found, but Simpson’s petition, which requested an annual salary of four thousand dollars and house rent, was introduced into the U.S. Senate on 15 Jan. 1819 and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. On 19 Feb. the committee discharged the petition from any further consideration (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States.… (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 15th Cong., 2d sess., 160–61, 245–46).

3James Riley (1777–1840) was a Connecticut-born sea captain and veteran of the War of 1812 whose brig Commerce was shipwrecked off the coast of West Africa in 1815. Sold into slavery, he was ransomed by the British consul at Mogadore, Morocco, after which he returned to the United States. His account of his adventures, An Authentic Narrative of the Loss of the American Brig Commerce (Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819 (22 vols.; New York, 1958–66). description ends 41988), was immensely popular and went through multiple printings (Newport Mercury, 11 Apr. 1840; Gordon H. Evans, ed., Sufferings in Africa: Captain Riley’s Narrative [New York, 1965], v–vii).

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