James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James McGreggar, 2 January 1809

St. Thomas 2nd. January 1809.


Herewith are enclosed the accounts and Vouchers for Monies ⟨r⟩eceived and expended on account of the United States, from the first of ⟨Ju⟩ly till the Thirtyfirst of December 1808, also my account Current with ⟨th⟩e United States till that date.

Owing to the situation in which I have been placed, since the ⟨ca⟩pture of this Island by the British, and the communication between ⟨it⟩ and the United States being in a great measure Stopped, it is some ⟨tim⟩e since I have had the Honor of making any Communications to ⟨you⟩r department, and although what I shall now transmit will be of ⟨lit⟩tle importance, I conceive it my duty to inform Government, the ⟨ma⟩nner which I have been treated by the Citizens of the United States, ⟨who⟩ have Violated the Embargo Law; and give Government an Idea of ⟨the pol⟩icy at present persued by the British Government here; also the con⟨duc⟩t of the British towards those few who have had permission to ⟨colle⟩ct property on this and the neighbouring Islands; likewise ⟨the⟩ effect the Embargo has produced in this and the Vir⟨gin⟩ Islands Generally.

Some time after my last communication to your department the Lieut. Go⟨vr.⟩ of this Island, Brigd. Genl. Maclean, sent for me and informed me ⟨that it⟩ had been Represented to him by a Number of my Countrymen, who ⟨were⟩ under his Majestys Protection, that they were seriously alarmed, an⟨d⟩ afraid of Returning to their families and friends, in consequence of ⟨their⟩ suppositions, that I had made communications to the United States ⟨which⟩ would ruin them, and Represented to him, that they thought my ⟨presence⟩ in the Island highly injurious to the wellfare and prosperity of ⟨it⟩ and particularly at a period when every exertion was ma⟨de by⟩ the British Government to obtain Supplies from their Islands, and ⟨had⟩ requested him to order me to quit the Island, that they considered m⟨e a⟩ Spy upon their actions, and while I was permitted to give the Am⟨erican⟩ Government information, his Majestys protection was of no Ser⟨vice to⟩ them; His Excy. lamented much the necessity he was under of at⟨tending⟩ to such complaints, but his duty Rendered it indispensable, as ⟨they⟩ were under his Majestys protection. He further Stated that he knew ⟨from the⟩ officers of the Danish Government, that I had been respected and ⟨received⟩ as a publick Character, previous to the capture of the Island by ⟨his⟩ forces, and that the Danish Laws by the Capitulation was yet in forc⟨e;⟩ that he knew the inconveniences it would put me to at this momen⟨t to⟩ be obliged to leave the Island, and that he was very Sensible that ⟨I mus⟩t make great sacrafices of my property if I was compelled to aban⟨don⟩ the commercial Establishment I had formed in this Island, while it was ⟨und⟩er the Danish Government; he assured me that it was not his wishes ⟨(but⟩ the wishes of my Countrymen) that I should leave the Island; he ⟨ther⟩efore Requested that I would give him assurances, that while I resided ⟨und⟩er his Government, I would make no Representations to the American ⟨Gov⟩ernment, injurious to those who was protected by his Majestys procla⟨ma⟩tion; I accordingly promised him, that while I Resided under the British ⟨Gove⟩rnment, I would give no information to my Government, either favour⟨able⟩ or unfavourable to those who had Violated the Embargo Law; I ⟨tried⟩ every thing in my power to find those who had given the information ⟨but⟩ to no purpose. The Govr: Refused to give his authors, upon the principle ⟨tha⟩t they had alledged nothing against my character, and it was only ⟨their⟩ fears that prompted them to request him to Remove me from the ⟨Isl⟩and; however Should Government want any information that is within ⟨my⟩ power, I shall cheerfully whenever my Countrys good Requires it, make ⟨ever⟩y sacrafice of my Interest for its wellfare and happiness, and should ⟨Gov⟩ernment think proper to Recall me I shall at all times be ready ⟨to o⟩bey the Summons.

Since the appearance of His B Majestys Proclamation in this Island, ⟨resp⟩ecting Neutrals who were imployed in furnishing his Colonies with provisions, every protection and facility has been given to such as Viola⟨te the⟩ Laws of the United States, and even the Seamen employed in that trad⟨e are⟩ protected from impressment; I have known seamen impressed under ⟨those⟩ Circumstances, and the Capt. to whom they belonged, made applic⟨ation⟩ to the Govr. for their Release; stating the case that they had been ⟨imployed⟩ in furnishing His Br. Majestys Colonies with provisions. The Govr. with⟨out⟩ the least hesitation gave an order that they Should be immedi⟨ately⟩ released, as men under his Majestys protection, and the order was ⟨complied⟩ with; though one of the men had no document to prove his being an ⟨American⟩ Citizen: but on the other hand Vessels that were sent out by p⟨ermission⟩ of Government to collect debts due to Citizens of the United States ⟨every⟩ impediment has been thrown in the way, to prevent the accomplishment ⟨of⟩ their Voyage, and in case any Seaman was impressed from on board a ⟨Vessel⟩ of that description, even when the most indubitable Testimony has ⟨been⟩ produced to prove he was a native Citizen, the Governor in that ⟨case⟩ would not attempt to interfere with the Navy, and would ⟨refer⟩ me to the Capt. who had impressed the man, and were the c⟨ase⟩ particularly agravating would sometimes promise to Represe⟨nt⟩ their conduct to the Admiral; I have however Succeeded in ⟨no⟩ instance, in procuring the release of those who have been ⟨impressed⟩ from licensed Vessels within my Consulate.

I have been much at a loss to know how to act, since the passing the ⟨Em⟩bargo Laws; having ⟨   ⟩ no instructions from your Department, I have ⟨been⟩ under the necessity of exercising my own Judgment so far as it relates ⟨to th⟩ose Citizens who have come off the coast in Distress, or who have made ⟨it⟩ a plea for Violating the Embargo Law. If I have at any time ⟨done⟩ wrong it has been for want of instructions, and not from intention. I have ⟨ma⟩de it a Rule in cases were I thought the Law infringed, neither to give ⟨any⟩ protection, or advice to any Citizen of that description, though I have ⟨consi⟩dered it my duty to grant them Such Certificates, as other Laws of the ⟨Uni⟩ted States, and my instructions from your Department pointed out: ⟨those⟩ of my fellow Citizens who were in foreign Countries at the time the ⟨Emb⟩argo was laid, and who Still continued to trade from one country to ⟨ano⟩ther, without Returning to their own, I have considered it my duty (though ⟨I ha⟩ve done it with Reluctance) to give them Such Support as the Laws of the United ⟨States⟩ injoined on me, at the Same time expressed my sentiments very freely ⟨to t⟩hem, that I considered them counteracting the measures of Government as ⟨much⟩ as those who Violated the Law, but as no Law to my knowledge had ⟨been⟩ passed, requiring their return to their Country, I must act in conformity ⟨with th⟩ose which now exist; and I conceive that if no Law of that kind ⟨has⟩ already passed, that it will be found necessary to pass a Law ⟨for⟩ that particular purpose.

The effects of the Embargo has been very severely felt in this and Some adjacent Islands, but the weight has mostly fell on the lower class of ⟨people,⟩ and I am convinced that had it not been for the evasions of the Law, the ⟨West⟩ Indies generally, would long before this have been in a deplorable Situation. Yet ⟨not⟩withstanding the numerous evasions of the Law, and all the exertions ⟨that⟩ has been made to raise provisions in the Islands, and the season being ⟨one⟩ of the best, that has been known for twenty Years past for the cult⟨ivation of⟩ provisions, and great Britain Straining every nerve to supply her ⟨Colonies⟩ Provisions are at three times the price they were the year preced⟨ing⟩ the Embargo, and articles of minor importance has advanced Still m⟨ore in⟩ price. In order to give a correct Idea of the pressure of the Embargo o⟨n this⟩ and the Virgin Islands generally, the best criterion to Judge by, wil⟨l be to⟩ average the prices of articles for this Year, and the year preceding ⟨the⟩ Embargo; during the Year 1807 the average price of Flour was Ei⟨ght⟩ and a quarter Dollars, Corn meal Twentyfour Dollars per punche⟨on,⟩ Tobacco Eight Dollars per hundred pounds, Tallow Candles Twen⟨ty⟩ per pound, and brown Soap Eleven Cents per pound. Since the Embarg⟨o the⟩ average prices of the foregoing articles are, Flour Twentysix Dollar⟨s, Corn⟩meal Eighty Dollars, Tobacco Fifty Dollars, Tallow Candles Sixty Cents, ⟨and⟩ brown soap fifty Cents; However what makes the Embargo press m⟨uch⟩ harder, than the price of provisions is the almost entire destructio⟨n of com⟩merce, and the lower class of people destitute of employment, and this once ⟨flour⟩ishing harbour of St. Thomas, where a few Months ago was seen one ⟨hun⟩dred Sail of American Vessels of different descriptions, and as many ⟨more⟩ of other Nations, is now frequently Seen without a foreign Flag, and ⟨at⟩ one period without a Square Rigged Vessel that was fit to go to Sea.

I am now endeavouring to bring my business to a close on this ⟨Isla⟩nd, so that if my country should require my return, or hostilities be ⟨co⟩mmenced between the United States and Great Britain, I may be able to leave ⟨the⟩ Island without making much sacrafice; and considering it a duty ⟨inc⟩umbent on every good Citizen of the United States, who are in the ⟨servi⟩ce of Government, (and particularly those who reside in foreign ⟨Cou⟩ntries, and have been Honored with an appointment under Govern⟨me⟩nt) to express their Sentiments at this Critical period; I avail ⟨my⟩self of the present opportunity of offering my services to Govern⟨me⟩nt, in the event of a war between the United States and any Nation ⟨or⟩ Nations whatever, and Shall hold myself in readiness at all times ⟨to o⟩bey the call of Government, whenever they shall think my Ser⟨vices⟩ may be beneficial to the wellfare and prosperity of my Country.

I have directed my friend William Thornton Esqr. of Washington to ⟨adju⟩st my accounts with the United States should they be found correct; The ⟨mo⟩nies advanced on account of Government was for the relief of a Crew who had left the United States previous to the Embargo. The Ves⟨sel had⟩ been Condemned at Laguira for some breach of the Spanish r⟨evenue⟩ Laws, and the Crew after a long imprisonment arrived in a distress⟨ed⟩ Situation at St. Thomas. I have the Honor to b⟨e⟩ Very Respectfully Your m⟨ost⟩ Obt. and very Hble Ser⟨vant⟩

James McGreggar

DNA: RG 59—CD—Consular Despatches, St. Thomas.

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