George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Livingston, 21 September 1778

From William Livingston

Princeton [N.J.] 21 Sepr 1778

Dear Sir

About a week ago arrived in Brunswick from New york one Crowel formerly a New Jersey man with a Flagg for his Boat from Admiral Gambier, for the sole purpose of his carrying to Brunswick Lewis Costigen & his family; and another pass from General Jones in the like words except the omission of the word, sole.1 Crowel, after landing his Passengers obtained leave from Justice Neilson to go about to visit his old acquaintances upon plighting his word and honour not to carry off any provisions to New york.2 He accordingly left Brunswick without taking in any lading there; but one of our militia officers having received information that he had bargained for some flour along shore; and supposing that he would receive it on board soon after he left the City, detached four men, who lay in the reeds to watch his motions. After passing a point of Land near Brunswick he was boarded by a craft with provisions. As the craft returned from his Vessel the militia men hailed her, & she still making off, fired at her, without effect. They then hailed Crowel, and bid him send his barge to fetch them to examine his Vessel. Refusing this, they threatend to fire if he persisted in his attempt to make off. He did persist, and they fired, but did no execution. Finding at last that they hailed another craft to convey them on board, he thought proper to send his own to fetch them. They found on board nine barrels of flour, three firkins of butter and some other Articles. It appears from some of his papers which he threw over board tied to a stone, and which the ebbing of the tide left dry, that he had brought a quantity of Sugar to barter for those articles. The Captors brought his Vessel back to Brunswick, and claim both her and her cargo by the embargo Law of this State enacted in pursuance of a Recommendation of Congress.3

By advice of Council I ordered Crowel to this place and the above facts appearing on examination well supported, the Council advised me to detain him, until I could procure your Excellencys opinion on the Subject. He will therefore be detained at Brunswick accordingly.4

What he has done, would by our Law have incurred a forfeiture of both vessel & cargo had the like been done by any of our own Subjects.

How far his Flagg is a protection of his Vessel so as to exempt her from that confiscation which another Vessel the property of a citizen, would be liable to, in similar circumstances, is not so clear as I could wish it.

Admitting the Flag to protect the vessel, does it also protect the Lading?

The Captors will not easily be reconciled to the restitution of both. Nor ought their ardor for preventing this kind of traffic (admitting that it proceeds from self-interest) to be suppressed without sufficient reason. The Enemy know that there is a Post at Elizabeth Town, and that there is none at Brunswick. For this very reason, I presume they send their Flags to the latter, where we having no body to guard them, they can execute their designs without controul. By this means, after having in great measure prevented the practice of our people’s carrying provisions to them, we shall have the mortification of seeing them fetching it from us. on the other hand, wh<at> are the usual & acknowledged prerogatives of Letters of safe conduct, we would wish to preserve inviolate; and carefully avoid going into any measure that should afford the enemy any just cause for insulting our flags of truce.

As your Excellency has doubtless had occasion to turn your thoughts to the Law of Nations on this Subject, I should be glad to be favoured with your opinion, being as desirous of forbearing any step not supported by precedent or derogatory to the honour of America, as I am of punishing the pervertion of public credentials to the purpose of private smuggling, as well as all other dishonourable artifices to violate the municipal Law—I have the honour to be with the highest Esteem your Excellencys most obedient Servt

Wil: Livingston

ALS, DLC:GW. On the addressed cover Col. William Malcom wrote: “Fort Clinton Octr 4, 1778 forwd by W. Malcom.”

1Thomas Crowell (1726–1799), a Loyalist ship captain from Monmouth County, N.J., apparently had fled to British-occupied New York City in 1776, leaving his family behind. In July 1777 a party of American light horsemen raided Crowell’s house at Shrewsbury, carrying off his livestock and threatening to return to take away the household furnishings and to dispose of the house and land at public sale (New-York Gazette: and the Weekly Mercury, 7 July 1777). Crowell’s property in Monmouth County and at Perth Amboy was confiscated by the state in 1779. He eventually was allowed to return to New York City, where he was appointed a port warden and a militia captain. Lt. Lewis Johnston Costigin of the 1st New Jersey Regiment, who had been captured in January 1777, was taken on parole to New Brunswick at this time to await his exchange, which occurred in December 1778 (see GW to John Beatty, 21 Aug. 1778).

2James Neilson of New Brunswick, N.J., had been appointed a judge in September 1776.

3For the application of this law, which the New Jersey legislature had passed on 20 June 1778, see Governor Livingston’s proclamation of 22 Aug. 1778 (Prince, Livingston Papers description begins Carl E. Prince et al., eds. The Papers of William Livingston. 5 vols. Trenton and New Brunswick, N.J., 1979–88. description ends , 2:421–23). For the Continental Congress’s resolution of 4 June 1778 recommending to the states the enactment of embargo legislation, see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 11:569.

4For Livingston’s orders on this subject, see his letter to John Neilson of this date (Prince, Livingston Papers description begins Carl E. Prince et al., eds. The Papers of William Livingston. 5 vols. Trenton and New Brunswick, N.J., 1979–88. description ends , 2:446).

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