George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, 17 March 1790

From Francis Adrian Van der Kemp

Kingston [Jamaica] 17 March 1790.


The eminent Station, which you adorn in this Common wealth, obliges me to trouble you few moments with letters—respecting alone me private circumstances. I flatter myself Sir! that the Liberty, which I take wil easily find an excuse, if She want it, as Soon, as I have informed your Excellency, that honour and duty entreates me to this performance to which I am encouraged be the expectation wil be crowned with a happy Success—if it depends alone of your Excellency’s inclination.

Engaged Since Several years in the domestic quarrel of the People of the united Netherlands for recovering those ancients rigths, which they enjoyed—even under a Charles the 5th and Philip the Second, I was particularly interested in the fate of the Province of Utrecht, and the city of Wyck by Duurstede. In this city I was taken Prisoner together with Sir Adriaen de Nÿs then commander of the city, transported with him nothwithstandig we we⟨r⟩ nominally included in the general Amnestie—published by the pretended States, under a Strong escort to Amersfort—from there to Utrecht, after this place was evacuated by the troops of the Patriotic Party. After an imprisonment of twenty three weeks about, Liberty was offered to us upon condition, that we first and before our enlargement, must ⟨namptise⟩ the Sum of 45000 Guldens—or 7500£ New-yorks Currency—“in order, as the Resolution was, to recover of that Sum the damages, and losses, sustained by the Province of Utrecht and city of Wÿck by Duur Stede in particular, under our direction.[”]

How iniquitous this exaction, to which we must Submit, to recover our Liberty, may be judged, it is not Sir! upon this point, that my grievance is founded. I know to wel, that it was a domestic transaction in that Country; that no foreign State could properly interfere in it—and that I was—to that moment—a citisen of that Province and your Excellency, I am persuded, wil do me the justice, to acquit me of the presumtuous folly of wishing your interference in this matter. But Sir! though ⟨namptised⟩, the Sum of 75000£, was ours, undoubtly the residuum of that Sum, after the recovering of the damages, which should have been judged to have been occasioned by our direction. To this residuum my friend with me though, exiled, was entitled—there our goods were not confiscated, nor this Sum forfeited, after our departure in Braband and France, and my naturalisation in this Republic wil not, I hope, afford a valuable reason to deprive me of the expectation of recovering the whole, a part of this Sum, at least of receiving an account of the States of Utrecht, if the total Sum was adjudged for Sustained damages.

I dare not Say Sir! in what manner your Excellency may afford us a Succesful adsistance, but this, I hope, wil not be rejected, if I request your Excellency’s interference by your Minister, as far, as may be proper. The Sum is ⟨namptised⟩ to the Deputies of State of the Province of Utrecht—19 Dec. 1787 in the city of the Same name, with the above mentioned expressed condition. Your Protection will obliges us infinitly, afford my an occasion, to acquit me of a debt, contracted at that time to my friend, and pay a part of my obligation to his uncommon generosity.

That every day of your Excellency’s Presidency may be blessed, and the remembrance of it may rejoy the heart of the latest free American, is the ardent wish of him, who remains which dutiful Sentiments of the highest respect and esteem Sir! Your Excellency’s most humble and obedient Servant!

Francois Adrian Vanderkemp

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; copy, DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters.

For an identification of Van der Kemp, see the source note to GW’s letter to him, 27 Sept. 1788. For several years before Van der Kemp’s departure for the United States in 1787, he and his colleague Adrian de Nys (d. 1830) were deeply involved in the struggle of the Dutch Patriot party against the policies of the stadtholder, Van der Kemp producing a number of antigovernment pamphlets and serving as captain of the Free Corps, a volunteer military group consisting of liberals opposed to the stadtholder. In July 1787 both Van der Kemp and de Nys were arrested after a Free Corps force was defeated by the government’s provincial militia at Wyk am Dursted. Van der Kemp was released in December 1787 after the payment of some 45,000 guilders, representing “the losses incurred by the public during our usurpation, as it was termed, of the public administration” (see Van der Kemp’s autobiographical account of his imprisonment, in Fairchild, Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, description begins Helen Lincklaen Fairchild, ed. Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, 1752–1829: An Autobiography Together with Extracts from His Correspondence. New York and London, 1903. description ends 88–95, 99–103).

After his arrival in the United States, Van der Kemp turned to John Adams for a solution to his problems, and Adams advised him to consult the president (Van der Kemp to Adams, 7 Jan., 17 Mar., 26 May, 19 June 1790, MHi: Adams Family Papers). GW turned Van der Kemp’s letter over to Jefferson, who on 31 Mar. wrote Van der Kemp: “The letter has been duly received that you wrote the President of the United States, praying his interference with the government of the United Netherlands, on the subject of property you left there on your coming to America. I have it in charge to inform you that the United States have at present no minister at the Hague, and consequently no channel through which they could express their concern for your interests. However free we are to receive and protect all persons who come hither with the property they bring, perhaps it may be doubted how far it would be expedient to engage ourselves for what they leave behind, or for any other matter retrospective to their becoming Citizens. In the present instance we hope that no confiscation of the residuum of your property left in the United Netherlands having taken place, the justice of that government will leave you no occasion for that interference which you have been pleased to ask from this” (DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters).

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