George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Martin-Louis Du Périer, 8 June 1790

From Martin-Louis de Périer

at Marebaroux near the Cape. Island of St Domingo

Sir,8 June 1790.

The Marechal de Castries, then minister of marine, and Monsr de Vergennes minister of foreign affairs, have vainly solicited in 1786, from Congress, the payment of a sum of more than three hundred thousand livres due to me, in capital, since 1779 with interest on that sum to this day—for sugars coming from my habitation1 in St Domingo, which were laden on board the Ship the Jonathat2 of Marseilles, which was forced by our enemies and a tempest to put into New London—where this Ship having been condemned, and my sugars, sold and paid for in paper money, have been deposited in the Chancery in Boston, to wait the payment of Congress—and notwithstanding the demands made to this day by our charges des affaires, it has not been possible to obtain any thing.3

Permit, Sir, that, on this occasion, I ask of your Excellency the justice that is due to me. I am father of four children, and never has a debt been more sacred than this of mine. it came (issued) from my revenue, charged (laden) at the time of a war which had been brought upon us by the United States, on whose coast (or with whom) the Ship, which carried it, took refuge, as in the port of our true allies; and for the freight of which I have been obliged to pay a considerable sum to the Owner of the said ship—without being able to recur to the Insurers, which would have been the case if the English had captured her, and which I have not been able to recover of them, my sugars having been sold at Boston, and having touched the amount in paper money—it would be therefore doubly distressing for me if I could not recover the amount in some way or other, and this is absolutely at the will of the minister of the finances of the United States, and which is at this day the more sacred as it forms a sacred part of the patrimony of my Children. and I will take on this subject the [ ]4 which your Excellency shall judge.5 I have the honor to be, with respect, Sir, your most obedt and most humble Servant

The Baron of Perin6
Colonel Commandant of infantry
Governor of St John de Luz

Translation, DNA:RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; ALS, in French, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters. The text is taken from a translation prepared for GW. The original letter may be found in CD-ROM:GW.

Born in Guadeloupe, Martin-Louis Du Périer (de Périer; de Perrier) (b. 1745), baron d’Ussau, acquired the venal office of governor of Saint-Jean-de-Luz and of Ciboure in August 1766, and subsequently held various military ranks and appointments. He was a musketeer in the first Compagnie des Mousquetaires du Roi, and became captain of dragoons in the Régiment Royal in 1771. He was later promoted to colonel in the Nassau Regiment and in 1782, became a knight in the Royal and Military Order of Saint-Louis. Du Périer’s four children, mentioned in the letter, included three daughters and one son.

1The ALS in French reads "mes habitations," which translates as "my plantations."

2The translator misread the French, which reads "jonathas."

3The Jonathas of Marseille, had sailed from Cap Français (Cape François), Saint-Domingue in August, 1779, convoyed by d’Estaing, whose fleet had been in the West Indies preparing for the allied offensive effort to retake Savannah, Georgia. The ship had been bound for Bordeaux with a cargo of sugar from Du Périer’s plantations, but as a result of a storm in mid-September, the Jonathas and other French ships were severely damaged and forced to sail into New London, Conn., where they arrived on 12 Oct. 1779. Two days later, the Connecticut legislature acquiesced to appeals of three French ship captains to sell the damaged cargoes at public auction. Among these captains was Jean-François Landolphe (1747-1825), whose ship Négresse sailed with Jonathas into New London. The captains also sought assistance from Congress, and in late October, president of Congress Samuel Huntington wrote to Jean Holker, the French consul in Philadelphia, asking him to assist the men (see Conn. Public Records description begins The Public Records of the State of Connecticut . . . with the Journal of the Council of Safety . . . and an Appendix. 18 vols. to date. Hartford, 1894–. description ends , 2:424-25; see also Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 14:121-22, Franklin Papers description begins William B. Willcox et al., eds. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. 42 vols. to date. New Haven, 1959–. description ends , 40:17, and Mémoires du capitaine Landolphe, contenant l’histoire de ses voyages pendant trente-six ans, aux côtes d’Afrique et aux deux Amériques, ed. J.S. Quesné [2 vols., Paris, 1823], 1:196-256).

4Here, Du Périer wrote "tous Les temparements [tempéraments]," indicating that he would "take all expedients". In the eighteenth century, this phrase in French suggested a willingness to take measures for the purpose of appeasement.

5Du Périer wrote to GW on 5 Dec. 1783 regarding his claim against the United States for a cargo of sugar seized at New London in 1779: “I here venture to claim, to obtain a reimbursment of more than sixty thousand dollars from the United States, due to me from the sale of sugars, the produce of my estate in St Domingae, that were shipped in a French vessel, the jonathal, of Marseilles; we, after a violent tempest, was obliged to put in, to New London, where, she was condemned, and the cargoe sold—It was paper money the Captain recieved; and by the order, or advice of Monsr de Valnay, who was then French Consul, he put it into the treasury of Boston—I hope Sir, the Congress have too much justice, not to form some arrangements for the liquidation of this paper” (Du Périer to GW, 5 Dec. 1783, DLC:GW). On 10 Aug. 1783, Du Périer had written a similar letter to Benjamin Franklin, requesting his assistance (see Franklin Papers description begins William B. Willcox et al., eds. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. 42 vols. to date. New Haven, 1959–. description ends , 40:17). GW received Du Périer’s letter of 8 June in the fall of 1790 while at Mount Vernon and sent it to Hamilton, explaining that “The enclosed letter, addressed to me by the Baron Perin, treating of a subject to which I am a stranger, and the means of information not being within my reach, I have to request that you will cause such enquiry to be made into the circumstances therein stated as may enable you to give him an answer. and I wish you to transmit my letter to him with yours” (GW to Hamilton, 13 Oct. 1790, LB, DLC:GW). GW enclosed a letter to Du Périer, dated 13 June, explaining that he had received Du Périer’s letter of 8 June on 11 Oct. but that “the subject to which it relates is altogether new to me, and as my absence from the seat of government (being on a visit to my estate in Virginia) denies me the means of obtaining such information as might enable me to make you a reply—I have referred your letter to the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States and requested him to communicate to you the result of his enquiry” (GW to Du Périer, 13 Oct. 1790, Df, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). No letter from Hamilton to Du Périer enclosing GW’s letter of 13 Oct. 1790 has been found, but see Hamilton to GW, 26 Oct. 1790.

6The translator rendered the signature incorrectly; the signature in the ALS (French version) reads "du Perier."

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