George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Peter Delivet, 16 August 1790

From Peter Delivet

Baltimore, august 16th 1790


It is after five Month of trouble and Molestation, under the Bolt of a Prison (that I merit Not), that I take the Liberty to Inform Your Excellence, of the abuse, that the inferior federal Court of anapolis, Make of the Convention Between His M.C.M. and the united States, that Your Excellence had Ratified and Confirmed the Ninth day of april Last.1

It Grieved me, to be obliged to Make that accusation against Some unlearned Person, that May be only Guilty By Ignorence: But Shall I, Perish, in this obscure and humiliating Geal, Where My Liberty his Captive My Reputation Loss, and the Ruin of My interest for the Sake of the Bad Conduct, of Some judges that have Refuse to Read, or to observe and perform the article XII,2 of the Convention. Where all My Cause is Explain and interpret in full.

The Case is this

1. I am a frenchman Captin Supercargo: All My Partnership are french People all Subject of His M.C.M.

2. We have had Differences: the have been Judge, at the french Consular Court of Baltimore.

3. The Judgment apear (an it is) Partial: I have appeal of the Sentences to the tribunal of france according to Laws.

But as off three Judges of the Consular Court that have Given Judgment, two of them are parties in the Cause; and in order to have the Execution of their Sentences: to Proceed agreable to their Mind: the have had Recourse to the federal Court of Anapolis. Which it Well Known, to be Contrary of the Laws of Both Nations.

The Cause was Call the Seven Day of May Last But the Court Paid No attention to the Convention of Both Puissance: that I who am a partey Conserned, was sentenset By the federal Court to Imprisonment in Violation of a primary article Between the Court of france & the united States.

But whether this sentence proceed from inattention Ignorence Partiality, or any other Cause; I am Not in a Situation to Determine, But has been Puntually Executed.

Have only to Inform Your Honour, of the Cause & Efect and Desire that Your Excellence will Extend Your humanity and Power with the federal Court of anapolis, So far towards My Releasment from this obscure and Humiliateing Geal, from whence I have the honour of adressing Your Excellence, that thereby I may have an opertunity of Makeing a propre aplycation for Damages Sustaind from Insult and Injustice.

Your Kind interposition in this My time of Elegal and abusive treatment, Will Ever be Most Greatfully acknowleged, By Your Sinceer and Humble Servent.

Peter Delivet

⟨Sd⟩ Lieunt of His Mty Navy

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

Peter Delivet, earlier a sous lieutenant des vaisseaux in the French navy, arrived in Baltimore in April 1786 as a commercial agent for a French firm, and one of the partners entered suit against him in the consular court at Baltimore. Delivet appealed its 22 Oct. 1789 decision against him to the parlement of Rennes in Brittany on 19 Feb. 1790 on the grounds that the judges had a financial stake in rendering judgment against him and they had made a procedural error in invoking Maryland law, which was prohibited by French law as well as the consular convention recently signed by France and the United States. Writs served on Delivet on 24 Mar. 1790 required his appearance and trial in the federal district court at Annapolis on 7 May 1790, which sentenced him to prison on 8 May. Delivet wrote to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson for relief the following day (Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 17:399–400n.).

On 27 July Jefferson received a second letter from Delivet, this one in English, in which Delivet repeated much of his earlier letter and added, “Your Kind interposition in this . . . Will (Saf Me the trouble to Complain to the Minister of the foreign affairs of His M. C. Majesty to Have Gustice agreable to the Convention that You have agreed to Guether)” (Delivet to Jefferson, 21 July 1790, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Delivet also wrote to Vice-President John Adams from Baltimore jail the same day (MHi: Adams Papers). Finally, on 16 Aug. 1790 Delivet again wrote Jefferson (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). This last appeal was almost identical to the letter he sent on the same date to the president. Jefferson and GW both received these 16 Aug. 1790 letters upon their return from Rhode Island on 21 Aug. 1790, and Jefferson penned a reply to Delivet the next day.

Later, on 22 Aug. 1790, Tobias Lear forwarded to the secretary of state Delivet’s 16 Aug. 1790 letter to GW (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Jefferson immediately responded with a letter to the president enclosing a letterpress copy of the letter he had already written to Delivet: “Th: Jefferson has the honor to inform the President that he recieved some time ago a letter from M. Delivel complaining of his imprisonment, which, having had some expectation that, if unjust, mr Otto would complain of it, remained unanswered. on his return last night, he found another letter from the same person, to which he wrote the answer, of which the inclosed is a press-copy, this morning before, he received the letter addressed to the President. if the President would wish any other or further answer to be given, Th: J. will be ready to do it. he cannot suggest any thing additional, unless the President would chuse that he should recommend to the Attorney of the district to attend to the case of Delivel” (Jefferson to GW, 22 Aug. 1790, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

The enclosed letter of 22 Aug. 1790 from Jefferson to Delivet, noting that his only appeal lay with the federal judiciary and not the executive branch, is in DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters and is printed in Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 17:399. GW probably asked Jefferson to present the case to Richard Potts, the federal district attorney at Baltimore, for Jefferson wrote to Potts about Delivet on 23 Aug. 1790, noting that “The circumstances however which he mentions himself excite a presumption that his imprisonment is regular; nevertheless, as it may be otherwise, and he, as a stranger, may not know how to obtain relief, I take the liberty of requesting you to make such enquiry into his case as may satisfy yourself; and if you find the case to be such as is relievable in law, that you be so good as to put him into the way of obtaining it” (Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 17:400).

1For the background to the Franco-American consular convention ratified by the U.S. Senate in September 1789, see Moustier to GW, 1 May 1789, n.2, GW to the U.S. Senate, 11 June 1789 and note 1, Ratification of the Consular Convention, 9 Sept. 1789, and Proclamation, 9 April 1790 and source note. For difficulties concerning its implementation, see GW to Jefferson, 26 July 1790.

2The twelfth article of the consular convention stated that all differences and suits between French subjects in the United States or between American citizens in France, especially relative to the crews of vessels and their captains, would be determined by the respective consuls or vice-consuls.

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