George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 24 April 1791

From Thomas Jefferson

Philadelphia Apr. 24. 1791.


I had the honour of addressing you on the 17th since which I have recieved yours of the 13th. I inclose you extracts from letters received from mister Short in one of the 7th of Feb. mister Short informs me that he has received a letter from mister de Montmorin, announcing to him that the King has named Ternant his minister here.1 the questions on our tobacco & oil have taken unfavorable turns. the former will pay 50. livres the thousand weight less when carried in French than foreign bottoms. Oil is to pay twelve livres a kental which amounts to a prohibition of the common oils, the only kind carried there.2 tobacco will not feel the effect of these measures till time will be given to bring it to rights. they had only 20,000 hogsheads in the Kingdom in Novemb. last, & they consume 2000 hogsheads a month; so that they must immediately come forward & make great purchases, & not having, as yet, vessels of their own to carry it, they must pay the extra duties on ours.3 I have been puzzled about the delays required by mister Barclay’s affairs he gives me reason to be tolerably assured, that he will go in the first vessel which shall sail after the last day of May.4 there is no vessel at present whose destination would suit. believing that even with this, we shall get the business done sooner than thro’ any other channel, I have thought it best not to change the plan. the last Leyden gazettes give us what would have been the first object of the British arms had the rupture with Spain taken place. you know that Admiral Cornish had sailed on an unknown destination before the Convention was recieved in London. immediately on it’s reciept, they sent an express after him to Madiera, in hopes of finding him there. he was gone, & had so short a passage that in 23 days he had arrived in Barbadoes, the general rendezvous. all the troops of the islands were collecting there, and Genl Matthews was on his way from Antigua to take command of the land operations, when he met with the packet-boat which carried the counter orders. Trinidad was the object of the expedition. Matthews returned to Antigua, & Cornish is arrived in England. this island, at the mouth of the Oronoko, is admirably situated for a lodgment from which all the country up that river, & all the Northern coast of South America, Spanish, French, Dutch, & Portuguese, may be suddenly assailed.5

Colo. Pickering is now here, & will set out in two or three days to meet the Indians, as mentioned in my last. The intimation to Colo. Beckwith has been given by mister Madison. he met it on very different ground from that on which he had placed it with Colo. Hamilton, he pretended ignorance & even disbelief of the fact: when told that it was out of doubt, he said he was positively sure the distribution of arms had been without the knowlege and against the orders of Ld Dorchester, & of the government. he endeavored to induce a formal communication from me. when he found that could not be effected, he let mister Madison percieve that he thought however informal his character, he had not been sufficiently noticed: said he was in N. York before I came into office, and that tho’ he had not been regularly turned over to me, yet I knew his character. in fine he promised to write to Ld Dorchester the general information we had recieved & our sense of it; and he saw that his former apologies to Colo. Hamilton had not been satisfactory to the government.6 nothing further from Moose island nor the posts on the Northern border of New-York, nor any thing of the last week from the Western country.

Arthur Campbell has been here. he is the enemy of P. Henry. he says the Yazoo bargain is like to drop with the consent of the purchasers. he explains it thus. they expected to pay for the lands in public paper at par, which they had bought at half a crown the pound. since the rise in the value of the public paper they have gained as much on that, as they would have done by investing it in the Yazoo lands: perhaps more, as it puts a large sum of specie at their command which they can turn to better account. they are therefore likely to acquiesce under the determination of the government of Georgia to consider the contract as forfeited by non-payment. I direct this letter to be forwarded from Charleston to Cambden. the next will be from Petersburg to Taylor’s ferry; and after that I shall direct to you at Mount Vernon. I have the honor to be with sentiments of the most affectionate respect and attachment Sir Your most obedient & most humble sert

Th: Jefferson

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; ALS (letterpress copy), DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers; LB, DLC:GW; copy, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

1Jefferson enclosed three extracts from William Short’s letter of 16 Jan. 1791. The first extract concerned political developments in France. The second noted if Spain still contemplated a conflict with Britain, “she would be well disposed still to favor the wishes of the U.S.” The third discussed ship timber, the proposed contracts of a Boston merchant with the French and Spanish governments to provide salt provisions to their West Indian ships and garrisons, general Dutch dissatisfaction with the quality of American shipbuilding, and Dutch mercantile interest in New York maple sugar samples. For Short’s letter with Jefferson’s extracts bracketed, see 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 18:500–507.

2Jefferson was not yet aware that the National Assembly of France had reduced the duty on American oil from twelve livres per quintal to six on 2 March. See Archives parlementaires, description begins J. Mavidal et al., eds. Archives Parlementaires de 1787 a 1860. 1st ser., 101 vols. to date. Paris, 1868–. description ends 23:611.

3For the National Assembly’s decree of 1 Mar. concerning the importation of tobacco, see ibid., 23:595.

4For Thomas Barclay’s mission to Morocco, see Jefferson to GW, 27 Mar. and note 1.

5“Admiral Cornish” was probably Capt. Samuel Pitchford (d. 1816) who took the name Cornish when he inherited the estate of his uncle Vice Admiral Sir Samuel Cornish (d. 1770). Edward Mathew (1729–1805) was appointed commander in chief of British army troops in the West Indies in 1782 and served as governor of Grenada in 1784–85, immediately after the island was wrested from France.

6For the background to James Madison’s conversations with George Beckwith, see Jefferson to GW, 17 April. Madison reported in an undated memorandum to Jefferson, probably written on or shortly after 18 April, that the previous evening Beckwith answered “that it was impossible” that any arming of the hostile Indians “could have proceeded directly or indirectly from the British Government,” as Lord Dorchester was opposed to Indian hostilities. Beckwith offered, informally, to transmit any statement or official complaint the U.S. government might wish to make regarding the matter, and he inquired whether GW had any “particulars of time place or persons” involved or “any evidence that the articles supplied were in greater quantities than were usual for other purposes than war.” Madison replied that “the information received by the President” probably would not “be made known to him [Beckwith] in any way more authentic,” but that Madison was certain that “If the dispositions of Lord Dorchester were such as were described,” he would certainly act to prevent arms from reaching the Indians. Madison told Beckwith that he could not say what particular information GW had at his disposal but commented that “As the Indians at war traded with British subjects only, their being able to carry on hostilities was of itself sufficient evidence in the case.” Beckwith promised to inform Lord Dorchester of the substance of the conversation at the earliest opportunity (Madison Papers, description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Congressional Series. 17 vols. Chicago and Charlottesville, Va., 1962–91. description ends 14:7–10).

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