George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Richard Dobbs Spaight, 24 June 1793

From Richard Dobbs Spaight

North Carolina New Bern 24th June 1793


On the 21st inst: I received information that a Schooner belonging to the port of Wilmington in this State had been fitted out as a privateer in South Carolina, on behalf of one of the parties at War, taken a British Vessel, and brought her into Wilmington as a Prize; at which place both the privateer and prize were then lying.1 In conformity to the instructions which I received from the Secretary of War in his letters of the 23rd and 24 of May last2 I Immediately sent off an Express with orders to the commanding Officers of the Counties of New Hanover and Brunswick to embody such part of the Militia under their command, as they might deem necessary and to seize and detain both the privateer and her prize untill I should receive such further instructions thereon as may appear to you proper. I also wrote to Colonel Read the Collector of the port, that if he thought he could consistent with his duty, to give directions to Captn Cook of the revenue Cutter to assist the Militia Officers if necessary in detaining the aforesaid Vessels.3 I have given the Officers instructions to carry the orders into effect with secrecy and dispatch and by no means to let either of the Vessels escape and to inform me of every circumstance of the case.

The circumstances of the case as far as I have been informed are as follow. The Schooner was called the Hector Captain Almsted belonging to Wilmington in this State from which place she sailed for Charleston some time in may last with intention of getting a french commission she cleared out from that port as an American bottom bound to the West Indies on the 7th June inst: as soon as she got over the Bar she sent back her American papers and went into Georgetown (So. Carolina) where she mounted her guns which it was suspected she brought in her hold from Charleston. when she came out of Georgetown she captured this English Vessel bound into the port, and brought her into Wilmington. The date of her commission and of the bill of Sale to the french Captain (to whom she was to be delivere’d at sea) was the first of June and she cleared out from Charleston on the 7th of June as an American bottom. Colonel Brown the Gentleman who gave me the information also gave me a copy of the Commission which is enclosed.4

The instructions which I received from the War department so far as they relate to the detention and safe keeping of any vessel that may be fitted out in any of the ports of this State, I am in hopes can be carried into effect by the Militia—But in respect to that part of the instructions which relate to the detention of any of the parties at War who may commit Hostilities within the protection of this State; from the particular Situation of this Country I fear that the Militia cannot in every instance of Hostilities being committed fullfil those instructions. as it is probable they will be committed where nothing but a naval force can be of any service. the bar of Occacock over which nearly two thirds of the trade of the State is carried on is from 36 to 40 miles from the mouth of Neure river and that thro’ an extensive and open sound, the banks thro’ which the entrance is, is between three and four miles apart & only inhabited by the pilots, a privateer of any of the powers at War might come in there and anoy our trade in spite of any thing the Militia could do, unless they were assisted by an armed Vessel of sufficient force to capture the privateer Should a Vessel be fitted out for the express purpose of taking her, the same Wind that carried her down to the Bar would carry the privateer to Sea.5

I think it my duty to state these facts to you, least in future should any thing of that kind occur, I may be censured for not doing that, which it was not in my power to perform Was the revenue Cutter properly equiped and manned by being sometimes at Occacock and sometimes at Cape Fear she might be of essential service at least against small privateers. You may be assured that every exertion in my power to carry those instructions into effect shall be made use of.6 I have the Honor to be with respect Sir your most Obedient servant

Rd D. Spaight

LB, Nc-Ar: Governor’s Letter-Book, Richard D. Spaight.

North Carolina native Richard Dobbs Spaight (1758–1802) served in the North Carolina militia during the Revolutionary War. He spent several terms in the North Carolina legislature and was in the Continental Congress, 1783–85. He was one of the signers of the U.S. Constitution. He was governor of North Carolina from December 1792 until November 1795, and he served in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1798–1801.

1The schooner Hector was renamed Vainqueur de la Bastille after its seizure by the French. Its prize was the British sloop Providence, which was renamed the Aimée Marguerite and fitted out as a privateer (Thomas Jefferson to Henry Knox, 10 Nov. 1793, Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 27:343–44).

2For Henry Knox’s circular letters of 23 and 24 May to Spaight and other governors of coastal states, see Knox to GW, 24 May 1793, and note 2.

3Benjamin Smith and John Bloodworth (1730–1808) commanded the respective militias of Brunswick and New Hanover counties at this time. James Read was the collector of customs for the port of Wilmington, and William Cooke was master of the revenue cutter Diligence.

4The enclosed commission has not been identified. On the retention by North Carolina officials of the French captain, François-Henri Hervieux, and the Vainqueur de la Bastille and its prize, see Edmond Genet to Jefferson, 8 July 1793, ibid., 26:452–53, and translation, ASP, Foreign Relations, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:163. For Gideon Olmstead’s actions, see Daily Advertiser (New York), 25 June.

5Ocracoke Inlet, between Ocracoke and Portsmouth Islands in North Carolina’s outer banks, provides passage to the Atlantic Ocean from Pamlico Sound, into which the Neuse River empties.

6After receiving this letter on 3 July, GW enclosed it in a letter to Thomas Jefferson of 4 July, for “consideration” by the cabinet. For the administration’s decision about the Hector and other privateers and the instructions sent to Spaight, see Cabinet Opinion, 5 Aug. 1793, and note 3.

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