George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Mifflin, 8 July 1793

From Thomas Mifflin

Philadelphia 8th July 1793


Agreeably to your instructions contained in a letter from the Secretary at War, of the 24th of May last, it may be proper to state, particularly, the proceedings in the case of the Little Sarah, the prize to L’Embuscade, supposed to be equipped and manned in this Port, as a Privateer.1

Having instructed the Board of Wardens to be attentive to any appearance of a practice of this kind, the Master Warden on the 22d of June suggested to me his opinion, that the Little Sarah, was fitting out in the same manner as Privateers, and this information I immediately transmitted to you. On the 24th of the same month, the Master Warden made a more particular report on the subject, which was, likewise, submitted to your consideration.2 As I did not receive any instructions from you, in consequence of these communications,3 I presumed, that either the case itself was not within the meaning of the letter of the 24th of May; or that the equipments, mentioned in the reports of the Master Warden, did not sufficiently ascertain the fact, that the vessel was intended for a Privateer.

On the 5th instant, however, the Secretary at War represented to me, that since the report of the Master Warden, such indirect information had been received, as would, if founded, render it indisputable, that the Little Sarah was arming and equipping as a Cruiser; and intimated a desire that such further and full investigation might be instituted, upon certain enumerated points, as would precisely establish the circumstances relating to the subject. This investigation was accordingly made, with all possible dispatch, and the report of the Master Warden, received on the evening of the 6th, was communicated to the Secretary of State, and the Secretary at War, on the morning of the 7th instant.4

From the information which I received late in the night of the 6th instant, I had reason to suspect that the vessel intended to sail on the ensuing day⟨,⟩ and, in order, therefore, to obtain an opportunity for your decision, on the propriety of forcibly detaining her, I directed the Secretary of this Commonwealth to wait upon the Minister of the French Republic, to represent to him the circumstances of the case, and to request, for the sake of preserving peace and harmony, that he would give directions for suspending her departure. But as the Minister would enter into no satisfactory assurance in this respect, I thought it my duty immediately to instruct the Master Warden to prohibit any Pilot from taking charge of the vessel; and I issued orders to the Adjutant General of the Militia to make a draft of 100 hundred men from the Infantry, and 20 men, with two field pieces from the Artillery, with proper officers.5

On the morning of the 7th I had an interview with the Secretary of State, who, after a conversation with Mr Genet, reccommended a discontinuance of all hostile arrangements; and appeared to be satisfied that the vessel would not be permitted to sail, till your sentiments on the subject were declared. In pursuance of this advice, I directed the Adjutant General to inform the citizens, who had paraded on the occasion, that their attendance was dispensed with ’till further orders.6

I cannot forbear suggesting to your Excellency, at this time, that as the equipments of Privateers and outrages upon the neutrality of the Port, may be made in the stream of the river at a considerable distance from the shores, embarrassments may arise in executing your instructions, contained in the Letters of the Secretary at War, dated the 23d and 24th of May last, for want of some Fort, or Battery, to command the Delaware.7 If, therefore, it should be thought a national object, and the expence can be borne, by the national Treasury, I will chearfully, under your sanction, undertake to establish a battery upon Mud Island, and station a competent party of Militia there.8 I am, with perfect respect, Sir, Your most Obed. Hble servt

Tho. Mifflin

DfS, PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99; LB, PHarH: Executive Letter-Books; copy, PharH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99. The dateline and closing on the draft are in Mifflin’s handwriting.

1For Henry Knox’s letter to the governors of 24 May, see Knox to GW, 24 May 1793, and note 2.

2In his letter of 25 May 1793 to the wardens of the port of Philadelphia, Mifflin wrote: “The situation of Philadelphia, as a neutral Port, renders it necessary during the war between the powers in Europe, to take every proper precaution for preventing any act of hostility being committed by the belligerent parties, within the jurisdiction of the State; or any act tending to infringe that impartiality, which it is the duty and the interest of the United States to pursue. In order, therefore, to obtain the necessary information at this important period, I think it expedient to request, that you will take the proper measures for ascertaining, from time to time, and reporting to me, without delay, whether any and what Vessels shall be captured, or molested, within the capes of Delaware, in their passage to this City, and whether any and what Vessels, are commissioned equipped and manned as Privateers, within the Port, on behalf of any of the belligerent powers” (PHarH: Executive Letter-Books). On the reports from master warden Nathaniel Falconer of 22 and 24 June concerning the armaments aboard the Little Sarah, see Mifflin’s first and second letters to GW of 22 June 1793, and note 1 of each letter.

3For the response of GW and the cabinet to Mifflin’s first letter of 22 June, see note 1 of that letter. GW enclosed Mifflin’s second letter of 22 June in a letter to Knox of 23 June 1793. No written reply from GW or any of his cabinet members to Mifflin’s letter to GW of 24 June has been identified. GW departed Philadelphia on 24 June for Mount Vernon and did not return until 11 July 1793 (JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 189–90).

4Knox, in his letter to Mifflin of 5 July, wrote: “The points, which it would be material to ascertain are as follow. 1. The Situation of the Vessel herself as to military equipment, when she sailed from this port and returned into it as a Prize to the Frigate L’Ambuscade. 2. The Number of Cannon she had on board at those periods, and whether mounted or dismounted. 3d. The present situation of the Vessel herself as to military equipments. 4th. The number of Cannon now on board of her and how disposed. 5th. The Officers and number of her Crew and whether foreigners or American. 6. Whether the Officers appear in Uniform or otherwise.” Knox asked that this information be “communicated as soon as possible” (PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99). Falconer, in his report to Mifflin of 6 July, wrote that when the Little Sarah sailed from port she had “four Iron Cannon Mounted, and a number of wooden,” and when she returned to port she was “in the Same Situation.” Presently she had “14 Iron Cannon and Six Swivels now mounted. The Crew is to consist (including officers, men & Boys) of One Hundred and Twenty but there is at present very few of her Crew on Board, The officer on Board says he does not Know of any American having entered. There seem’s to be plenty of French Sailors about the wharves. The Captains Uniform is Blue turned up with read.” Alexander J. Dallas wrote “Enquire whether the guns are French Property” on the cover of this letter, in response to a letter from Knox to Mifflin of 8 July acknowledging receipt of Falconer’s report and asking for verification “whether the Cannon and other military equipments on any of them belonging to the little Sarah were purchased in the United States, or whether they were French property, if they were, whether of Individual French Citizens or transferred from another French Vessel” (both letters, PHarh: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99). According to Falconer’s report of 10 July to Mifflin, four cannons and six swivels currently on the Little Sarah came from another French vessel and two other cannons belonged to a French citizen. Falconer noted, however, that a gentleman “who has purchased Guns for numbers of Vessels” reported that “he Bought Two of a Citizen of this state to replace, Two that the Citizen Genet took out of the Brig Little Sarah when she first came in” (PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99).

For Mifflin’s letter to Thomas Jefferson of 7 July, 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 , 26:444–45. In his letter to Knox of 7 July, Mifflin wrote that the Little Sarah was expected to “sail this day; and therefore, I am anxious to receive a communication of the sentiments of the Federal Government on the subject” (PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99). For the immediate response to Mifflin’s concerns, see Cabinet Opinion, 8 July 1793.

5On the meeting between Dallas and Edmond Genet of 6 July, see the letter from Dallas “TO THE PUBLIC” of 7 Dec. 1793 in the 10 Dec. 1793 issue of the General Advertiser (Philadelphia), and Jefferson’s Notes on a Conversation with Genet of 10 July, enclosed in Jefferson’s first memorandum to GW of 11 July 1793. Mifflin’s first letter to Adjutant General Josiah Harmar of 7 July is in PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99; see also “Executive Minutes of Governor Thomas Mifflin,” Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 9th. ser., 1:614.

6On Jefferson’s conversations with Genet and Mifflin of 7 July, see his Notes on a Conversation with Genet of 10 July, enclosed in Jefferson’s first memorandum to GW, 11 July 1793. Mifflin informed Harmar in a second letter of 7 July “that there will not be an immediate necessity for employing the Draft from the Militia” (PHarH: Executive Correspondence, 1790–99).

7On Knox’s letters to the governors of 23, 24 May, see Knox to GW, 24 May, and note 2.

8For the cabinet’s consideration of Mifflin’s proposal to build a fort on Mud Island, see Cabinet Opinion, 8 July 1793.

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