George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James McHenry, 11 August 1793

From James McHenry

sunday night 11 Augt. 1793.

Dear Sir.

I have received to-day the following information from a quarter that may be depended on which I think it my duty to communicate. The French minister has made a requisition upon the French merchant fleet in this harbour for 600 seamen to rendezvous at Philadelphia, and has ordered the consul here to furnish each volunteer with five dollars. So far is certain. The requisition has been complied with and the greatest part have already left this Town. This is also certain.1

I understood further that an armament is intended against Providence and that the Americans were to furnish their quota for the expedition. As the latter however cannot be the case, I presume that no more is meant than that a number of Americans are expected to volunteer in this business.

I know not whether this affair may require investigation as connected with the position of the United States in the present contest.2 It only struck me that it might not be unuseful to mention it. I am Dr sir most sincerely and affectionately your obt st

James McHenry

I mentioned your request to Mr Gale the day after your departure, and gave him a description of the person wanted. He told me he would write to you as soon as he had made the necessary inquiry.3

ALS, DLC:GW. The cover is marked “private,” and it is stamped “FREE” and “BALT. AUG 11.”

1On 18 June 1793, the executive council of Maryland received F. Moissonnier’s commission as the French vice-consul for Maryland and the exequatur of 5 June that GW and Thomas Jefferson had signed (Maryland Archives, 72:340). Moissonnier came to the United States earlier this year as part of the entourage that accompanied Edmond Genet, the newly appointed French minister (Minnigerode, Genet description begins Meade Minnigerode. Jefferson, Friend of France, 1793: The Career of Edmond Charles Genet, Minister Plenipotentiary from the French Republic to the United States, as Revealed by His Private Papers, 1763–1834. New York, 1928. description ends , 155–56). On the arrival of the French fleet in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, including stops at Norfolk and Baltimore, see Memorandum from Thomas Jefferson, 26 July, and note 9. On the subsequent arrival of this fleet in New York City, where it stopped to repair and resupply its ships, and Genet’s plans to direct naval operations against the British in Canada and Louisiana, see GW to Jefferson, 4 Aug. 1793, and note 4; Ammon, Genet Mission description begins Harry Ammon. The Genet Mission. New York, 1973. description ends , 111–12, 122–26.

2McHenry apparently believed that the part of the French fleet headed for Louisiana would first attack New Providence, an island in the Bahamas and the site of Nassau, the British colony’s capital. The current position of the United States was to maintain neutrality during the war between France and Great Britain (Neutrality Proclamation, 22 April 1793). For the administration’s stance on American citizens enlisting in the service of France, see Cabinet Opinion on French Privateers, 1 June 1793, and note 5.

3McHenry probably mentioned GW’s need for a new manager of Mount Vernon to George Gale of Somerset County, Maryland. On the search conducted by GW, see Burgess Ball to GW, 11 July, and GW to Henry Lee and to William Tilghman, both 21 July 1793. No letter from Gale on this subject has been found.

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