George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Sim Lee, 16 October 1793

To Thomas Sim Lee

George town 16th October 1793.

Sir,

I have received your Excellency’s Letter of the 11 instant.

When the British Vice-Consul at Baltimore exhibits all his proofs respecting the capture of the Brigantine Coningham, a better judgment can be formed than at present, whether this act is an infraction of neutrality. In doing this he ought to make no delay; because there can be no decision before the evidence on both sides is heard.

Three miles will, if I recollect rightly, bring the Coningham within the rule of some decisions, but the extent of the Territorial jurisdiction at Sea, has not yet been fixed, on account of some difficulties which occur in not being able to ascertain with precision what the general practice of Nations in this case has been.1 With very great esteem I am, Sir, Your Excellency’s mot Obt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, MdAA: Brown Books; Df, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DLC:GW.

1By 8 Nov., GW had determined that until negotiations could be held on the issue, the limits of U.S. territorial waters would be provisionally set at “one sea-league or three geographical miles from the sea shores” (Thomas Jefferson to Certain Foreign Ministers in the United States, 8 Nov., 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 , 27:328–30). On 10 Nov., Zebulon Hollingsworth, federal district attorney for Maryland, was directed to investigate the Conyngham capture, and in April 1794, the ship was ordered returned to its captors for lack of evidence that it had been seized within the three-mile boundary (see 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 , 27:342–43).

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