George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Patterson et al., 30 January 1794

From William Patterson et al.

Baltimore 30th Jany 1794


A Memorial in behalf of the distressed Emigrants from the Island of St Domingo now in this Town having been presented to Congress early in the Session and some Member’s of that Body doubting their Powers to grant them relief, We beg leave to call the Attention of the Executive to these unhappy Sufferers, Who without some Aid from the United States must soon perish in the Streets of Baltimore, every source of assistance here being so entirely exhausted as to render all hope of future Contributions from our Citizens not only unreasonable but vain[.]1 These People to the number of upwards of three thousand including the fleet which brought them here driven from St Domingo by the Savage Barbarity of the People of Colour arrived in this Town in July last destitute of every Necessary of Life and of the means to procure them[.] Tho’ so great and Sudden an Accession of numbers to this place immediately affected our Markets to a great degree the Citizens of Baltimore subscribed and paid more than Twelve thousand Dollars in Money for the Relief of these Unhappy Sufferers beside making large Contributions in Cloaths and other specific Articles[.]2 The People from the Country contributed upwards of Five thousand Dollars, And at their last Session the Legislature of this State granted them a further Aid of Four thousand five hundred Dollars as a Temporary relief till Congress could take order in the business[.] These several Funds tho’ distributed with the strictest Oeconomy are exhausted and there are now between four and five hundred of the distressed Emigrants from St Domingo consisting of Old Men Women and Children most of them a few Months since in the highest Affluence who are destitute of every necessary of Life and who must in a very few Days become the Victims of Cold and Hunger unless Aid can be had from the Congress or the Executive: Such Scenes in a Country overflowing with Plenty appear to us too disgraceful to Humanity, to Christian Charity and to the National Character to be permitted to be realized within the Limits of the United States.

We claim no Merit for the little we have done but sincerely Lament that our Powers will permit us to do no more, else Congress and the Executive would have been saved the trouble of this Application[.] No longer able to avert a Calamity disgraceful to Humanity we conceive ourselves bound to lay before the President of the United States the dreadful Scenes about to take place that the Power’s of Gover’nment may be exerted to prevent them,3 and that we may be hereafter saved the painful Sensations of having been Silent Spectators of Scenes of Misery which timely Exertions on our parts might have been prevented.4 We are with great Respect Sir Your Most Obedt Servts

Wm Patterson Gusts Scott
Samuel Sterett James Buchanan
Jas Calhoun W: Smith
Robert Oliver David Harris
David Stewart Rt Smith
Robt Gilmor Z. Hollingsworth
Archd. Campbell David McMechen
John Hollins Samuel Chase
John Smith Junr Wm. Paca
James Somerville O.H. Williams
Her[cule]s Courtenay Heny Nicols

LS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

1In November 1793, the Maryland legislature appointed a committee, consisting of William Patterson, Samuel Sterett, and Gustavus Scott, that was authorized to make a weekly drawing of $500 from 1 Dec. 1793 until 2 Feb. 1794, “for the subsistence of the distressed French citizens now in this state, from Saint-Domingo (Md. Laws 1793 description begins Laws of Maryland, Made and Passed at a Session of Assembly, Begun and held at the city of Annapolis on Monday the fourth of November, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three. Annapolis, [1794]. description ends , resolutions). On 1 Jan., a memorial from this same committee was presented to the House of Representatives “and read, stating that their funds are nearly exhausted, and praying the relief and aid of Congress in the premises.” Subsequent debate on this memorial took place in the House on 10 Jan., after which the report was sent to committee (Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 3d Cong., 1st sess., 153, 169–73).

2On the establishment of a Baltimore relief committee in the summer of 1793, see Scharf, Chronicles of Baltimore description begins J. Thomas Scharf. The Chronicles of Baltimore; Being a Complete History of “Baltimore Town” and Baltimore City from the Earliest Period to the Present Time. Baltimore, 1874. description ends , 266.

3“An Act providing for the relief of such of the inhabitants of Saint Domingo, resident within the United States, as may be found in want of support,” 12 Feb. 1794, provided “a sum not exceeding fifteen thousand dollars,” to be distributed, “under the direction of the President,” to those states affected by the surge of refugees who fled to the United States in 1793 to escape the civil war in this French colony (Stat description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends . 6:13). On the distribution of these federal funds, see Edmund Randolph to GW, 27 Feb. (first and second letters).

4This letter to GW was enclosed in a signed letter of this date from Patterson, Scott, and Sterett that was addressed to “The Representatives of Maryland In Congress” and that reads: “We beg leave to thank you for your Public Exertions in behalf of the distressed French Emigrants here[.] Enclosed is a Letter in their behalf meant to be laid before the Executive[.] What success it may have we are at a loss to say but if no Relief is obtained we think exhausted as this Town may be by the unequal Burthens laid upon it we shall yet be able to raise a sufficient sum to transport the distressed French to the City of Philadelphia where we hope the Scenes of Distress so long exhibited here and so often in vain represented to the General Government will execute their Compassion more Strongly than we have been able to do” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

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