From Robert Taylor
Norfolk [Va.] January 30th 1794
I was favoured with two letters from you under date of the 10th and 17th December containing information necessary for the Trade of this Town to be acquainted with.1 I have delayed replying to them till I had something new to communicate or untill some matter came before Congress in which we were particularly interested. In the Debates of Congress on a Petition from Baltimore relative to the ill fated French that have found refuge amongst us we note the part you have taken respecting those at Norfolk and for which allow me to return you the thanks of the Inhabitan⟨ts⟩ of this Town and in which be pleased to include mine.2
It has been insinuated by a Member that as no Application has been made from this Place that he concludes that the relief afforded by the Assembly of Virginia must by supposed sufficient for the purpose, without wishing to combat with this Argument, I take leave to inform you that an Application was made from this Town for Cloathing during the Winter and for a support for these unfortunate People till the first of April only,3 by which time we supposed the French Government would do something for their support or that they themselves by getting acquainted with the Language, & with modes of acquiring subsistance be enabled to do without the aid of the Country[.] this estimate as well as every other Paper relative to it if you think it necessary I will take care to forward to you, but you will first let me here observe that the Commissioners in estimating the sum necessary for their support included six hundred pounds expected from some of the Counties of Virginia exclusive of the Publick Bounty, this sum has not as yet come forward and I greatly fear from the supposition of its not being necessary will not. tho’ I am still in hopes the sum the County has so liberally Voted for their relief will be sufficient to carry them forward to the first of April after which I am totally at a loss to know how they are to subsist for it cannot be supposed that this Town is equal to the support of two hundred and fifty five Poor exclusive of the Parish Poor4—all those that have arrived here from Cape Francois or elsewhere that had any property went to Baltimore and consequently only those that were really Poor and not able to go any further were left with us[.] of this truth I became a melancholly Eye witness[.] to enable the Commissioneres here to send forward to the Assembly such a statement as required it became necessary to see every individual[.] I had therefore the disagreable task to visit the Houses and to question these truly distressed respecting their Age, Situation, and Abillity of providing for themselves and I can therefore with confidence say if Childhood, Old Age, Infirmity, Poverty, and the heart rending thought of what they were and what they now are form Objects of Charity and commiseration I hope Congress nor no other Public Body will ever again have it in their power to exert their Benevolence and Compassion to a set of People so deserving of it all, While I am writing it may be perhaps not unnecessary to remind you that by our Act of Assembly no Master of a Ship or other Person can bring any pauper or Persons lyable to be burthensome to the Parish, without either giving security for their maintenance or be subject to a Penalty of twenty pounds for every person so landed or brought into the Parish and that although this Law has not been put in execution against the Masters of the French Ships, yet as it cannot be denied that the Ships belonging to the Republic of France brought them in distressed Citizens and landed them here without taking the necessary steps for their support5 I should conceive that in Justice as well as Law that Nation ought out of the funds they have in the hands of Congress at least pay a small sum to this purpose. I hint this to you, it is in good hands who I know will make the most of it.6
The French Ships, Normand, and Ambuscade, are lying here as well as the British Ship Dædalus, and I am happy to say that we have as yet experienced no inconveniency from either, and I trust will not as the Officers of all seem desirous to keep the Peace, on the Water; and it is our Interest to make them if we had the power so to do on Land.7 I am respectfully Dear Sir
ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.
1. The letters of 10 and 17 Dec. 1793 from GW to Robert Taylor, the current mayor of Norfolk, have not been found.
2. On the memorial from Maryland, the debate in Congress respecting the granting of federal assistance to French refugees within the United States, and the relief act passed by Congress in February, see William Patterson et al. to GW, this date, and notes 1 and 3 to that document.
3. In “An ACT for the relief of the emigrants from Saint Domingo,” 8 Nov. 1793, the Virginia assembly authorized the governor to “draw out of the public treasury a sum of money not exceeding two thousand pounds” (Va. Statutes [Shepherd] description begins Samuel Shepherd, ed. The Statutes at Large of Virginia, from October Session 1792, to December Session 1806, Inclusive. n.s. 3 vols. Richmond, 1835–36. description ends , 1:273–74). For an earlier grant of $2,000 specifically for the refugees in Norfolk, see Taylor’s letter to Virginia governor Henry Lee of 13 July 1793. The application for winter clothing has not been found, but on 17 Jan. 1794, Taylor wrote Lee to acknowledge receipt in December of the $2,000 grant. He informed the governor that this sum was “exhausted” and that there was a “need” for “any further sum” that could be obtained (Calendar of Virginia State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds. Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts. 11 vols. Richmond, 1875–93. description ends , 6:447, 7:12–13).
4. Lists of approximately 250 French refugees at Norfolk can be found in DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, filed at the end of 1794.
5. Taylor may be referring to section 9 of “An ACT reducing into one, the several acts for unlading ballast, and burial of dead bodies from on board ships; and prohibiting the putting sick or disabled seamen and servants on shore, without providing for their maintenance, 23 Dec. 1792 (Va. Statutes [Shepherd] description begins Samuel Shepherd, ed. The Statutes at Large of Virginia, from October Session 1792, to December Session 1806, Inclusive. n.s. 3 vols. Richmond, 1835–36. description ends , 1:145–47). On the arrival in Norfolk of large numbers of refugees from the French colony of Saint Domingue in July 1793, see Thomas Newton, Jr., to Lee, 6 July 1793 (Calendar of Virginia State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds. Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts. 11 vols. Richmond, 1875–93. description ends , 6:437).
6. This reference probably is to the administration’s earlier decision to allocate a portion of the U.S. payment on its debt to France for use by French officials to purchase provisions for the French colony of Saint Domingue (Hamilton to GW, 19 Nov. 1792).
7. The French ships Embuscade and Normande left Norfolk in February (Daily Advertiser [New York], 8 March 1794; Taylor to Lee, 10 Feb. 1794, Calendar of Virginia State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds. Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts. 11 vols. Richmond, 1875–93. description ends , 7:28–29). The British frigate Dædalus, under Sir Charles Henry Knowles (1754–1831) and armed with “32 guns,” left Norfolk in May (Taylor to Lee, 23 March, Calendar of Virginia State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds. Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts. 11 vols. Richmond, 1875–93. description ends , 7:75; Mirrour [Concord, N.H.], 16 June 1794).