George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Richard Dobbs Spaight, 31 January 1794

From Richard Dobbs Spaight

North Carolina New Bern 31st Jan: 1794


Since I wrote to you on the 19th Decem: last application having been made to me by Capt: James Robertson the former master of the Sloop Providence of Montego bay (now called L’amee Margueritte) which was captured in June last by the Vanqueur de Bastille to cause the said sloop to be restored to him upon a principle of her having been captured within the distance of three miles from the coast and being at the same time informed that she then lay at Wilmington.1 I issued orders on the 3rd inst. to Colo. Thomas Wright to seize her and detain her untill such time as the necessary testimony should be taken to ascertain the facts and that he should order out a militia guard to secure her,2 at the same time I wrote to Mr Hill the Attorney of the United States for this district to notify him of the orders I had given, and requesting him to proceed to the examination of the Witnesses in this case, to have them taken in writing properly authenticated and forwarded to me and for his information enclosed him a copy of the Secretary of Wars letter to me on that subject.3

I have since received letters from Colo. Wright informing me that he had seized and secured the sloop on the 10th instant and also that on the 24th no examination of Witnesses had taken place I have had no reply from the attorney to my letter.4

By the last Southern post I received a letter dated the 19th Decem. from the British vice Consul at Charleston respecting the said Sloop claiming her as the property of the Subjects of his Britannic Majesty upon the principle of her having been taken by a proscribed vessel subsequent to the 7th June last and requesting that I should take measures to have her secured in order to be restored to her former owners. a copy of this letter I enclose you.5

In consequence of the above letter I shall cause the vessel to be securely kept till I receive your decision thereon; the fact of the L’amee Margueritte & the Sloop Providence being the same and of her having been captured after the 7th day of June last by the Vanqueur de Bastille is not in the least doubted, the agent for the French Consul at Wilmington and the party who took her acknowledging it.6

On this subject my letter of the 19th Dec: was principally written as there was a difference of two months between the period fixed by Mr Knoxs letter of august and that of novem: last.7 To my letter I have not as yet received any answer.8 I have the honor to be &c.

R. D. Spaight

LB, Nc-Ar: Governors’ Letterbooks.

1On the capture of the British sloop Providence, of Montego Bay, Jamaica, and its subsequent outfitting as the French privateer Aimée Marguerite, see Spaight to GW, 24 June 1793.

2Thomas Wright was the sheriff of New Hanover County, in which the port city of Wilmington is located. The orders from Spaight to Wright of 3 Jan. to use the local militia to seize and secure the Aimée Marguerite were prompted by an “Application having been made to me to restore the sloop providence . . . to her former owners, upon allegation that the said Sloop was taken within three miles of the coast of the United States and consequently within their protection.” The sloop was to be held “untill such time as the fact respecting her being captured within the protection of the United States shall be fully investigated and reported to me and a decision had thereon” (Nc-Ar: Governors’ Letterbooks).

3In a letter of 3 Jan., Spaight notified William Henry Hill, the current U.S. district attorney for North Carolina, of the orders given to Wright. He also informed Hill that “the president considers the examination” of witnesses to the capture of the Aimée Marguerite “as a duty which at present ought to be performed by you.” Spaight instructed Hill “so soon as Major Wright shall have secured the vessel, to give proper and sufficient notice to the parties and to proceed and take the testimony offered by both of the parties in support of their respective claims.” Such testimony “must be reduced to writing sworn to and properly authenticated and then forwarded to me” (Nc-Ar: Governors’ Letterbooks). The enclosure was Knox’s letter to Spaight of 12 Nov. 1793 (see n.1 of Spaight to GW, 19 Dec. 1793).

4Wright reported in a letter to Spaight of 11 Jan. that he had successfully seized control of the Aimée Marguerite. In a letter of 24 Jan., Wright wrote that he had approached Hill with Spaight’s request to gather testimony “without delay.” From Hill’s answer, however, “it appears the decision is either by arbiters appointed by the parties concerned or the President of the United States, therefore have to request further information from your Excellency on the subject” (both letters, Nc-Ar: Governors’ Letterbooks).

5James Shoolbred (c.1766–1847) was the British vice-consul for North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. He wrote to Spaight from Charleston, S.C., on 19 Dec. 1793 to protest the capture of the Aimée Marguerite, noting that its captor, the Vainqueur de la Bastille, was “specially proscribed” in Alexander Hamilton’s circular letter of 4 Aug. 1793 to the collectors of customs as a vessel “‘to whom as originally fitted out in a port of the United States no asylum henceforth should be given in any district of them.’” He added that George Hammond, the British minister to the United States, had “authorized me to assure all interested, that the Government of America had engaged to restore all prizes captured subsequently to the 7th June by any privateer fitted out in a port of the United States.” Shoolbred then requested “that such measures as your Excellency may deem expedient may be forthwith adopted to restore her to her rightfull owners” (Nc-Ar: Governors’ Letterbooks). For Hamilton’s circular letter, see Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 15:178–81. On the U.S. policy excluding the Vainqueur de la Bastille and other privateers armed in the United States from American ports, see the cabinet opinions on French privateers of 1 June and 3 and 5 Aug. 1793.

6J. B. Brouard was the vice-consul at Wilmington, and François-Henri Hervieux was captain of the Vainqueur de la Bastille.

7For Knox’s circular letter of 16 Aug. to the governors of the maritime states, see n.1 of Knox to Tobias Lear, 17 Aug. 1793. On the discrepancy between the letters of 16 Aug. and 12 Nov. that bothered Spaight, see Spaight to GW, 19 Dec. 1793, and n.7.

8Spaight acknowledged receipt of Henry Knox’s reply of 13 Jan., which was written at GW’s direction, in his second letter to GW of 8 February. GW sent Spaight’s letter of this date to Knox on 17 Feb., instructing him “to take such steps in the case as might appear proper” (JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 285). Knox subsequently sent further instructions to Spaight in a letter of 22 Feb. (Knox to Bartholomew Dandridge, Jr., 22 Feb., and n.1 to that document).

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