George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Walter Stewart et al., 13 May 1794

From Walter Stewart et al.

[Philadelphia, 13 May 1794]

To George Washington, President of the United States

The Memorial of the Subscribers, being a Committee appointed by numerous Citizens of the United States holding Claims against the French Republic—1

Respectfully Sheweth

That in the prosecution of their Commerce to the Islands of the West Indies the Citizens of the United States have at various periods during the two preceeding years past, sold and delivered to the Government of the French Republic at the Ports of St Domingo and its other Colonies, large supplies of Provisions and merchandize for which payment has not been made according to the terms stipulated: that in many instances the Owners and factors of Cargoes have made voluntary sales to the said Government, and in others have been compelled to make them; but in all, the prices and payments have been agreed on to be made in produce of the Islands, or in specie; that in some Cases these payments have been partially complied with, in others wholly evaded, and the persons to whom they were due compelled to receive at the pleasure of Government, Bills on France, or on the Minister of the Republic here; Orders on the Colonial treasurers; Mandates on private Citizens; or other Instruments of writing which tho they serve to testify their claims, are ineffectual to obtain payment of them; since the Bills on France cannot be negociated here, those on the Minister are not accepted, and the derangement of Government in the West Indies renders application there of no avail; added to this, many Citizens were unable to obtain written documents for the produce they delivered, owing to the disturbances subsisting at the time of delivery, particularly during the conflagration at Cape Francois,2 and others had their property either pillaged or burned at the time, by all which means your memorialists find themselves and their fellow Citizens possessing large claims, which tho under different forms, are all founded on the unequivocal delivery of property for the use of the French Republic, or on losses sustained by its opperations.

Your Memorialists have made repeated applications to the Minister of the French Republic in the United States, but find their Powers unadequate to their relief, and they are now referred to the Legislative Assembly of France as the only power competent to satisfy their claims;3 the difficulty of transmitting them, and the delay which will attend it, renders this expedient a ruinous one to some, and an inconvenient one to all, and your memorialists cannot but hope that while so large a debt is due from the United States to France the Government of the former may adopt some mode for the relief of its own Citizens, they are therefore encouraged to lay the premises before the President of the United States, and to sollicit that he will be pleased to point out some mode for the adjustment of their claim, in America, or if recourse must be had to France, such as he may think most effectual there.4 And your Memorialists.

Walter Stewart

David H. Conyngham

Josa Gilpin

J. Grubb

DS, DNA: RG 76, France, Spoliations Claims; Copy, DNA: RG 76, France, Spoliations Claims; copy, DLC: Causten-Pickett Papers. A note on the DNA copy states, "original presented to the President of the United States May 13th 1794."

David Hayfield Conyngham (1750-1834) was a partner in the Philadelphia mercantile firm of Conyngham, Nesbitt & Co. His reminiscences, primarily of the Revolutionary War period, are published in Proceedings and Collections of the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society, 8(1902-3): 181-291.

Joshua Gilpin (1765-1841) was at this time a Philadelphia shipping merchant at 149 S. Front Street. He was later a director of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Company and involved with paper mills.

James Grubb was at this time a partner in the firm Grubb, Mather & Hill, located at 37 N. Water Street. In 1795 he sailed as a supercargo aboard a ship for France that was captured by a British vessel. Thereafter he remained in England as the partnership broke up with considerable acrimony (Philadelphia Gazette & Universal Daily Advertiser, 15 Oct. 1796; Mercantile Advertiser [New York], 7 March 1805).

1A meeting of citizens holding claims against the French government for supplies sent to the West Indies was held at City Tavern in Philadelphia on 16 Jan. with Walter Stewart as chairman. At that time a committee of ten (including Stewart, Conyngham, and Gilpin) was appointed to investigate the claims, "to consider of the most effectual mode of obtaining payment therefor," and to report to another meeting to be held on 27 Jan. (Philadelphia Gazette and Universal Daily Advertiser, 18 Jan.). That meeting was adjourned to 29 Jan. (Philadelphia Gazette and Universal Daily Advertiser, 28 Jan.), and records of subsequent meetings have not been identified.

2During the conflict between rival factions in Saint Domingue, the town of Cap Français was burned in June 1793.

3Translations into French of a memorial dated 27 Jan., addressed to then-French minister Edmond Genet and signed by Stewart, Conyngham, Grubb, Gilpin, and other merchants, and one of 4 April, addressed to current minister Jean-Antoine-Joseph Fauchet and signed by Conyngham, Grubb, Gilpin, and others, are to be found in FrPMAE, Cor. Polit., Etats Unis, 41. On 3 May (14 Floréal), Fauchet responded to Stewart that he could not pay the claims. He recommended that the claimants have reliable persons in France present their claims directly to the Executive Council or the National Assembly, and he promised to assist them with the application (FrPMAE, Cor. Polit., Etats Unis, 41).

4On 14 May, GW wrote to Secretary of State Edmund Randolph and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton: "Consider, attentively, the Memorial of Walter Stewart, David H. Conyngham, Joseph [Joshua] Gilpin and J. Grubb (with the papers accompanying it, in behalf of themselves & others) and report to me your opinions thereupon" (ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). The accompanying papers have not been identified.

Randolph wrote to the memorialists on 22 May: "You have been informed that the President of the United States referred your memorial concerning the French West India Bills to me, and you will be pleased to recollect, that you expressed yourselves to be satisfied with the proposition, which I made to you, of charging our minister in France to demand your debt from the French government. Yesterday I saw Mr Fauchet; and he has repeated to me the assurances, contained in his answer to you. Now the only thing remaining is to furnish me with the necessary documents, that I may immediately forward them. No effort on my part shall be wanting to procure success and I can assure you that the President is solicitous that the fullest justice should be rendered to you. I ought at the same time to add, that Mr Fauchet appears to entertain the most favorable disposition towards your claims; and will, I am persuaded, support them by the representations, which he has promised to convey thro’ me" (DNA: RG 59, Domestic Letters). A subsequent memorial, however, claimed that this effort had produced no results, and a number of claims for deliveries to the French West Indies, including claims by Grubb, Gilpin, and Stewart, were presented to the French government by Fulwar Skipwith in 1797 (ASP, Foreign Relations description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , 1:760, 753-57).

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