George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Timothy Pickering, 22 June 1796

Department of State June 22. 1796.


I have the honor to inclose a translation of Mr Adet’s letter relative to the capture of the ship Mount Vernon. It seems to be studiously reserved. Besides the case in question, my letter invited a frank & candid communication of any information on the subject. Whatever orders the Directory may have given to their new Commissioners gone to St Domingo, relative to neutrals trading with the enemies of the French Republic, it is plain such new orders could not have been furnished to the privateer called the Flying Fish, which, from the information I have received, left St Domingo, and was seen probably in the port of Philadelphia, where those Commissioners arrived in the West Indies.

We have heard of no more captures by the Flying Fish; and her capturing and retaining the ship Mount Vernon seems likely to have been done in expectation of eventually proving her to be British property, of which a number of circumstances, currently reported, induce the suspicion, in the minds of many people.

Yesterday I received a letter from Mr DeWitt: He suspends his decision on the appointment to the office of surveyor general, until he should come to the seat of government, for which he proposed to set off by the next stage. His letter is dated the 14th at Albany.

Harrison Gray Otis who was appointed District Attorney for Massachusetts, declines accepting the office. Mr Wolcott says that Mr Davis, the Comptroller, would be gratified by an appointment to that office, when he quits the office of comptroller.

The death of Mr Gorham, supervisor of Massachusetts, presents Mr Jonathan Jackson, now an inspector in that department, as a candidate for the vacant office. He is so well known to you, either personally or by former recommendations of gentlemen who knew his worth, that no new testimonies in his favour seem necessary.

General John Brooks, the present marshall of that district, desires to succeed to Mr Jackson’s office: and Colonel Samuel Bradford, now the deputy marshall, who resides at Boston, and has to universal acceptance, done nearly all the business of the Marshall, desires to succeed General Brooks. The general, as well as Judge Lowell, speaks of Colo. Bradford in terms of perfect approbation.

Captain OBrien remained here several days longer than I expected. When I pressed his departure last week I found he was waiting for some spare topmasts & yards which were making. Yesterday at one o’clock I delivered him his dispatches for Colo. Humphreys, and he was to sail before the evening. Mr Humphreys the naval contructor and Mr Fox are making calculations & forming a draught of the proposed frigate, without which proper directions for building her cannot be given. The greater part of the timber sufficiently seasoned may probably be collected from the various public yards. I am with the highest respect Sir your most obt servant

Timothy Pickering

DNA: RG 59—ML—Miscellaneous Letters.


June 14. 1796


I have received the letter you did me the honor to write me relative to the seizure of the Ship Mount Vernon, by the French Privateer flying-Fish.

I am vexed, sir, not to have it in my power to give you the information you request of me. I cannot say whether the privateer which is certainly a vessel commissioned by the Republic and come from St Domingo to this port, has or has not acted conformably to orders which have been transmitted to her; I do not know the instructions given by the Directory to its Commissioners in the Colonies, nor do I know what conduct it has prescribed to them to cause to be observed by the armed vessels under their orders, in regard to neutrals trading with the enemies of the Republic. It is impossible for me, at this moment, to furnish you with precise explanations. I shall, therefore, write to the colonies to obtain them, and I will immediately transmit to you what shall come to my Knowledge, as well as to this point as concerning the event which is the object of your letter. Accept, sir, the assurance of my esteem

P. A. Adet


Affadavit of William Hall

State of South Carolina City of Charleston June 18 1796

BE IT KNOWN to all whom it shall or may concern that on the Eighteenth day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Ninety Six. Before me John Mitchell Esquire Justice of the Quorum in and for the said State and NOTARY PUBLIC by lawfull Authority duly sworn admitted and Commissioned and residing in the City and State aforesaid. Personally appeared before me Captain William Hall Master of the Schooner Friendship of Charleston who being duly sworn on the Holy Evangilists of Almighty God. did depose testify & declare that, having regularly cleared out the said Schooner and Cargo at the Custom House under the Authority of His Britanic Majesty, he saild from the River Berbice on the Twelfth day of May last bound for Charleston in the State of South Carolina that on the same day, His Britanic Majestys Ship Scipio of Sixty four Guns commanded by Captain Davis Fired at the said Schooner and ordered [the] deponent to bring his Vessel to Anchor on the open Coast, where a most dangerous sea was going, and was then ordered to bring his papers on board the said ship Scipio. where he was detained Twenty four hours; being kept four hours before the said Captain Davis took the least notice of him, after remaining six hours. he requested leave to go on Board his Vessel as all his seamen except the Mate and one Boy was on board the said Ship Scipio, which after some delay, he got permission to return on board. and to remain in the same place at Anchor. and return the next day for his Answer. and his papers if he should find it proper to deliver them, that at Twelve OClock that night the small bower of the said Schooner parted. in consequence of the severe Gale. the Vessels Deck being constantly under water. he was then obliged to let go the best Bower, Anchor & Cable. the other being lost, that the next morning he hoisted a Signal of distress in expectation the Captain of the Man of War would send his boat on board but finding no assistance was given him nor his papers returned. about one OClock in the day the wind & sea having abated: he went in his boat & on board the said Ship Scipio when he informed Captain Davis he had lost his small bower, Anchor & Cable, & requested he would let him have an Anchor & Cable in return, as he had Obliged him to remain at so much risk and danger to which he replied he had none & handed him his papers, turned in his heel,. saying he had no Anchor or Cable to give or Sell. that during the time the deponent was first on board. Captain Davis without his knowledge wrote a Note to Mr Wyly his Mate desiring him to send the Log Book and the Captains Private Book as he called it. Mr Wyly sent them on board by the officer would not leave the order. That when he received his papers his Log Book and Book of Sales & Returns were also delivered him. the Deponent further says he believes that the Governor of Berbice being on board when his papers was there. whose signiture was to his papers, with a regular pass; was the cause of his then being permitted to proceed on his Voyage, but without any Satisfaction for the loss & delay.

William Hall

IN FAITH and TESTIMONY whereof I the said Notary. have hereunto set my hand and Affixed my Seal of Office at Charleston the day month and year first written.

Jn Mitchell Q: U.

Not: Pub:

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