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    Statesmen Timothy Pickering: Great Letter Protesting British Harassment of American Shipping! Autograph Letter Signed, as John Adams' secretary of state, 4 pages, recto and verso, 8" x 10", Department of State, Philadelphia, May 8, 1799. To Rufus King, the American Ambassador to Great Britain. In fine condition. Ex-Saxon B. Gavitt.

    The whole point of the Jay Treaty was to ease restrictions on American trade with the British West Indies, more or less - the less having in part to do with Article 18, which stated that any goods which served "the purposes of war by Land or Sea" would be, by the British, deemed contraband and seized. But what was happening, Pickering complains in this gloriously furious letter, was that now the Royal Navy was claiming that anything going from the West Indies to New Orleans, which belonged to Spain, could be military use to their allies the French. Hence household goods like nails, burlap, and leather became, as the British choose to read the law, "just objects of confiscation...attempted to be carried to an Enemy." This was maddening, but Pickering, however, liked the British, and hated the French: so would Minister Plenipotentiary King, he implored, please straighten this out! "I have again to represent to you how much the American trade is harassed by British cruisers, by what I conceive to be a perverse construction of the 18th article of the commercial treaty, relating to articles contraband. The ship General Washington, of this port, is taken by the British Armed vessels the Lynx & Pheasant, and carried into Bermuda. The pretences for the capture, as it is understood, are that she had on board some bales of Ticklenburgs [a heavy, coarse cotton fabric, used for grain sacks, upholstery, and draperies] & Oznaburgs [a coarse, mixed linen fabric], and...casks of...nails. The ship was destined for New Orleans, which is the depot of the cotton raised in our Mississippi territory, and of the skins & furs collected in traffic with the Indians. The cotton & indigo raised & the skins collected in Louisiana also find there a market. The trade between us and New Orleans is very much increased, and is daily becoming more and more important to us. Oznaburgs & Ticklenburgs are essentially for the summer clothing of the slaves & laborers, & for bags for the cotton. The nails are necessary for house building. The 18th article of the treaty declares 'sails' to be contraband: but those coarse linen are neither 'sails' nor sail-cloth. And altho' in extreme necessity, when the proper cloth is not to be obtained, some of the lightest and most trifling sails might be made of ticklenburg, yet that is not, every one knows, the use for which it is imported & to which it is generally applied: and a reasonable construction of the words 'whatever may serve directly to the equipment of vessels' must exclude all three of the articles in question. It cannot be contingent & possible application of articles... but their direct and principal use and destination for that object which must determine them to be contraband."

    "...leather as I am informed has been pronounced contraband - because used in fixing the boxes of ships-pumps, and perhaps one pound in a thousand or two may be so used."

    "It really is important to come to an understanding with the British Government on this subject, as well for political as commercial considerations: and I hope... that you will find an early opportunity to converse with Lord Grenville [British Secretary of State, Foreign Office] upon it: and that orders will be issued to put a stop to the mischief."

    "I must not omit to mention another refinement in some of the Colonial Vice-Admiralty courts... a distinction made between flat and square bars of 'unwrought iron', declaring the latter contraband because they may easily be converted into ships bolts! I will only observe...that square bars of iron are wanted for common domestic uses, by every farmer in the country: I speak from my own knowledge..."

    Despite the Royal Navy's harassment, things did improve: American trade had tripled with British ports by 1800. Which of course caused the French to retaliate by seizing American ships, which caused the Quasi-War, which caused the Convention of 1800, which abrogated the Franco-American Alliance - and which still didn't stop the Americans from finally fighting the British, again, in the War of 1812. From the Henry E. Luhrs Collection. Accompanied by LOA from PSA/DNA.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    February, 2006
    20th-21st Monday-Tuesday
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