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Jefferson to Jay Regarding Debt, Postal Service, and Musket Technology


Paris, August 30,1785.


I had the honor of writing to you on the 14th instant, by a Mr. Cannon of Connecticut, who was to sail in the packet. Since that date yours of July the 13th has come to hand. The times for the sailing of the packets being somewhat deranged, I avail myself of a conveyance for the present, by the Mr. Fitzhugbs of Virginia, who expect to land at Philadelphia.

I enclose you a correspondence which has taken place between the Marechal de Castries, minister of the Marine, and myself. It is on the subject of the prize-money, due to the officers and crew of the Alliance, for prizes taken in Europe, under the command of Captain Jones. That officer has been here, under the direction of Congress, near two years, soliciting the liquidation and payment of that money. Infinite delays had retarded the liquidation till the month of June. It was expected, when the liquidation was announced to be completed, that the money was to be received. The M. de Castries doubted the authority of Captain Jones to receive it, and wrote to me for information. I wrote him a letter dated July the 10th, which seemed to clear away that difficulty. Another arose. A Mr. Puchilberg presented powers to receive the money. I wrote then the letter of August the 3rd, and received that of the M. de Castries, of August the 12th, acknowledging he was satisfied as to this difficulty, but announcing another; to wit, that possibly some French subjects might have been on board the Alliance, and therefore, that Captain Jones ought to give security for the repayment of their portions. Captain Jones had before told me there was not a Frenchman on board that vessel, but the captain. I inquired of Mr. Barclay.. He told me he was satisfied there was not one. Here, then, was a mere possibility, a shadow of right, opposed to a certain, to a substantial one, which existed in the mass of the crew, and which was likely to be delayed; for it was not to be expected that Captain Jones could, in a strange country, find the security required. These difficulties I suppose to have been conjured up, one after another, by Mr. Puchilberg, who wanted to get hold of the money. I saw but one way to cut short these everlasting delays, which were ruining the officer soliciting the payment of the money, and keeping our seamen out of what they had hardly fought for, years ago. This was, to undertake to ask an order from Congress, for the payment of any French claimants by their banker in Paris; and, in the mean time, to undertake to order such payment, should any such claimant prove his title, before the pleasure of Congress should be made known to me. I consulted with Mr. Barclay, who seemed satisfied I might venture this undertaking, because no such claim could be presented. I therefore wrote the letter of August the 17th, and received that of August the 26th, finally closing this tedious business. Should what I have done, not meet the approbation of Congress, I would pray their immediate sense, because it is not probable that the whole of this money will be paid so hastily, but that their orders may arrive in time to stop a sufficiency for any French claimants who may possibly exist. The following paragraph of a letter from Captain Jones, dated L’Orient, August the 25th, 1785, further satisfies me, that my undertaking amounted to nothing in fact. He says, ‘It is impossible that any legal demands should be made on you for French subjects, in consequence of your engagement to the Marechal. The Alliance was manned in America, and I never heard of any person’s having served on board that frigate, who had been born in France, except the captain, who, as I was informed, had, in America, abjured the church of Rome, and been naturalized.’ Should Congress approve what I have done, I will then ask their resolution for the payment, by their banker here, of any such claims as may be properly authenticated, and will moreover pray of you an authentic roll of the crew of the Alliance, with the sums to be allowed to each person; on the subject of which roll, Captain Jones, in the letter above mentioned, says, ‘I carried a set of the rolls with me to America, and before I embarked in the French fleet at Boston, I put them into the hands of Mr. Secretary Livingston, and they were sealed up among the papers of his office, when I left America.’ I think it possible that Mr. Puchilberg may excite claims. Should any name be offered which shall not be found on the roll, it will be a sufficient disproof of the pretension. Should it be found on the roll, it will remain to prove the identity of person, and to inquire if payment may not have been made in America. I conjecture from the journals of Congress of June the 2nd, that Landais, who, I believe, was the captain, may be in America. As his portion of prize-money may be considerable, I hope it will be settled in America, where only it can be known whether any advances have been made him.

1958 postage stamp of John Jay (

The person at the head of the post office here, says, he proposed to Dr. Franklin a convention to facilitate the passage of letters through their office and ours, and that he delivered a draught of the convention proposed, that it might be sent to Congress. I think it possible he may be mistaken in this, as, on my mentioning it to Dr. Franklin, he did not recollect any such draught having been put into his hands. An answer, however, is expected by them. I mention it, that Congress may decide whether they will make any convention on the subject, and on what principle. The one proposed here was, that for letters passing hence into America, the French postage should be collected by our post-officers, and paid every six months, and for letters coming from America here, the American postage should be collected by the post-officers here, and paid to us in like manner. A second plan, however, presents itself; that is, to suppose the sums to be thus collected, on each side, will be equal, or so nearly equal, that the balance will not pay for the trouble of keeping accounts, and for the little bickerings that the settlement of accounts and demands of the balances may occasion: and therefore, to make an exchange of postage. This would better secure our harmony; but I do not know that it would be agreed to here. If not, the other might then be agreed to.

I have waited hitherto, supposing that Congress might, possibly, appoint a secretary to the legation here, or signify their pleasure that I should appoint a private secretary, to aid me in my office. The communications between the ministers and myself requiring often that many and long papers should be copied, and that in a shorter time than could be done by myself, were I otherwise unoccupied, other correspondences and proceedings, of all which copies must be retained, and still more the necessity of having some confidential person, who, in case of any accident to myself, might be authorized to take possession of the instructions, letters, and other papers of the office, have rendered it absolutely necessary for me to appoint a private secretary. Colonel Humphreys finds full occupation, and often more than he can do, in writing and recording the despatches and proceedings of the general commissions. I shall, therefore, appoint Mr. Short, on his return from the Hague, with an express condition, that the appointment shall cease whenever Congress shall think proper to make any other arrangement. He will, of course, expect the allowance heretofore made to the private secretaries of the ministers, which, I believe, has been a thousand dollars a year.

An improvement is made here in the construction of muskets, which it may be interesting to Congress to know, should they at any time propose to procure any. It consists in the making every part of them so exactly alike, that what belongs to any one, may be used for every other musket in the magazine. The government here has examined and approved the method, and is establishing a large manufactory for the purpose of putting it into execution. As yet, the inventor has only completed the lock of the musket, on this plan. He will proceed immediately to have the barrel, stock, and other parts, executed in the same way. Supposing it might be useful to the United States, I went to the workman. He presented me the parts of fifty locks taken to pieces, and arranged in compartments. I put several together myself, taking pieces at hazard as they came to hand, and they fitted in the most perfect manner. The advantages of this, when arms need repair, are evident. He effects it by tools of his own contrivance, which, at the same time, abridge the work, so that he thinks he shall be able to furnish the musket two livres cheaper than the common price. But it will be two or three years before he will be able to furnish any quantity. I mention it now, as it may have an influence on the plan for furnishing our magazines with this arm.

Every thing in Europe remains as when I wrote you last. The peace between Spain and Algiers has the appearance of being broken off. The French packet having arrived without Mr. Lambe, or any news of him, I await Mr. Adams’s acceding to the proposition mentioned in my last. I send you the Gazettes of Leyden and France to this date, and have the honor to be, with the highest respect and esteem, Sir,

your most obedient, humble servant,

Th: Jefferson.