BLTC Press Titles

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The Worm Ouroboros

E. R. Eddison

Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Hermenie Templeton Kavanagh

The Revolt of the Netherlands

Friedrich Schiller

Through the Looking Glass

Lewis Carroll

History of the United States of America: The second administration of Thomas Jefferson

by Henry Adams




June 22,1807, while Jefferson at Washington was faming over Chief-Justice Marshall's subpoena, and while the grand jury at Richmond were on the point of finding their indictment against Burr, an event occurred at sea, off the entrance to Chesapeake Bay, which threw the country into violent excitement, distracting attention from Burr, and putting to a supreme test the theories of Jefferson's statesmanship.

That the accident which then happened should not have happened long before was matter for wonder, considering the arbitrary character of British naval officers and their small regard for neutral rights. For many years the open encouragement offered to the desertion of British seamen in American ports had caused extreme annoyance to the royal navy; and nowhere had this trouble been more serious than at Norfolk. Early in 1807 a British squadron happened to be lying within the Capes watching for some French frigates which had taken refuge at Annapolis. Tol. Iv. — 1

One or more of these British ships lay occasionally in Hampton Roads, or came to the navy-yard at Gosport for necessary repairs. Desertions were of course numerous; even the American ships-of-war had much difficulty from loss of men, — and March 7 a whole boat's crew of the British sixteen-gun sloop " Halifax " made off with the jolly-boat and escaped to Norfolk. The commander of the " Halifax " was informed that these men had enlisted in the American frigate " Chesapeake," then under orders for the Mediterranean. He complained to the British consul and to Captain Decatur, but could get no redress. He met two of the deserters in the streets of Norfolk, and asked them why they did not return. One of them, Jcnkin Ratford by name, replied, with abuse and oaths, that he was in the land of liberty and would do as he liked. The British minister at Washington also made complaint that three deserters from the " Melampus " frigate had enlisted on the " Chesapeake." The Secretary of the Navy ordered an inquiry, which proved that the three men in question, one of whom was a negro, were in fact on board the " Chesapeake," but that they were native Americans who had been improperly impressed by the " Melampus," and therefore were not subjects for reclamation by the British government. The nationality was admitted, and so far as these men were concerned the answer was final; but the presence of Jenkin Ratford, an Englishman, on board the " Chesapeake " under the name of Wilson escaped notice.

The admiral in command of the British ships on the North American station was George Cranfield Berkeley, a brother of the Earl of Berkeley. To him, at Halifax, the British officers m Chesapeake Bay reported their grievances; and Admiral Berkeley, without waiting for authority from England, issued the following orders, addressed to all the ships under his command: —

" Whereas many seamen, subjects of his Britannic Majesty, and serving in his ships and vessels as per margin [" Bellona," "Belleisle," "Triumph," "Chichester," "Halifax," "Zenobia"], while at anchor in the Chesapeake, deserted and entered on board the United States frigate called the ' Chesapeake,' and openly paraded the streets of Norfolk, in sight of their officers, under the American flag, protected by the magistrates of the town and the recruiting officer belonging to the above-mentioned American frigate, which magistrates and naval officer refused giving them up, although demanded by his Britannic Majesty's consul, as well as the captains of the ships from which the said men had deserted :

"The captains and commanders of his Majesty's ships and vessels under my command are therefore hereby required and directed, in case of meeting with the American frigate ' Chesapeake1 at sea, and without the limits of the United States, to show to the captain of her this order, and to require to search his ship for the deserters from the before-mentioned ships, and to proceed and search for the same; and if a similar demand should be made by the American, he is to be permitted to search for any deserters from their service, according to the customs and usage of civilized nations on terms of peace and amity with each other."

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