Jay's Treaty Collection
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Overview and metadata sections
Samuel Sitgreaves was a Philadelphia lawyer and one of the American commissioners charged with sorting out financial claims made against Americans by British creditors, including Loyalists, under Article Six of Jay's Treaty.
The second American treaty with England, "Jay's Treaty" was negotiated by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay in 1794. The treaty sought to resolve diplomatic issues arising out of the 1783 peace treaty that ended the American Revolution, settle commercial problems, and address neutral shipping rights issues. By Jay's treaty, England agreed to withdraw from frontier posts in the Ohio country which the Americans felt to be clearly in U.S. territory, and the Americans agreed to settle pre-Revolutionary debts and delineate the northeastern boundary with Canada. The British searches and seizures of American shipping, which were the cause of so much anger in the United States in the 1790s, were not addressed. The treaty provoked much hostile reaction in the U.S., and it was only the prestige of George Washington, who felt the measure necessary, that it was passed by the Congress. Two significant commissions were established by the Treaty, and each was made up of a five-member committee of American and British commissioners. Article Six of the Jay Treaty addressed the issue of American debts owed to British creditors, creating the "Debt Commission," and Article Seven gave American shippers and merchants whose vessels had been seized or sunk by the British the opportunity to file claims for remuneration via a "Seizure Commission." The Seizure Commission made good progress in settling American claims in the late 1790s, but the Debt Commission, with which the present collection of papers is concerned, became mired in conflict and acrimony over the difficult subjects it had to consider.
From the personal papers of Samuel Sitgreaves.
Purchased from William Reese Co. in 2012 (AM2012-69).
No appraisal information is available.
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A detailed manuscript chronology (more than a dozen pages on folio sheets) of the work of the Debt Commission from May 18, 1797, when it first met, to the end of July 1799, shortly after the Americans suspended their participation. This chronology provides much information on the procedures adopted by the Debt Commission, the claims that were presented, the arguments made, and the actions taken.Physical Description
One of three manuscript documents relating to the workings of the Seizure Commission, which began meeting in London well before the Debt Commission began meeting in Philadelphia: a copy of a twenty-two page manuscript letter from Rufus King, the American minister in London, to Secretary of State Timothy Pickering. King played an important role on the Seizure Commission, and his letter, dated February 20, 1797, gives a lengthy report on the proceedings of that body in the hopes that it might guide the American commissioners who were about to convene in Philadelphia.Physical Description
One of three manuscript documents relating to the workings of the Seizure Commission, which began meeting in London well before the Debt Commission began meeting in Philadelphia: another lengthy manuscript, twenty-two pages on folio sheets, the brief written by the Massachusetts lawyer Christopher Gore, another member of the Seizure Committee, and a prominent diplomat, and Federalist politician. A copy of Gore's brief was no doubt sent to Sitgreaves in order to help advise him on the task he would assume in 1798, when he joined the Debt Commission, and it considers the question of jurisdiction in cases of international financial claims. With a contemporary extract of a letter by Gore and Pinkney, dated July 29, 1797, that originally accompanied the brief.Physical Description
One of three manuscript documents relating to the workings of the Seizure Commission, which began meeting in London well before the Debt Commission began meeting in Philadelphia: long letter (nineteen pages on folio sheets) by William Pinkney, a Maryland lawyer, diplomat, and politician, and a member of the Seizure Commission, dated London, June 6, 1798. Pinkney's letter describes the workings of the Seizure Commission, and gives a lengthy account of its consideration of the case of the seizure of an American ship, the Sally.Physical Description
Documents relating to the most prominent claims submitted to the Debt Commission, including those of the Rev. Charles Inglis, a Loyalist minister and the Bishop of Nova Scotia, who claimed to be owed some thirteen hundred pounds. Others relate to the claims of William Cunningham (owed more than a thousand pounds by Virginia merchants), Daniel Dulany, and Andrew Allen. The Inglis, Cunningham, Dulany, and Allen claims were the main cases considered by the Debt Commission, and the ones that led the board to dissolve in acrimony. Ultimately, the work of the commission broke down over disagreements on the requirements to be met by creditors and debtors, and the amounts of British claims, and those disagreements are fully vented in these and subsequent documents.Physical Description
Manuscripts documenting the end of the Debt Commission, including the notification from the American commissioners of their decision to suspend their participation, the reaction of the British commissioners, and correspondence back and forth trying to resolve the issue, ultimately to no avail.
Earliest among these is a manuscript copy of the one-page letter, dated July 19, 1799, from the two American commissioners, Thomas FitzSimons and Samuel Sitgreaves to the three British commissioners of the Debt Commission, announcing their decision to suspend their participation in the commission. This is accompanied by a five-page manuscript letter, dated July 20th, from the three British commissioners, Thomas Macdonald, Henry Pye Rich, and John Guillemard, responding to the Americans' letter. The British commissioners call on the Americans to explain their grievances, and to resume the important work in which they are engaged. They note that it is natural for disagreements to occur in such proceedings, but that they all must work through them. This is followed by a letter to the British commissioners from FitzSimons and Sitgreaves assuring them that an explanation will be forthcoming, and also by the American commissioners' letter to Secretary of State Timothy Pickering informing him of their decision to "decline any further attendance in that Board, at least until the Difficulties which have occasioned our separation shall be satisfactorily removed."
Correspondence on the breakdown of the proceedings of the Debt Commission continued throughout the summer and fall of 1799, and is fully represented in this collection. A letter from the British commissioners dated July 23, 1799, implores the Americans to continue their work, making a variety of arguments, philosophical and practical: "Our proceedings are now at length in full motion towards a conclusion within a reasonable time, and we shall be careful on our part not to adopt any line of conduct which may retard their progress. With one or two exceptions only, not so important as the cases which have occurred, we have declared our opinions upon all the preliminary questions which have been argued before us....It is an unpleasant reflection that this misunderstanding, whatever may be the cause of it, should obstruct all the business before the Board, when there is so much of it.... We have heard that witnesses and parties from the Southern States are either on their way or about to set out - what is to be done? They must either be countermanded or suffered to come to Philadelphia at a great expence of time and conveniences, and not in a desirable season of the year, to be told that as no Board is sitting they may return. In either case, how can the Board afterwards expect any accurate observance of their orders?"
An eight-page letter of August 14th from the British commissioners to the Americans carries a more indignant tone, castigating the Americans for their boycott of the commission, and for refusing to give their reasons. Other letters include a manuscript copy of British commissioner Henry Pye Rich's notification of his resignation from the Debt Commission, which includes several passages blaming the Americans for the demise of the process. This is accompanied by a manuscript draft letter from the Americans in response to Rich's communication.Physical Description
The centerpiece of this portion of documents relating to the breakdown of the Debt Commission's work consists of two documents by Samuel Sitgreaves. The first is this draft of a sixteen-page letter to Secretary of State Timothy Pickering explaining the reasoning of the American commissioners, as well as Sitgreaves' draft of the letter to Pickering explaining in detail all the documents he is sending him. Sitgreaves long letter, of which this is the original rough draft, goes into detail with regard to "some of the most prominent and substantial points, on which there is a radical difference of opinion between us, and which threaten either the eventual dissolution of the Board or the sacrifice of enormous sums, for which (as we believe) the United States are not made responsible by the Treaty." Sitgreaves's letter discusses a variety of issues of disagreement between the American and British commissioners, including the qualifications of a valid creditor (most of them were Loyalists who resided in the United States or Canada), what constitutes a "lawful impediment" to the recovery of the debt, and the various burdens of proof for claimants and debtors (the ultimate guarantor of payment, under the rules of the commission, was the United States government).
Sitgreaves writes: "In finé, on a consideration of all the different principles set up by the British commissioners, it will be found difficult to imagine a case but that some one or more of those Principles will avail to secure an award for the Claimant. We have not yet proceeded far in examination of the Proofs of Debts; but even on this head, we have ample reason to expect that Principles, equally injurious in their effects, will be assumed & adopted, altho' the Treaty of Amity was made to terminate the differences of the two nations 'without reference to the merits of their respective complaints and Pretentions.' Yet the arguments of the British commissioners constantly proceed upon the Assumption that the Engagement of the United States by the 6th Article is for the Reparation of a wrong - and the construction of the Engagement is uniformly measured by that assumption, for the double purpose of throwing upon the United States the Burthen of strict proof on the one hand, and of admitting the claimants to slight Evidence on the other."Physical Description
The second central document is Sitgreaves's original manuscript draft of a letter to the British commissioners in which he lays out in detail the exact reasons why the Americans have withdrawn from the proceedings. The draft is here in two long manuscript versions -- what appears to be an earlier, rougher, draft of thirty pages on folio sheets, and a later draft of fifty pages on quarto sheets. As Sitgreaves writes, his brief is "the very painful and unpleasant task of explaining the grounds and reasons, whereon we have taken the Resolution then [i.e. in July] communicated to you." Sitgreaves discusses general principles in effect before and after the signing of the treaty, writing that "we will now retrace, as distinctly as we can, the several Principles which, separately, have appeared to us so excessive; and which, collectively, seem totally to change the nature and extent of the stipulation of the Treaty -- to deprive the United States of the Benefit of the Restrictions and Limitations expressly enumerated in their favour -- and, in short, to construct for them a new Bargain, which they never did make and we confidently believe never would have agreed to [these final two words crossed out and changed to "made"]." Sitgreaves also discusses the particulars of specific cases, including those of William Cunningham, Charles Inglis, Andrew Allen, and others. These drafts are very much Sitgreaves' working manuscripts of his brief, containing additions, emendations, cross-outs and corrections throughout. Sitgreaves' letters to Pickering and to the British commissioners demonstrate legal reasoning of the highest order, as well as a sensitive consideration of the goals of the treaty, and of the state of Anglo-American relations.Physical Description
A twenty-three page letter from two of the British commissioners, in which they respond to the American grievances and give the British side of the argument, with quotations from the discussions of the commissioners. Ultimately, the "difficulties" between the American and British commissioners were not solved, and the work of the Debt Commission was permanently suspended in late 1799.Physical Description
(Philadelphia: Printed by John Fenno, 1798). 12,,72,xix,pp. Quarto. Contemporary marbled wrappers with modern cloth backstrip, paper spine label. This copy comes from the papers of Samuel Sitgreaves, with his ownership signature on the titlepage. It contains contemporary annotations by Thomas Evans. A scarce printing of the financial claims made by William Cunningham and Company against American citizens for debts owed from the Revolution. Cunningham and Company, a merchant house, had extended credit to Virginia planters during the Revolution and claimed to be owed more than a thousand pounds. The Cunningham case was one of the major claims considered by the Debt Commission. This brief seems to have been printed for a limited circulation, probably within the legal and commercial circles concerned with the issues of Revolutionary War settlements. The text outlines Cunningham and Company's claim (with details on the sums owed by their debtors), gives the American commissioners' response, and various other reports from the mixed board of British and American commissioners.Physical Description
(Philadelphia: Printed by R. Aitken, 1799). 107 pp. (of a total of 111 pp., lacking pp.108-111). Quarto. Original blue-grey wrappers bound into twentieth century calf backed, marbled boards, paper spine label. This copy lacks the final four pages of text (the last of which contains errata). A scarce printing of the financial claims made by the Loyalist Reverend Charles Inglis against American citizens. Inglis, a New York minister and eventually the Bishop of Nova Scotia, claimed to be owed some thirteen hundred pounds. Inglis's case was one of the major claims considered by the Debt Commission. This brief seems to have been printed for a limited circulation, probably within the legal and commercial circles concerned with the issues of Revolutionary War settlements. The text outlines Inglis' claim, gives the American commissioners' response, Inglis' subsequent reply, and various other reports from the mixed board of British and American commissioners.Physical Description