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"It is difficult to ascertain now which of the two belligerents, the British foe or the French friend, made Curacr~w smart most." his naturalization as an American citizen." The French prize court ignored the register onboard that documented that Eiselen was a US citizen and one of the owners of the vessel; they condemned the vessel. In the case of the schooners Nancy and Vandeput, the owner was originally a subject of Great Bri tain, and "no evidence of his naturalization was produced before the prize court," so the French condemned both vessels. Cases of imprisonment and abuse were not uncommon. The Claims Court, however, refused to award dam ages for personal injuries and limited itself only to property dam age for vessels and cargoes. M as ters of seized vessels were imprisoned primarily to deny them the opportuni ty to appear before the tribunal in their own defense. In some examples, crew were taken off their vessel and put on a slower boat, so when they finally arrived, long after the prize crew, the court had already adjudicated the condemnation. In a report by the US Representative in France, (later Secretary of State) Timothy Pickering, he complained that captured American vessels were being tried in prize courts "on the most frivolous and shameful pretenses." As French privateers began to take a serious toll on American commerce, Congress authorized the creation of a navy. Captain Jeremiah Yellott, a prominent Baltimore merchant who had made his fo rtune as a privateer during the American Revolution, was asked to serve as a

"Timothy Pickering, 1745-1829" by Charles Willson Peale. Pickering repeatedly warned Congress that French p rivateering and prize court proceedings amounted to legalized piracy and would, if unchecked, destroy all US international commerce. SEA HISTORY 113, WINTER 2005-2006

Dr. Johan Hartog, in Curafao: From Colonial Dependence to Autonomy, l 968 .

US Naval Agent in Baltimore. H e supervised the construction of the fri gate Constellation (and wo uld later oversee the building of the successful naval schooners Experiment and Enterprize) . Even as USS Constellation put to sea, Congress still was hoping to preserve a fo rmal neutrality to keep our yo ung nation out of European squabbles. Like the French , we never actually declared war. This period of desultory half-measures became known as the Quasi-War, and both Captain Yellott's naval and commercial vessels would soon be caught in the thick of it. Secretary of State James M adison submitted this fo rmal complaint to Batavian Republic representative Roger Gerard van Polanen, 30 June 1802: "Sir: The ship Mary, belonging to Mr. Jeremi-



In Baltimore, nearly 1,800 nautical miles from Curarao, Jeremiah Yellott was hardly in a p osition to communicate with his captain or the tribunal regarding the f ate ofhis vessel.

30' N


ah Yellott ofBaltimore, whereofIsaac Phillips was master, was, with a very valuable cargo, captured on the 4th of February 1800 by French privateers & carried into Curafao. As the ship was bound from Batavia, a D utch port, to Baltimore, a neutral port, restitution was due .... " Due, yes, but not forthcoming. The Batavian Republic was a shortlived revolutionary government, which had taken over the Netherlands in 1795 . At the time, Holland and France were at war, but after French forces arrived (not so much invaded as simply arrived; they were welcomed by cheering crowds and celebrations), the Dutch had changed sides. The consequence was chaos, flux, and upheaval, especially in the governments of far-flung Dutch colonies like Curai;:ao, then a bleak, nearly waterless island about thirty miles offshore of Venezuela, but one which possessed the largest natural harbor in that part of the wo rld. Officially, the Baravians were French allies, bur, in reality, they were adversaries. While France occupied the Netherlands in Europe, in the Caribbean theater, they began using Curai;:ao's harbor in Willemstad as a naval port. As a result, English ships blockaded the island, as they were still at war with France. Curai;:ao owed its precarious economic existence to shi pping, which French privateers and the English blockade threat-


20' N






J 10' W

L- ' -

ened. The French put an armed contingent on the island and installed Johan Rudolf Lauffer, a French sympathizer, as Director of C urai;:ao's governing Council. Into this m aelstrom of clashing factions, a prize crew from the French privateer Renommee sailed the captured Baltimore schooner M ary, with Jeremiah Yellott's cargo of 600,000 pounds of coffee and some indigo, on 4 February 1800. To protect their commerce with the Americans, the gove rnment of the Batavian Republic had passed a law in 1798 , the Proclamation of the Intermediate Executive Power, rendering captors of any neutral vessel bound from one Dutch port to ano ther liable fo r res titution and a fine. Mary had been bound from a Dutch port to Baltimore, carrying a cargo of coffee from Java which then also belonged to the Dutch. Mary's captain, Isaac Phillips, argued that the law applied, and M ary should be released immediately and a penalty paid fo r her detention. Almost simultaneously, a battered French frigate made port at C urai;:ao's harbor, further ro iling the already troubled waters. This was La Vengeance under Captain Citizen F. M . Pitot, limping in with her spars in splinters after her brutal enco unter with USS Constellation under Thomas Truxto n. Three days before Mary 17

Sea History 113 - Winter 2005-2006  

10 Dangerous Voyage, by Roger Tilton • 16A French Spoliation Case: Not-Quite Justice after Never-Was War, by Jock Yellott • 26 Samuel Elio...

Sea History 113 - Winter 2005-2006  

10 Dangerous Voyage, by Roger Tilton • 16A French Spoliation Case: Not-Quite Justice after Never-Was War, by Jock Yellott • 26 Samuel Elio...