Our Collection

At the Institute’s core is the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the great archives in American history. More than 70,000 items cover five hundred years of American history, from Columbus’s 1493 letter describing the New World to soldiers’ letters from World War II and Vietnam. Explore primary sources, visit exhibitions in person or online, or bring your class on a field trip.

Gallais (fl. 1800) [Captain Gallais' observations on American merchant ships engaged in combat with French ships]

High-resolution images are available to schools and libraries via subscription to American History, 1493-1943. Check to see if your school or library already has a subscription. Or click here for more information. You may also order a pdf of the image from us here.

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC03570 Author/Creator: Gallais (fl. 1800) Place Written: s.l. Type: Endorsement signed Date: 28 December 1800 Pagination: 2 p. ; 28.2 x 20.5 cm.

Summary of Content: Written in French by a Captain Gallais of the corsair La Laure to First Consul of French Republic Napoleon Bonaparte. Translation in collateral file. Gallais is offering his opinion on how the French government should handle American merchant ships that previously engaged in battle with French ships under the new treaty, the Convention of Mortefontaine, which was signed in October 1800. Says treaty is only applicable retroactively to ships with irregularities in their papers, not to ships engaged in combat. Says boarding of American ships and request to hoist the flag is still permitted, and would therefore be permitted in the past. Says it is impossible to distinguish between neutrals and enemies unless ship's flag is hoisted and the ship boarded. Claims papers must be examined to assure flag is justified. In left margin of recto, Napoleon wrote that the document should be returned to the Minister of External Relations. Under his note it is signed "Bonaparte." In upper left corner of recto is 75 centimes stamp of the French Republic.

Full Transcript: The C.n Gallais Capitain of the Corsaire
La Laure de St. Malo
To the Citizen Bonaparte
First Consul of the French Republic
Citizen First Consul,
The Counsel of captured ...ships, through the authority of its commissioner, consulted the government on the question of knowing, whether the merchant ships, under the American flag who have fought against the French ships, should enjoy the benefit of Article 4 of the new treaty concluded with the Americans.
Allow a seaman whose fortune and existence will depend on this decision, to present you with some observations that your sagacity would preview
The command of more than three years of one of the corsairs that has done the most harm to England (La Laure de St Malo) and they contend with me and my crew a ship (Le Rodolphe Fredéric) that we had conquered at the price of our blood and at the danger of our life!
Neither article 4, nor any other of the new treaty is applicable to the ships that fought against the French. This article [2] has a retroactive effect for the ships that have nothing but irregularities in their papers, but it does nothing for those that after having engaged in action, have been obligated to yield to worth.
The American Plenipotentiaries themselves have not raised a similar pretension.
If they had known, it was so strange that they didn't fail to make a special clause of the Treaty.
The spirit of the treaty rejects a similar extension. Article 18 maintains the use of the [boat inspection] and by consequence the Reprimand that is preliminary it even prescribes it in a particular manner.
The Americans today are not excused from this formality. They can thus have been even less excused for the past.
Refusing to obey the Reprimand and attacking is the same thing, since all the laws and the maritime ordinances demand the Corsairs of captivating by force those who do not obey the Reprimand.
How in effect without the Reprimand and the [boat inspection] can one distinguish between neutrals and enemies?
A flag of such or such color displayed at will is too equivocal of an indication.
One must be assured by the examination of the papers on board, whether the color of the flag is justified by the two pieces that the Treaty prescribes.

[written in a different hand in left margin]
[struck: Returned to the [illegible]
Near the Congress [illegible]
[illegible] do a
report. Paris the 4 nivose
an 9
The 1st Consul]
Returned to the Minister
[of] External Relations
Paris, the 7 nivôse an 9
The 1st Consul
Bonaparte







See More

People:

Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815

Subjects: MaritimeMilitary HistoryGlobal History and US Foreign PolicyGlobal History and US Foreign PolicyNavyFranceDiplomacyTreatyMerchants and TradeCommercePrivateeringAmerican Flag

Sub Era:

Order a Copy Citation Guidelines for Online Resources