Papers of John Adams, volume 7

From John Boylston

The Commissioners to Gabriel de Sartine

From William MacCreery, 5 January 1779 MacCreery, William JA From William MacCreery, 5 January 1779 MacCreery, William Adams, John
From William MacCreery
Sir Bordeaux 5 Jany. 1779

Meerly for want of something agreeable or interesting to communicate to you, It is now a very long time since I had the pleasure of paying you my respects. But as I have taken the liberty on a former occasion, to trouble you on the Subject of our Commercial Interests in this Country, I beg leave to mention to you some more particulars relating to it, which at this Port we find very irksome, and which I really think, only want bare mentioning to be removed.

The first, and at present the greatest, is our inability to Load Salt here, without paying the old established Duty thereon, which amounts to a meer prohibition,1 so that Vessels which wou'd take in Salt for ballast, finding it too much to pay the Duty, and by far too expensive to touch at St. Martin's for it, are obliged to carry Sand. In this manner hath many Vessels, half loaded with useless Earth, gone to America from hence, to the great detriment of the Owners, and disapointment of the expecting Poor People in America, who no doubt built hopes on supplys coming to them by those Vessels. We have also found that it wou'd have been cheaper to pay Freight for Salt from St. Martin's here, (provided there was no charge of duty) than to send Vessels thither to take it, even supposing they loaded Salt entirely, for the Port-Charges, loss of time, and other incidental expences, come allways very Heavey on such traffic.

There is another circumstance which I shall take leave to point out to you, and which I wou'd be glad to have set to rights as soon as may be. In our Treaty of Freindship and Commerce, I think it is stipulated, that in regard to Dutys and imposts in the Ports of France, We shall be on as favourable a footing as any Power Whatever.2 But unfortunatly, hitherto, either from mistake, or oversight, Our Vessels have been put down in the Custom-house Books, etrangers. And in place of paying Three and an half Per Cent, We are obliged to pay Six Per Cent on most Goods, and in some cases, the difference is much more to our 342prejudice. Now as custom is very apt to establish a thing into a Law, I shou'd be glad to have this matter placed on a clear footing as soon as may be, for altho' that from the smallness of our Trade to this Place at present, the difference seems triffling, it may in future become a matter of very great importance to the Trading part of America directly, and to every part of it indirectly. The Hambourghers I beleive are on as favourable a footing in point of Trade with this Country, as most others. Therefore, were it expressly fix'd that we shou'd be dealt by in the same manner, We shou'd Know at once what our right was, and when we were aggrieved. But I must confess that I am not able to enlighten you much upon this Subject, having no great opportunity of procuring Knowlege in it myself, but what I Know I thought my Duty to communicate. Shou'd Yourself and Honorable Colleagues think proper to mention these matters at Court, I have no doubt you wou'd readily procure the releif desired by us here, in which I sincerely wish you Success.

I had lately an Account of the arrival at Baltimore, of the Brigantine Saratoga,3 which I expedited from Nantes last Augt. She had coarse Goods on board to the amount of £100,000 Tournois which woud cloath a great many of our Countrymen. I hope to see her, Daily, and that she will be the messenger of Good News, which shall be very happy to Communicate to you being allways with the greatest Respect Sir Your much obliged and very Obedient Servant

Will MacCreery

RC (Adams Papers); docketed by JA and others: “Mr. McCreery 5th Jany. 7th 1779.” The name, month, and year are by JA, the “5th” by CFA, correcting the earlier notation of “7th,” which is in an unknown hand. Both days' dates are added above the line, with the “7th” probably being a misreading of the dateline abbreviation Jany, where the “y,” written as a superscript, looks much like a “7.”


The issue of duties on salt at Bordeaux had been raised in John Bondfield's letter to the Commissioners of 16 July 1778 (PPAmP: Franklin Papers). Bondfield wrote that a quintal of salt loaded at St. Martin on the Ile de Ré, an island off La Rochelle, cost approximately 23 sous. Foreign vessels paid a duty of 3 sous, 9 deniers per quintal. This duty was a concession to promote the exportation of salt from the Ile de Ré and had been extended to exportations from Nantes, but not from Bordeaux. At Bordeaux salt cost one and a half times what it did at the Ile de Ré, approximately 35 sous per quintal; but the duty paid by foreign ships was more than eleven times greater, 41 sous, 9 denier per quintal, than that paid at the Ile de Ré or Nantes. According to Bondfield's figures, 720 quintals of salt cost approximately 950 livres at the Ile de Ré or Nantes, but 4,332 livres at Bordeaux. The difference resulted, in addition to the higher cost and increased duties, from the fact that at Ile de Ré or at Nantes a single payment equal to the duty was required, whereas at Bordeaux a sum equal to double the actual duty was deposited with the authorities. The Commissioners apparently took no action regarding the Bondfield letter, and there is no indication that MacCreery was any 343more successful.


Articles 2 through 5 of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce granted the United States most-favored-nation status and defined its application to Franco-American trade (Miller, ed., Treaties , 2:5–7). Compare MacCreery's complaints with those voiced in the letter from John Lloyd and others to the Commissioners of 7 Jan. (below).


For the Saratoga, a Continental privateer out of Baltimore (PCC, No. 196, XIV), see MacCreery's letters to JA of 4 and 25 July 1778 (vol. 6:258, 316).