Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wednesday Search Challenge (Feb 22, 2012): Did Jefferson think she was, or wasn't?

In the sultry summer of 1793, Thomas Jefferson was the Secretary of State in the young United States.  That's when the good ship Jane came into the harbor and an important question had to be resolved:  Was she a pirate or not?  

France was in the midst of the French Revolutionary Wars, and the US had decided to remain technically neutral.  But both France and Britain were interfering with shipping up and down the coast and into the Caribbean.  This was, after all, the heyday of pirates, grog and sailors being impressed into service.  

In order to remain neutral, Jefferson had an important decision to make.  Was the Jane merely a commercial vessel, or a pirate?  Unlike the movies, wasn't always obvious which ship was which. 

Can you find what Jefferson had to say about this?  What was his decision?  Pirate or not? 

As usual, be sure to leave your comment with a description of how long it took you to find it, and HOW you found your answer.  

Search ahoy!  Arrrrrrrrr!


  1. Less than 4 minutes. I entered "Thomas Jefferson + ship Jane" into Google and found the fifth result to have the answer in "Thomas Jefferson - Thoughts on War and Revolution" on pages 123-4.

  2. And the answer was.... ?

    (Also, why did you include the + in your search?)

  3. I searched "Thomas Jefferson Ship Jane" in Google and found a book called Thoughts on War and Revolution and on page 123 he talks about his correspondence with Mr. Genet (which I also found in UVA's digital archive of Jefferson's works, in which TJ maintains that the Jane is an armed merchant ship, but not a pirate. Less than ten minutes.

  4. The Jane of Dublin apparently sailed into Philadelphia on the 24th of July, 1793...
    ... privateer might be a better word than pirate as the Jane was part of Citizen Genêt's flotilla - appears Jefferson was well aware of what the Jane was and what her intended use was and, though sympathetic to the French position, carried out his duty as SoS under President Washington's direction
    and implemented the Proclamation of Neutrality (although he worked behind the scenes to avoid Genêt's deportation to France and likely execution. The two relative links for me were:
    google books

    the search went something like this: T. Jefferson,1793>Proc. of Neutrality>pairing that with the Jane brought up the Congressional edition, Volume 3267, Issue 1 (Google eBook)...>on to the Genêt Affair & details. 40+ minutes on the search and another ≈ 20 on the comment.
    an aside note:
    included the" Wisteme (Wisdom System for Everyone) is high-quality question-driven knowledge" site because it reminded me a bit of Aardvark - and because they tout it as an education/school search tool.
    crowd/mob search as mobile, secondary research tool.
    wisteme pdf
    as with pirates, it often depends on who has the booty whether they are considered pirates or not - $50 million is a fair chunk of treasure -DBE, Captain G.

    1. got curios about the weather/heat/"sultry summer" too, so checked... they may have had bigger problems than "pirates" in the Nation's Capital -
      Philadelphia served as the temporary capital of the United States, 1790–1800, while the Federal City was under construction in the District of Columbia.[20] In 1793, one of the largest yellow fever epidemics in U.S. history killed as many as 5,000 people in Philadelphia, roughly 10% of the population.[21] Wikipedia:Philadelphia

      One can go back further: how about 217 years?
      1793. The medium temperature of this month was 81, and there was a great deal of excessively hot and dry weather. All the rain that fell was during some violent thunder gusts. The mercury was from 90 to 96 in the shade on ten days, and from 84 to 89 on fifteen days.

      The average for July in Philadelphia was 80 or above in 1793, 1798, 1822, 1825, 1828, 1830, 1838.

      & a definition, the English merchant vessel, Jane, apparently was taken while working routes between the U.S. mainland and Jamaica, as the reference in the first comment indicates "Thomas Jefferson - Thoughts on War and Revolution" on pages 123-4...the privateer label was subject to legal/diplomatic interpretation:

      @DMR - are you testing the search function of the glasses yet? a lot of nodding - chiropractic stocks? Exciting times.


  5. I tried a few different search strings (jefferson AND jane AND pirate, jefferson AND 1793 AND jane, etc) before using "Thomas Jefferson" AND 1793 AND jane AND secretary, which gave me a hit to a document called "A message of the President of the United States to Congress relative to France and Great-Britain: delivered December 5, 1793, with the papers therein referred, to which are added the French originals" in Google Books.

    Doing a search for "Jane" gave me some passages, the most notable being:

    November 22, 1793

    Mr Jefferson, Secretary of State to the Minister Plenipotentiary of France,

    In a letter which I had the honor of writing to you on the 12th of July, I informed you that the President expected that the Jane of Dublin, the Lovely Lass and Prince William Henry, British vessels taken by the armed vessel Citoyen Genet would not depart from our ports until his ultimate determination thereon should be made known. And in a letter of the 7th August, I gave you the further information, that the President considered the United States as bound, pursuant to positive assurances, given in conformity to the laws of neutrality to effectuate the restoration of, or to make compensation for prizes, made subsequent to the 5th day of June, by privateers fitted out of our ports; that, consequently, he expected you to cause restitution to be made of all prizes taken and brought into our ports, subsequent to the said 5th of June, by such privateers, in detect of which he considered it as incumbent on the United States to indemnify the owners of such prizes; the indemnfication to be reimbursed by the French nation.

    This determination involved the brig Jane of Dublin, taken by the armed vessel Citoyen Gene, on the 24th of July, the brig Lovely Lass, taken by the same vessel on the 4th of July, and the brig Prince William Henry taken by the same vessel on the 28th of June, and I have it in charge to enquire of you, Sir, whether these three brigs have been given up, according to the determination of the President, and if they have not, to repeat the requisition that they be given up to their former owners.

    I have the honor to be,


    Anyways, from what I can gather, the ship was deemed a pirate and taken into port where it was held. Further searching shows that Mr. Genet considered the Jane an English privateer.

    I'm not entirely sure if this is what you were looking for or not.

    Overall, I spent a solid 10 minutes tracking this down.

  6. Used google, searched "Thomas Jefferson ship Jane"

    Jefferson did not believe her to be a pirate ship, but a merchant vessel. She had made port looking to sell goods (produce from the islands from which she departed) in exchange for flour.

    While a Mr. Genet though the Jane was a privateer and had ordered her to depart from the US port, Jefferson argued otherwise. Though the Jane was indeed outfitted with guns, he deemed them necessary for her own self-defense in a time of war. Jefferson argued that if the US did not allow merchant vessels that did not have guns for self-defense, privateers would be swarming the shores of the US looking for vulnerable trading vessels to capture, which would eliminate any trade with the US.

    However, when the Jane tried to commission additional guns (that the Jane had brought with her) to be installed on the ship, Jefferson put a stop to this, saying that no ship should be allowed to arm itself within the US ports.

    Took about 2 minutes to find, and 10 minutes to read.

  7. It took me about 3 minutes, after first trying a few simple google searches and going across the usual wikipedia searches, i found a google books query of "thomas jefferson 1793 jane ship" to lead me to, a page in "A message of the President of the United States to Congress relative to France and Great-Britain" in which he decides that they are a merchant defending themselves, and therefore not pirates, do i win?

  8. Probably took 20-30mins to find the correct section.

    Google Search "1793 + Jane + Thomas Jefferson"
    Mr Genet in his letter of July 9th requires that the ship Jane which he calls an English privateer shall he immediately ordered to depart and to justify this he appeals to the 23d article of our treaty which provides that it shall not be lawful for any foreign privateer to sit their ships ill our ports to sell what they have taken or purchase victuals &c The ship Jane is an English merchant vessel which has been many years employed in the commerce between Jamaica and these states She brought here a cargo of produce from that island and was to take away a cargo of flour Knowing of the war when he left Jamaica and that our coast was lined with small French privateers she armed for her defence aad took one of those commissions usually called Letters of Marque She arrived here safely without having had any encounter of any sort Can it b necessary to say that a merchant vessel is not a privateer That though she has arms to defend herself in time of war in the course of her regular commerce this no more makes her a privateer than a husbandman following his plough in time of war with a knife or pistol m his pocket is thereby made a soldier The occupation of a privateer 14 to attack and plunder that of a merchant vessel is commerce and self preservation The article excludes the former from our ports and from selling ivhatshe has talc that is what she has acquired by war to shew it did not mean the merchant vessel and what she had acquired by commerce Were the merchant vessels coming for our produce forbidden to have any arms for their defence every adventurer who has a boat or money enough to buy one would make her a privateer our coasts would swarm with them foreign vessels must cease to come our commerce mu4 be suppressed our produce remain on our hands or at least that great portion of it which we have not vessels to carry away our ploughs must he laid aside and agriculture suspended This is a sacrifice no treaty could ever contemplate and which we are not disposed to make out of mere complaisance to a false definition of the term privateer Finding that the Jane had purchased new carriages to mount two or three additional guns which he had brought in her hold and that she opened additional port holes for them the carriages were ordered to be relanded the additional port holes stopped and her means of defence reduced to be the same at her departure as at her arrival This was done on the principle of allowing no party to arm within our ports.

  9. ~5 minutes. Google search for . 11th result had "Jane of Dublin" listed.

    Search for <"Jane of Dublin"> led to American State Papers on Google Books:

    Same document as Drop the Gloves! found.

  10. My search, (thomas jefferson 1793 jane ship) pulled up the answer in Google books, second result after the Lifehacker article about this Search Challenge, on page 63 of "Message of the President of the United States to Congress relative to France and Great Britain. Delivered December 5, 1793.

    Seems he disagreed with the French that the Jane was a privateer, but rather a British merchant vessel. He did not allow her to arm herself further while in port, though.

  11. Googled: "did Thomas jefferson think ship jane was neutral 1793"
    5th result: Google ebook "The Jeffersonian cyclopedia" page 87,
    "798 BELLIGERENTS History of Rules At a cabinet meeting on account of the British letter of marque ship Jane said to have put up waste boards to have pierced two port holes and mounted two cannon which she brought in on new carriages which she did not bring in and consequently having sixteen instead of fourteen guns mounted it was agreed that a letter of marque or vessel arme en guerre and en marehandise is not a privateer and therefore not to be ordered out of our ports It was agreed by Hamilton Knox and myself that the case of such a vessel does not depend on the treaties but on the law of nations Edmund Randolph thought as she had mixed character of merchant vessel and privateer she might be considered under treaty but this being overruled the following paper was written Rules proposed Attorney General 1 That all purely for the accommodation of vessels merchantmen be admitted..."
    Search time to answer: <1 min (it took more time to type and copy this comment)

  12. Knowing that the Library of Congress had access to Jefferson's papers (, I went there and did a simple search in the Jefferson papers for "jane 1793". This returned seven search results. On July 12, 1793, minutes of a meeting between Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and Henry Knox show that because of complaints from the British and French Ministers to America the Jane, and other vessels, were to be detained until their status was ascertained. The French Minister, Edmond Genet, was advised of the same on that date. On August 16, 1793, Jefferson wrote to Gouverneur Morris, the American Minister to France, stating that the Jane was a merchant ship and not a privateer or pirate vessel. Jefferson wrote,

    "The ship Jane is an English merchant vessel, which has been many years employed in the commerce between Jamaica & these states. She brought here a cargo of produce from that island, & was to take away a cargo of flour. Knowing of the war when she left Jamaica, & that our coast was lined with small French privateers, she armed for her defence, & took one of those commissions usually called letters of marque. She arrived here safely without having had any rencounter of any sort. Can it be necessary to say that a merchant vessel is not a privateer? That tho' she has arms to defend herself in time of war, in the course of her regular commerce, this no more makes her a privateer, than a husbandman following his plough, in time of war, with a knife or pistol in his pocket, is thereby made a soldier? The occupation of a privateer is attack and plunder, that of a merchant-vessel is commerce & self-preservation." (

    I hope the last link to the transcript of the (rather lengthy) letter works. All told the whole thing took about 15 minutes.

    Oh, and at the time, the status of the Jane as having a letter of marque was important. A letter of marque gave a vessel the status of privateer and a legal license to attack and take ships of an enemy nation. Without a letter of marque, a vessel did not have that status and would have been a pirate if it seized another vessel. Since the Jane had a letter of marque there was no question at any time of her having been a pirate vessel.

  13. It took about five minutes, but I went directly to the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson collection through the loc search engine.

  14. 5 minutes to find, more to read -
    A few false starts on general google,
    followed by tossing [Jane Jefferson 1793 ship] into google books, noticing the reference was "the jane" and then refining the search to:
    ["the jane" 1793 jefferson]
    then, within book ["the jane"]

    In short, Jefferson argues that The Jane must be regarded as a merchant vessel, despite being armed, and having taken a letter of marque. He argues that a merchant vessel must be armed for self preservation reasons, and that no treaty could provide that merchants landing in US ports be unarmed. However, despite arguing that there is a necessity and a policy desire for merchant vessels to be armed, and that being so armed (and having a letter of marque) in no way makes a ship a privateer, he goes on to say that the Jane was not allowed to purchase new cannon in port, because there is a principle of not allowing parties to arm themselves in US port.

    Interesting double standards.

    From : The Works of Thomas Jefferson: Correspondence 1792-1793

  15. Found in about 2 mins.

    About 20 seconds to find the source - Google search: Thomas Jefferson ship Jane

    link to here:

    then a minute or so to search and scan read the results pages.

    On page 24 is this line:

    "This is a sacrifice no treaty could ever contemplate, and which we are not disposed to make out of mere complaisance to a false defination of the term privateer"

    Although the ship Jane had cannons, he is basically saying ships have the right to protect them selves in the waters, without being pirates

  16. My search was "1793 shipping reports" jefferson jane

    The most useful result was from Google books "A message of the President of the United States to Congress relative to France and Great-Britain: delivered December 5, 1793, with the papers therein referred, to which are added the French originals" Took about two minutes to find this.

    A little longer to find what Mr Jefferson had to say in response to the French demand it be sent out of port. First 12th July, a holding reply while they check the law. He then wrote to the American consul in France stating amongst many other things, that the ship JAne was a well known merchant vessel plying trade between The States and Jamaica. Armed to defend herself from the French. She was not allowed to arm herself in port. About 10 mins to find the info in the book using Google books search field.

  17. I managed to find the answer in about 5 minutes, using a really long search query (pirate "ship jane" jefferson secretary of state -mother -president). I found one distraction to be that Thomas Jefferson's mother was also named Jane. The most important factor, I think, was searching for "ship jane" - I found the answer after adding the quotation marks. I used the 7th result, 4th page of the book (

  18. July 29. 1793. At a meeting at the President’s on acct. of the British letter of marque ship Jane, said to have put up waste boards, to have pierced 2 port holes & mounted 2 cannon (which she brought in) on new carriages which she did not bring in, & consequently having 16. instead of 14. guns mounted, it was agreed that a letter of marque, or vessel armé en guerre & en marchandise is not a privateer, & therefore not to be ordered out of our ports.

  19. Found it within 3 minutes searching for "1793 pirate jane", which had among the search results a link to google books, "English neutrality: is the Alabama a British pirate?", bottom of page 14. There is a letter from Jefferson to Hammond dated Sept. 5, 1793, which addresses the "Jane, of Dublin"

  20. I started with the search "Jefferson Jane 1793" and came up with too much irrelevant info because of his various relatives named Jane. I then searched "jefferson 1793 jane ship" in Google Books and came up with the letter re: Mr. Genet all in about 1 minute.

    I didn't find a final determination as to whether she was or was not a pirate or "privateer" but thought this letter to give sufficient information to determine that Jefferson didn't think that the Jane was a pirate or privateer but a merchant vessel taking normal and necessary precautions.

    All told spent about 5 minutes looking for further references and then decided I'd answered the question to my satisfaction, though figured there is probably a transcript or something somewhere that will give better information.

  21. Search query: "british ship jane 1793 jefferson".
    Found in: Ninth result (The Jefferson Cyclopedia).
    Answer: Not a pirate.
    Time: 50 seconds.

  22. Less than one minute.

    Found it with second query:
    intext:pirate,thomas,jefferson,jane,ship,decision,secretary "jane"

    website found (first entry in search as well):

    Answer: Nope :)

    1. @Nathan -- Why do you include all of those commas? (They don't do anything in the query!) Also, you should know that in your query [intext:pirate thomas jefferson jane ship decision secretary "jane"] the intext: operator only takes the first term after the colon. All the rest looks like a 'regular' query.