« PreviousContinue »
from England without an order from the King in Council and this was difficult to obtain. Being informed that arms were cheaper in France, he went to Paris in May, 1796. A great quantity of arms had been captured from the enemies of France, which were offered for sale at a moderate price, as they were considered unfit for the French armies. On July 1 he signed a contract with the Minister of War for twenty thousand stands of arms and twenty-two brass four-pounders, to be delivered at Ostend. He then returned to London, where he contracted with a dealer for a large quantity of military feathers, which were shipped to New York. Having been informed that the Boston merchant with whom he had made arrangements to take his cargo of arms to America would be unable to undertake the task, while in London he requested a ship master to charter a ship for him. The Olive Branch was secured and loaded at Ostend. As two English frigates were cruising off the port, and it was apparent that they might try to capture the ship, General Allen secured paints and brushes and "changed two streaks on the sides of the ship to new and brilliant colors," being able to pass several ships of war without being recognized. Evidently camouflaged ships were in use long before the World War.
The Olive Branch sailed from the port of Ostend on November 12, with General Allen on board. One week later, on November 19, she was seized by His Majesty's ship of war Audacious, about eighty leagues off the Scilly Islands, and ship and cargo were taken to Portsmouth. The cargo was libelled in the High Court of Admiralty and February 24, 1797, General Allen entered
a claim that the arms seized were his private property. On June 13, 1797, a hearing was held before Sir James Marriot, Judge of the Admiralty Court. The Judge abused the claimant, and in a statement which seems to have been strongly prejudiced, hinted at some illegal understanding with France. His type of mind is indicated by a sneering comment on the Vermont seal, which was attached to Allen's passports. The Judge said: "Now there is a singular circumstance as to the seal of Vermont, it strikes my idea, and shows the character of the people of Vermont. There is in that seal annexed to one of the affidavits-there are the other colonies represented by a number of small trees, and there is the Colony of Vermont like a great tree in the middle, and Mr. Allen, I suppose, is to be the Caesar, the Buonaparte of America." General Allen's claim was admitted, but the Judge demanded that additional proof of the property be produced, and on July 5 asked for still further proof. Twice a petition to deliver the cargo on bail was refused.
Letters had been sent to Vermont, asking for documentary evidence, and Mrs. Allen was able to secure for her husband depositions from Governor Chittenden and General Spafford stating that General Allen was requested to purchase arms for the State. One of Governor Chittenden's last official acts, less than four months before his death, was the writing of letters on April 29, 1797, to Senators Elijah Paine and Isaac Tichenor and Congressman Matthew Lyon, in behalf of his long-time associate, asking them to request the British Minister, Mr. Liston, to use his good offices in behalf of General Allen, assuring him that the arms were purchased at the
Governor's request for the Vermont militia. Senator Tichenor sent copies of the letters to Timothy Pickering, the Secretary of State, who certified to the facts. The British Minister wrote to London, favoring the return of the cargo of the Olive Branch. President Adams also requested that proper measures be taken to secure the restoration of the property seized and Rufus King, the American Minister at London, appealed to Lord Grenville.
General Allen offered to sell the cargo of arms to the British Government at a fair price, or to transfer the property to citizens of the United States residing in London with the understanding that the property should be consigned to Gov. John Jay of New York, to be held by him until a statement of the deficiencies of arms in the militia of Vermont should be made by the Governor and Legislature of that State. The arms should then be distributed in accordance with this report, and if any arms remained they should be furnished to Clinton and Washington counties in the State of New York.
On August 18, 1797, Lord Grenville informed the American Minister that the captors of the arms found on the Olive Branch, having refused to consent to their delivery to the claimant on bail, and the Judge of the Court of Admiralty having made a decree against such delivery, it was impossible for His Majesty's Government to interfere in the case.
In order to prevent a sale of General Allen's property, the case was taken to the Lords' Commissioners of Appeals in Prize Causes. The case was argued March 30, 1798. Sir William
alluded to the proximity of Vermont to Canada, the assertion that the arms were intended for Ireland apparently having been abandoned, saying: "In Vermont there has always been a party of men full of the disorganizing spirit which has troubled Europe, and made its eruptions (irruptions) into other parts of the world." Sir Thomas Erskine, afterward Lord Chancellor, and Dr. John Nicholl made logical and powerful arguments in behalf of General Allen. The decision of the court was to pronounce for the appellant, reversing the sentence, but decreeing that the third article of the allegation should be reformed by pleading more fully the purchase and payment of deposit for the arms in question.
During his enforced stay in England General Allen had written a "History of Vermont" and had published the first edition of "The Capture of the Olive Branch." His health having been injured in the heavy smoke of London he was obliged to leave that city for a short time. He was almost destitute of money and was arrested for debt, being taken to a sponging house, a place where debtors were taken before going to jail. Finally Messrs. Bird and Savage, through the solicitation of the American Minister, Mr. King, entered bail for the cargo and became responsible for the debts to the amount of two thousand pounds.
Convinced that whatever the risk, he must go to France to secure the necessary evidence, after much delay and difficulty, and the payment of passage money almost sufficient to hire the ship for his own use, he succeeded in reaching the French port of Grovelines. Here
he was detained for three months before he could secure a passport permitting him to go to Paris. Soon after his arrival at the French capital he was arrested by the police on the charge that his passports were defective and was thrown into Temple Prison. Here he was compelled for twelve nights to sleep in a dirty, unhealthy cell, like the meanest criminal, before he could get a bed, and he was denied the services of a competent physician from the city.
After a confinement of more than seven months in prison he was released, but spies followed him, and he was soon rearrested, no reason being given for his detention, and he was committed to the St. Pelagee Prison. Here he was compelled, during the coldest weather of the winter, to remain for twelve hours each night without a fire. His health was undermined by this cruel treatment. The suffering and injustice which he had been compelled to bear finally found expression in the following spirited protest, written to the Minister of Justice, from his cell in St. Pelagee Prison, August 30, 1799: "Coming into France with regular passports in consequence of previous mercantile contracts, with Government itself, I have been detained more than fifteen months, repeatedly arrested, imprisoned, etc., without any reason assigned therefor, or answer to the most pressing statements I can make, to the distress of my family, loss of contracts, derangement of business, to the injury of my property from the best estimates I can make of more than one hundred thousand guineas. From the extensive property I possessed of more than two hundred thousand acres of land, on which are many