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Appleton, J[ohn] J.
Autograph Letter Signed, Madrid, Spain July 20, 1824 to Eugene Vail, Washington, D.C.

quarto, three pages, plus integral address leaf, in very good clean and legible condition.

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Appleton, a US diplomat in Madrid promotes the legal claims of a prominent French émigré for maritime losses under the treaty by which Spain ceded Florida to the United States.


“My dear Sir,

I enclosed yesterday a letter … in a dispatch sent to Mr. Adams1 which contained the papers in support of your claim under the Florida Treaty … I shall be happy if my unremitting exertions to obtain these documents from the Tribunal of War … will have produced a favourable change in the aspect of your claim – and contribute to … your family a reparation of the losses so long sustained … I pointed out, after having examined it, those parts which appeared to be of interest to you. The rest consists of Pleadings, and interlocutory decisions of the two courts in which the trial was carried, which show the interest of your father in the Vessel and cargo. Benjamin Vail everywhere appears as the Supercargo, but without any reference to his principal, if he had one. The certificate of Mr. Humphreys is very satisfactory on the regularity of the Vessell’s papers, and as the condemnation appeared to have turned upon that point, I cannot but hope that the Commissioners will find your case one of the clearest on their record. However … my opinion can have but little weight with you, unless you receive it as an earnest of the satisfaction I should feel in knowing that the affair had terminated to your liking. I beg you would have the kindness to permit my best remembrances to every individual of your family with whom I had the privilege of an acquaintance during my stay in Washington ...”


The Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, not ratified until 1821, ceded Spanish Florida to the United States and settled the disputed boundary between the Louisiana Purchase and Spanish (soon to become Mexican) Texas. It included a pledge by the US Government to pay $ 5,000,000 in legal claims by US citizens against Spain. Washington set up a Commission, which, for three years, heard the legal oratory of Daniel Webster and other notables in adjudicating 1859 claims, arising from 720 “spoliation” incidents of the 1790s – the capture and seizure of American ships by French supported Spanish privateers. Among the aggrieved as émigré Eugene Vail, “a great lover of the fine arts” in Washington, D.C., son of a French diplomat who had been a close friend of Thomas Jefferson’s. Vail claimed reparation for his family’s loss of a vessel named “Friend,” which had been captained by a relative. The 30 year-old Appleton, born in France while his father was US Consul there and married to a French woman, was himself a career diplomat who spent almost all his life in Europe, holding consular positions in the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Italy. While undoubtedly eager to be of special service to a Washington socialite who was close to the famous retired President, he, in fact, spent most of his career helping many others to settle legal disputes over the Napoleonic era seizure of American ships and cargo.                                                 

1. John Quincy Adams, then Secretary of State