From Thomas Digges
London Octor. 3 1780
I am sorry to inform You that Mr. Heny. Lawrens and two other Amn. Gentlemen Prisoners in England.1 They were taken in a small packet on the banks of New foundland about 24 days ago and sent to St. Johns, where Admiral Edwards thought the capture so important as to immediately dispatch the Vestal Frigate Capt. Keppell with them, and the mail which was also taken, to England. Mr. <
Adams> Laurens being very much indisposd was put on shore at Dartmouth and is now on his way to London, travelling slowly and guarded by the Lieutenant of the Ship. The frigate had but 14 days passage to England. The Ministers give out confidently they not only possess the mail, but all Mr. Laurens’s papers (which is scarcely to be credited) and that they discover to them his business to Holland which was to get a loan for which France was to stand Guarantee. They also say that the mail discovers an Expedition from France was expected against Hallifax to arrive there between the 20th and the last day of Sept. There is no appearance of exultation for the taking Mr. Laurens, but they seem much pleasd with the discoverys his papers have lead to. I will take the earliest opportunity to write You when I hear more. A second Man of War is arrivd from Nfoundland Express upon the heels of the Vestal—She must bring news of some importance, and not good because it is not given to the publick. Report says She is dispatchd in consequence of discovering a small french fleet and armament near Newfoundland.
I am yrs. mo respectfully
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “A Monsieur Monsieur Ferdinand Raymond San Chez Monsr. Heny. Shorn Amsterdam”; endorsed on the first page below the body of the letter: “recd. 18th. 1780—October. Q. Where has this Letter been all this While.”; endorsed by John Thaxter: “W. S. C. Octr. 3d. 1780.”
1. This is the earliest extant letter reporting Henry Laurens’ capture, but it was not the means by which JA first learned of it, hence his complaint about the letter’s delayed arrival. JA heard of Laurens’ capture, probably from a newspaper account, on or about 11 Oct., for he mentioned it at the very end of his letter to the president of Congress of that date (No. 15, calendared, below). For JA’s first detailed comment on the capture, see his letter to Digges of 14 Oct. (below).
Digges’ information came from London newspaper reports appearing on or about 3 Oct., all of which contained inaccuracies, most notably Laurens’ arrival on the frigate Vestal, rather than the sloop Fairy. Henry Laurens and most of his official papers were captured off the banks of Newfoundland on 3 Sept., when the Mercury packet was taken by the Vestal, Capt. George Keppel, and the sloop Fairy, Capt. Berkley. Laurens was put on the Vestal and taken to St. John’s, Newfoundland, from whence he wrote on 14 Sept. to the Committee for Foreign Affairs to report his capture and imminent departure for England on the Fairy, now commanded by Keppel. The sloop departed St. John’s on or about 18 Sept., and reached Dartmouth, England, on the 29th. Put ashore in the custody of Lt. Hugh Norris, the two men then set off for London, arriving there on the evening of 5 October.
Digges’ mention here of two “Gentlemen” and his later reference to a second ship from Newfoundland are erroneous. The newspapers reported the capture, with Laurens, of his “Secretary [Moses Young] and another gentleman,” but did not state that they had been sent to England with Laurens. In fact, Young did not reach England until mid-November, and then it was on the frigate Vestal, in company with Winslow Warren and Capt. William Pickles of the Mercury. The reference to a second vessel stems from the erroneous report that Laurens had come in the Vestal, rather than the Fairy, for the same papers that reported the frigate’s arrival also reported the Fairy’s arrival at Portsmouth on the 30th, to which it had gone from Dartmouth, (London Courant, 3 Oct.; London Chronicle, 30 Sept. – 3 Oct., and 3–5 Oct.; Morning Post, 3 Oct.; Laurens, “Narrative,” description begins Henry Laurens, “A Narrative of the Capture of Henry Laurens, of his Confinement in the Tower of London, &c., 1780, 1781, 1782,” South Carolina Historical Society, Collections, 1 (1857):18–83. description ends p. 19–23; Davies, ed., Docs. of the Amer. Rev., 1770–1783 description begins Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783, (Colonial Office Series), ed. K. G. Davies, Irish University Press, Shannon, 1972–1981; 21 vols. description ends , 18:166–157; 16:398, 408, 443; for a partial list of the documents captured with Laurens, see p. 420, 424; Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 4:56; from Mercy Otis Warren, 8 May, note 1, above; from Thomas Digges, 17 Nov., below).