Jonathan Williams, Jr., to the American Commissioners
Extract:5 American Philosophical Society
[January 19th, 1778]
On my arrival at Brest I went to the Commandant of marine6 to ask permission for the Ship to go to St. nazare to which I received a refusal for want of orders. I represented to the Commodore (at Quiberon) the inefficacy of the Convoy if we had not liberty to go to St. Nazare.7 That he said he could not help as the Commander at Painbeuf was not under him and I must wait the decision of the minister. On my return to Nantes I find that orders are come from the minister to clear out the Lion permitting the Americans to be entered on the Roll as Passengers which we are now doing and then she will go down to St. Nazare, but this will not be possible ’till the next spring tides. When I was pressing for this permision the Tides were at the highest and the Ship could have gone down, now I have got it the tides prevent and this natural obsticale cannot be surmounted these 6 or 8 Days.
5. Enclosed in JW to BF below, March 3.
6. The chief military authority at the base, the marquis de la Prévalaye. He had been appointed acting commandant only a few weeks before, and had a brief tenure; his correspondence is in the Archives de la marine, B3DCL. JW apparently observed French naval preparations and, in a missing section of this letter, reported on them to the commissioners: Lee, Life of Arthur Lee, I, 382.
7. The convoy was to consist of six ships, all with goods for Congress and most with private consignments as well. Three failed to join, the Henriette, Trois Amis, and Duchesse de Grammont. The first, Ross’s merchantman, sailed alone from St. Nazaire on March 3 and arrived in Boston two months later: Ross to the commissioners below, March 12; John Bradford to the marine committee, June 24–25, National Archives. Les Trois Amis, in which JW had an interest, put in at Portsmouth, N.H., at about the same time: ibid. The Duchesse de Grammont, Capt. Poidras, left on April 7 and reached Portsmouth at the beginning of June: JW to the commissioners, below, April 14; enclosure in BF to Vergennes, July 25, 1778 (AAE). Of the three ships that sailed together, one disappeared; the Duc de Choiseul, with supplies worth 200,000 l.t., became separated and never reached America: JW to Congress, Sept. 10, 1778, APS. The other two were both frigates: La Brune, Capt. John Green, which Ross had converted from a merchantman, renamed the Queen of France, and sold to the commissioners; and Nicholson’s new ship the Deane, formerly the Lion. The latter carried, in addition to supplies, five passengers well known to the commissioners, Carmichael and William Stevenson, Jean Holker, and young Thomas Cushing and his cousin, Henry Newman. The ships sailed from Quiberon on Feb. 25, and on May 1 reached Portsmouth en route to Boston. JW to the commissioners below, Feb. 28; Boston Gaz., May 4; the commerce committee to the commissioners below, May 28. The two frigates were subsequently incorporated in the American navy.