George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Emmanuel de Pliarne, 11 January 1776

From Emmanuel de Pliarne

[Philadelphia, c.11 January 1776]


Your kind wishes for the success of our business oblige us to inform you of every Step we have taken since our arriva’l at Philadelphia.

We have been thirteen Days in that City, and have every minute promise’d ourselves the Honour of an opportunity, to write to you, but we thought it most proper to learn first the disposition of Congress, which we could not obtain before Yesterday, when we received their answer to our severa’l proposa’ls,1 We do not know tha’t our Enterprise has met the least opposition from any member of Congress.

We have however the satisfaction to find the Sentiments of their Committee of Secrecy very favourable, to us, and we asure your Excellency, that nothing shall be wanting on our parts to Establish between America & France, a branch of Trade, sufficient to supply all the wants, of the New Empire.

For that purpose we are forming a Contract with the Committe of Secrecy. The articles are not yet settle’d, Whenever they are agreed on Mr Penne’l will Sail for—in one of your Ships, and he will use his best Endeavour’s to return to America, before your Enemies can infest your Coast’s.2

It gives me the highest satisfaction Sir to find our Business has been so Successfu’ll because the event will probably give me the Honour of sometimes paying my Compliments to your Excellency.

I propose to remain at Philadelphia to manage this business and shall most zealously embrace every occasion to testify the Gratitude, and Respect with which I have the Honour to be Sir Your most Obet Very Hbl. Sevt


Sir Please to Accept the Respectfull Compliments, of Mr Pennel, who is much ingaged in preparing for his Departure.

Copy, translated from the French, in Thomas Mifflin’s writing, DLC:GW.

1Pliarne and his business partner Pierre Penet arrived in Philadelphia on 29 Dec. and were referred to the Secret Committee of Congress the next day (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 3:466). Delegate Richard Smith wrote in his diary for 9 Jan.: “M. Pliant [Pliarne] one of the Two Frenchmen in Treaty with our Secret Comee. offers to supply the Continent from France with all Sorts of Goods & Military Stores at the price common in France & hints that our Ships may trade to that Kingdom by Connivance & that they are willing to send their Bottoms here, he treats apparently in Behalf of a Company at Paris & he stays here till his Partner returns from thence” (Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 3:71–73).

2“We have terminated our Business with the Congress,” Pliarne wrote to Nicholas Brown on 8 Feb. 1776. “Our Contract is passed with the Secret Committee & Mr Penet depar[ts] to day for France, Where he goes on Business for the Cont[in]ent” (Clark, Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964—. description ends , 3:1176–77). Penet established himself at Nantes, where with the financial backing of a prominent merchant and the unofficial blessing of Vergennes, the French minister of foreign affairs, he began the business of sending military stores to America in return for tobacco and other products. In October 1776 at Penet’s request, GW brevetted him an aide-de-camp without pay (see GW to Hancock, 7 Oct. 1776, DNA:PCC, item 152). The modestly educated son of an artillery storekeeper in Alsace, Penet wished only to have the honor of wearing the uniform and ribbon of an aide-de-camp as a sign of his improved status in life (see Penet & Co. to GW, 3 Aug. 1776, and Barbeu Dubourg to Vergennes, 31 May 1776, in Clark, Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964—. description ends , 6:397–99). Pliarne remained in America until his death about January 1778. Afterwards Penet continued in the American trade with other partners. In 1779 he contracted with the Continental Board of War and the state of Virginia to manufacture firearms in America, but those and other schemes failed. Penet went bankrupt in 1782.

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