Benjamin Franklin Papers
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Gentlemen at Nantes to the American Commissioners, 7 November 1778: résumé

Gentlemen at Nantes8 to the American Commissioners9

LS: American Philosophical Society

<Nantes, November 7, 1778: Repeated captures of American vessels off this coast induce us to seek more effective protection. The intelligence our enemies obtain about the departure of our ships allows their capture as soon as the French frigates part from their convoy. Not only are supplies to our country threatened, so are the American gentlemen intending to sail with these vessels, men who have already experienced the horrors of imprisonment. We have petitioned M. de Sartine and request that you use your influence at court to obtain a convoy for the entire voyage. Twelve ships at La Rochelle will be ready by the end of the month when we hope the desired convoy will be available. [Signed:] J. Dl. Schweighauser Agent of the united states of America, Joshua Johnson, Matt. Ridley, Jona. Williams J, Cha: Ogilvie, Matthew Mease, Jno. Gilbank, William Haywood, John Lloyd, Nics. Martin, Ebenr. Atwood, Peter Collas, Phil Rd. Fendall, Danl. Blake, Clemt. Smith, J Grubb, John Spencer, Jno. Grannis, Joseph Belton, Jos Wm Spencer, Joseph Hill Jennings, Richd. Grubb, Alexr. Dick, Josiah Darrell, Cyprn. Sterry, Wilm. Jenny, Christopher Bassett, Robert Ewart, Jno. Tyler, Daniel Kenney, Stephen Johnson.1>

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8A collection of merchants, ship captains, and men awaiting passage to America, including escaped prisoners. In the extensive correspondence generated by this letter and prolonged by the delay of its requested convoy, the group is referred to as either “gentlemen from” or “merchants at” Nantes; the individual signers vary.

9Published in Taylor, Adams Papers, VII, 200–1.

1Schweighauser and JW need no introduction. Joshua Johnson was agent for Maryland; Matthew Ridley succeeded him in 1781: XXI, 157n; XXVI, 227n. For Charles Ogilvie, a London merchant trading with South Carolina and who eventually settled there, see S.C. Hist. and Geneal. Mag., VI, 118; XXI, 36; XXXI, 143–4. Mease, a Philadelphia shipowner, had been living in France since June, 1777: XXIV, 143–4. Haywood, a merchant living in Bordeaux, is identified in XXVI, 278n. For Lloyd and Blake, prominent South Carolina merchants, see XXIII, 320n; XXVII, 424. The former had strong ties to the Lees; the latter was the uncle of Ralph Izard. Marylander Philip Richard Fendall (b. 1734) had been active in Charles County politics: Md. Hist. Mag., LXIII (1968), 43n.

Gilbank, Collas, Smith, J.W. Spencer, Dick, Sterry, and Ewart all had escaped from English prisons and had recently received aid from the commissioners: Alphabetical List of Escaped Prisoners. Gilbank, who had received 360 l.t. on Sept. 11, was waging a personal campaign for more money: see his letter of Nov. 4 and the answer, Nov. 10. Collas’ misadventures are chronicled as of XXV, 459n; his most recent payment was 250 l.t. on Oct. 17. Dr. Clement Smith (XXV, 415–16n), received 240 l.t. on Sept. 17, the same day Dick was paid an unrecorded amount. Ewart received 240 l.t. on Oct. 3; Spencer received the same amount on Oct. 23. Cyprian Sterry, also given 240 l.t. on Oct. 3, was recommended to BF the following September by Thomas Digges. BF endorsed his oath of allegiance on Sept. 25, 1779, and granted him a passport (APS).

Four signers were ship captains. For Martin, former commander of the Morris and Wallace, and Atwood, who would command the James in 1783, see Charles H. Lincoln, compiler, Naval Records of the American Revolution, 1775–1788 (Washington, D.C., 1906), pp. 398, 356. Darrell, captain of the Polly from Charlestown, wrote his own memoir to the commissioners on Jan. 25, below. Jenny is probably the Charlestown captain who was carrying cargo to and from Nantes in the Abigail: Ford, Letters of William Lee, II, 557. Bassett and Tyler witnessed bonds for Massachusetts ships; Grannis was himself a bonder: Allen, Mass. Privateers, 197, 162, 319.

Joseph Belton, inventor of a submarine gun, had first appeared at Passy the previous April; see XXVI, 304, and below, Le Roy to BF, Jan. 20. This is the first appearance in our volumes of James Grubb. We know little about his background, but he remained in Nantes, became friendly with JW and WTF, and will reappear more prominently in our volumes for 1783.

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