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John Bondfield to the Commissioners, 8 September 1778

John Bondfield to the Commissioners

Bordeaux 8 Sept 1778


This morning Arrived the Privateer Schooner Success—Attwood Master from Virginia. She left Cheasapeak Bay 13 July. The Captains inteligence consists that the ninth Comte d’Estaing saild from the Bay for New York remained in the Bay five French Frigates.1

Some English Prisoners are brought in here taken by American Privateers their enlargement or detention is optional in the Captures no claim under your Authority being made of them and as being prisoners of the States the French Government dont appear to enterfer.

There are frequent Altercations betwixt Masters and their Seamen being matters of a Civil Maratime Nature between parties not Subjects in this Kingdom are not Connoisable in their Courts by Which the injured are sometimes agreivd without redress.

In One of my former I mentiond to you an Advantage that I apprehended would result should all Vessels belonging to the States be order’d to make their Report to your Constituents2 thereby enabling them to transmit you circumstantial Accounts of all that related thereto as well as the earliest information. I am attentive to procure as Authentic Accounts as private Curiosity will permit which of course being bounded I am not so interestingly inteligent to you as at all times I should esteem myself happy to be.

I have the honor to be with due respect Sirs Your most Obedient Humble Servant

John Bondfield

RC (PPAmP: Franklin Papers); addressed: “The Honble. Benj Franklin Arthur Lee, John Adams Esq Commissioners from Congress Paris”; docketed: “Mr Bondfield 8. Septr. 1778”; in another hand: “Bondfield Septr. 8th.”

1This is probably the first report of Estaing’s arrival in America to reach the Commissioners directly from America (see Commissioners to the president of the congress, 11 Sept., below). The news had been eagerly awaited ever since the departure of the fleet of twelve ships of the line and five frigates from Toulon on 13 April because of the expectation that a decisive battle would be fought between Estaing and Adm. Richard Howe. The fleet’s slow passage and missed opportunities, however, doomed such hopes. Estaing arrived off the mouth of Delaware Bay—not the Chesapeake—on 8 July, ten days too late to prevent the escape of the British fleet from Delaware Bay to the safety of New York. On 11 July, Estaing arrived off Sandy Hook, but was again unable to join the battle when he determined that the shallowness of the entrance and the strength of the defenses would not permit him to force his way into New York Harbor. On the 29th the fleet arrived off Newport, R.I., where Estaing hoped, in conjunction with an American army, to dislodge the British from the town and harbor. The plan failed because of a lack of coordination between the Franco-American forces and the arrival of Howe’s fleet off Point Judith on 9 Aug. The following day the French fleet put to sea in an attempt to close finally with the British, but a storm intervened and so damaged Estaing’s ships that he was obliged to go to Boston for repairs, arriving there on the 28th. In November, his repairs completed, Estaing sailed for the West Indies, thus ending, without decision, the first major French challenge to British supremacy in American waters (Allen, Naval Hist. of the Amer. Revolution description begins Gardner Weld Allen, A Naval History of the American Revolution, Boston and New York, 1913; 2 vols. description ends , 1:327–333; Mahan, Navies in the War of Amer. Independence description begins Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Major Operations of the Navies in the War of American Independence, Boston, 1913. description ends , p. 63–78; Dull, French Navy and Amer. Independence description begins Jonathan R. Dull, The French Navy and American Independence: a Study of Arms and Diplomacy, 1774–1787, Princeton, 1915. description ends , p. 122–123). For JA’s concern at receiving no information on Estaing’s fleet, see vol. 5:xxviii, note 43, and references there.

2No such proposal has been found, but it may have been part of the plan referred to, but not described, by Bondfield in a letter of 17 [16] Aug. (vol. 6:373–374, and note 3). By “your Constituents,” Bondfield apparently means American agents in European ports.

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