Peter Frederick Dobrée to the Commissioners
Nantz 11 August 1778
My Father in law has just now comunicated me the Honble. Mr. Lee’s Letter of the 4 Instant which he received Yesterday, together with sundry extracts which would greatly alarm me, was not I consious of my Innocence.1 I will not take too much upon those precious moments which you so laudably dedicate to your Country, to refute the false accusations contained in the anonimous Letter, but beg you would judge whether or not a Merchant happy in his situation in life and free from any kind of conscern in Vessells as is my Father would for the sake of others send his only Son as a Spy in so well an administered a Kingdom as is France And whether it is probable, that I who have my Establishment here, my Wife, Child and Relations would sacrifice my all to give advices to People who are almost Stangers to me, as I was sent very Young to School in England, and at my return staid but a very short time at Guernsey before I came here, where I have now been three Years—as to Jersey I have laid there one night by stress of Weather and hardly know any body in that Island. Is it possible that I should have carried on the treachery I am accused of, so long unpunished—is it not natural that if I found success in this dirty business that my Relations aught to have reaped the benefit whereas none of them have armed any Privatiers as you may yourselves learn if you would be indulgent enough to make inquiries. The Chevaillier de la Poterie and the Chevaillier de Villevocque2 arrived Yesterday from thence and gone of[f] this morning for Paris they have been recommended to you by Mr. Schweighauser and are very proper Persons to question on that subject. You know Honourable Gentlemen what it is to be falsely accused and that at my time in life a stain on ones Reputation is of the greatest consequence, I must then earnestly entreat you to discover me the author of that anonimous Letter, (which to my sorrow has been so easily believed by Monsieur Le Ray de Chaumont,) as I am determined not to leave one Stone unturned ’till I have found the inventor of such Calumnies for neither my life or fortune will ever put a stop to my inquiries.
My Worthy Father in law’s nomination to the Agentcy (altho’ he never asked it) has created him a number of deceitfull Ennemies who through the vilest Jealousy have since constantly endeavoured to hurt him, but his well established reputation and his unstained upright Character have set him above all their Machinations and having none to find but the Place of my birth that one has been attended to. The Continual hurry of Business and above all my Father in law’s Rheumatism hinders my setting off for Paris, nevertheless I would do it imediately was I persuaded that it might help to set things in their true light. If you indulge me with an answer3 be obliging enough to give me your much valued opinion and if so I will gladly and instantly take Horse to undergo any examination and if culpable ask to be dealt with with the utmost severity but if on the contrary I shall insist upon a publick Reparation of Honour from the Wretch who has so scandalously slandered mine, fully persuaded how ready you are to lend your helping hand to injured Innocence. I have the honor to be with the utmost veneration and respect Honourable Gentlemen Your most humble most obedient most devoted Servant,
Peter Frederick Dobrée
RC (MH-H: Lee Papers); docketed, not by JA: “Dobrée to the Commisrs. on Chaumonts accusation.”
1. Dobrée, a native of Guernsey, was the son-in-law as well as partner of J. D. Schweighauser, the American commercial agent at Nantes. An anonymous letter enclosed in one from Jacques Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont to Benjamin Franklin of 5 July charged that Dobrée was an English spy, sending information on vessels bound for America to his father on Guernsey so that they might be intercepted by privateers fitted out there, some reportedly by Dobrée’s father. It also questioned Schweighauser’s competence and William Lee’s judgment in appointing Schweighauser, considering Dobrée’s background. Arthur Lee, perhaps because of the reference to his brother, was given Chaumont’s letter and enclosure and opened a correspondence with him on the matter. Lee demanded the informer’s name and additional proof, while Chaumont restated the charges and upheld the veracity of their author. Lee’s letter to Schweighauser of 4 Aug. has not been found, but it provoked in its recipient the same outrage as in Dobrée and brought a letter to Lee, also on 11 Aug., in which Schweighauser gave biographical information on Dobrée and strongly defended himself and his son-in-law (this and the other letters mentioned above, including Arthur Lee to Chaumont, 12, 22 July; Chaumont to Lee, 13, 27 July, are in MH-H: Lee Papers). Although the charges were serious in view of Chaumont’s close relations with the Commissioners, particularly Franklin, and the successes of the Guernsey privateers, apparently nothing came of them. It is worthy of note, however, that despite Dobrée’s and Schweighauser’s denial that the elder Dobrée had any interest in privateers, Robert Niles wrote to the Commissioners on 22 Jan. 1779 (PPAmP: Franklin Papers) that his vessel had been captured by a Guernsey privateer owned in part by Dobrée’s father.
2. Both men are also mentioned in Schweighauser’s letter of 11 Aug., but there is no indication that the Commissioners ever consulted them.
3. No answer from the Commissioners has been found. Dobrée wrote a second letter to the Commissioners on 20 Aug. that contained essentially the same plea (PPAmP: Franklin Papers).