From Tristram Dalton
At Philadelphia May 13th. 1779
The enclosed Packett to the Honle. Doctor Franklin, contains Papers relating to the Loss of the Brigantine Fair Play, which Vessel was sunk, last Januy., by a Battery, on the Island of Gaudaloupe.1
The Particulars of this unhappy Misfortune, whereby Eighteen Men perished, together with the Steps taken in Consequence, You’ll find in these Papers, which I beg the Favor of your perusing—afterward that you’ll be so kind as to seal the Packett and deliver it.
I also enclose a Letter for Yourself, which our good Friend Mr. Gerry has favored me with.
Presuming not only upon the repeated Marks of Friendship which You have heretofore honor’d me with, but upon the natural Desire You have that Justice should be done in all Cases, I take the Freedom to ask your kind Assistance in the Prosecution of this Claim for Indemnification. The Loss is heavy, as You’ll see by the Appraisement—but the Disappointment, in having a most promising Cruize broke up, is much greater.
I trust the Court of France will on Application, immediately feel the Propriety of making the Sufferers good.
If it is not taking too much of your Time from public, and by far more important Concerns, shall I beg the Honor of a Line from You?
In every Station of Life, You have my most sincere Wishes for Health, Prosperity, and Happiness, for I am, with the greatest Truth and Regards Sir Your affectionte. hble Servant
RC (Adams Papers). A second recipient’s copy, virtually identical with that printed here, is also in the Adams Papers, presumably because Dalton sent duplicates of this letter and the enclosed packet by another ship.
1. JA did not receive this letter or the enclosed letter of 12 May from Elbridge Gerry (Adams Papers) that Dalton mentions below until he returned to Paris in Feb. 1780. Then he acknowledged both in letters of 23 Feb. (below). Benjamin Franklin, however, did receive the “enclosed packet” of approximately 36 pages, which was accompanied by a covering letter from Dalton to Franklin of 13 May (Cal. Franklin Papers, A.P.S. description begins I. Minis Hays, comp., Calendar of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin in the Library of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1908; 5 vols. description ends , 2:77). The packet contained depositions from the captain and crew of the Fair Play and, according to Gerry’s letter to JA of 12 May, letters to Sartine from the governor of Guadeloupe and Conrad Alexandre Gèrard, and to Franklin from the Mass. delegates to the Continental Congress. These last three were probably of 15 Jan., 11 May, and 12 May respectively (same, 2:65, 76; 4:280, 287).
Benjamin Franklin first learned of the loss of the Fair Play from William Bingham’s letter of 5 Jan. (PPAmP: Franklin Papers), which enclosed an undated extract of a letter to Sartine from the governor of Guadeloupe and a deposition by the Fair Play’s captain, Andrew Giddings. Franklin received Bingham’s letter on or about 29 April and wrote to Sartine, who replied on 26 May that the French government would compensate the owners of the vessel. Franklin informed the Committee for Foreign Affairs of this decision in a letter of the same date (Worthington C. Ford, comp., List of the Benjamin Franklin Papers in the Library of Congress, Washington, 1905, p. 67; Cal. Franklin Papers, A.P.S. description begins I. Minis Hays, comp., Calendar of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin in the Library of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1908; 5 vols. description ends , 2:84; Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 3:193–194). The French offer of compensation, which amounted to 15,000 livres, did not end the matter, for the owners believed the payment to be far too little. Correspondence on the matter continued into 1783.