From John Laurens
Paris April 28. 1781
I have the honor of transmitting to your Excellency copies of a representation made to me by Commodore Gillon on the subject of the frigate South Carolina—and a memorandum of articles settled and agreed upon between us.1 My motives for engaging in this business are That the excellence of the conveyance enables me to transmit immediately a part of the Specie destined for the United States, which would otherwise have been the object of a future and uncertain epoch. That the greatest part of her present Cargo consists in articles which I am directed to forward to America on Continental account. That She will have a considerable vacancy for an additional Cargo of the same kind. That the said Cargo can be obtained immediately in Holland—and That the arrival of a Ship of her force and peculiar good qualities on the American Coast will be a very valuable acquisition. With respect to the State of South Carolina, there is a prospect of considerable benefit to her, from having her Ship at sea in condition to profit by cruising—and She will have her share in the advantages that will result to the general interest, in common with the other Members of the Union.
Mr. J. de Neufville has engaged to provide and ship the additional Cargo, on Continental account, agreeable to an Invoice delivered him, by the 20th. of May on the most reasonable terms. The confidence placed in him by Your Excellency was my only inducement for accepting the offer of his services on this occasion.
It appeared to me adviseable both for the sake of authenticity—and in order that a controul should be placed in the most respectable hands—to trouble your Excellency with drawing the bills for the payment of the new purchases and the Cargo already on board—the former to be made payable to Mr. Neufville & Co. at six months sight—and not to be drawn until the whole of the supplies are embarked, and the proper invoices and vouchers are delivered to Your Excellency. The latter to be made payable to Commodore Gillon at six months sight, and to be drawn upon his application—the whole to be addressed to our Minister plenipotentiary at this Court.
I expect to obtain two millions of livres to arrive in Holland in time to be transmitted by the South Carolina. Two millions more will be sent in the frigate destined to reconduct me, which I hope will sail in all the next month.2 Five millions will be procured at Vera-Cruz or the Havannah to be conveyed by a frigate to be detached for that service from the french W. Indies. This is the distribution of pecuniary succours for the present moment.3 The epochs are to be fixed as near as possible for farther transmissions. Captn. Jackson, Aide de Camp to General Lincoln, An Officer of merit, intelligence, and activity, has at my request and from zeal for the service undertaken the journey to Holland in order to accelerate as much as possible the whole of this business. I entreat your Excellency’s advice to this Gentleman—and it is with the confidence inspired by your distinguished public services that I sollicit your protection and assistance as far as may be required, in a matter the success of which is so essential to the interests of the United States.
I should have had the honor of introducing myself to Your Excellency and announcing the objects of my mission by Mr. Dana, but unluckily for me he left Paris at a moment when I was closely occupied at Versailles. I have much to regret that my short stay in Europe will deprive me of an opportunity of cultivating a particular acquaintance with your Excellency, whose public and private character have inspired me with so much veneration. It will in some degree console me if your Excellency will render me in any way useful to you in America—and favor me with your particular commands for that Country.
I have the honor to be with the most profound respect Your Excellencys most obedient and most humble servt.
RC and enclosure (Adams Papers;) endorsed: “John Laurens Esqr. 28 April 1781. ansd. 8. May 1781.”; docketed by CFA: “John Laurens Esqr. 28. April 1781.” Following Laurens’ signature John Thaxter copied JA’s note of 18 June to Benjamin Franklin, below. For the enclosure, endorsed: “Agreement between Coll Laurens & Comr. Gillon”; see note 1.
1. Alexander Gillon’s representation has not been found. The enclosed agreement, dated 28 April and in John Laurens’ hand, documents Laurens’ promise to purchase on Congress’ account £10,000 worth of goods from the cargo of the frigate South Carolina, thereby enabling Gillon to pay off his creditors and sail for the U.S. In return, Gillon agreed to surrender the original invoices to Laurens’ agent, provide the maximum cargo space for Congress’ goods by removing all nonessential items from the frigate, load the ship expeditiously, and proceed directly to Philadelphia by the northern route around Scotland, thereby avoiding British privateers lurking in the English Channel. The agreement served the needs of both men, but it was never executed as intended because of Gillon’s actions as commander of the South Carolina, and the differing expectations of Laurens and Franklin regarding the funds available for their use.
2. Laurens sailed from Brest on 1 June aboard the French frigate Résolue, in company with two transports: the Cibelle and Olimpe (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 , 4:692). The Boston Continental Journal and Weekly Advertiser of 30 Aug. reported that the three vessels reached Boston on 25 August.
3. Congress charged Laurens to procure additional money and supplies for the war effort. His efforts in this regard had decidedly mixed results visàvis the financial situation of the U.S. in Europe (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 , 4:317–321, 355–356, 364–366, 382–384, 391–392, 416–417, 467–468, 484–486). The French government had already loaned the U.S. four million livres for 1781 and, responding to appeals by Benjamin Franklin, granted an additional six million livres as a gift. This money was to be used for military supplies, including those Laurens was to procure, and to pay the bills of exchange Congress drew on its ministers abroad. Laurens judged the ten million livres already provided to be insufficient and asked that additional funds be raised in France by a loan guaranteed by the French government. Vergennes thought Laurens’ demands excessive, and refused to allow the U.S. to borrow in France where it would interfere with the government’s own efforts to finance the war. The two sides finally agreed that France would guarantee a loan of ten million livres (five million florins) to be raised in the Netherlands, but to Laurens’ dismay, France refused to advance him the money before the loan was completed. Moreover, the States General did not approve the project until 3 Dec. (from Dumas, 3 Dec., Adams Papers), and the funds became available only in early 1782. Even then the loan yielded less ready cash than anticipated because much of it went to replace the goods lost when the Marquis de Lafayette was taken.
The loan’s delay presented Laurens with a major problem because he wished to send its proceeds, in the form of specie, to the U.S. As he indicates in this letter, two million livres were to go in the Résolue, two million in the South Carolina, and an additional five million livres to be obtained from Cuba and Mexico. Spain was to be reimbursed from the money raised in the Netherlands. When Spain refused its assistance and the loan was delayed, Laurens turned to the six million livres that Franklin had obtained. By doing so, however, Laurens precluded Franklin from paying either Congress’ bills of exchange or the cost of the supplies Laurens purchased for transport to the U.S. on the South Carolina and other vessels. It is clear from Franklin’s letter of 29 April, below, that he did not fully understand what Laurens was doing. When the consequences of Laurens’ actions became clear in late June, Franklin wrote to William Jackson on 28 June to inform him that he was stopping the specie that was intended to go by way of the South Carolina. To do otherwise, he wrote, would be to risk “ruining all the credit of the States in Europe, and even in America, by stopping payment” of bills of exchange (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 , 4:523). See also JA’s letter to Franklin of 18 June and Franklin’s letter to JA of the 30th, both below.