From Elkanah Watson & François Cossoul
Nantes. 11th Feby: 1783
We are induced to take the freedom to write to your Excellency from a presumption that our complicated situation will Justify the liberty— In short Sir we have several Ships on hand, but are entirely suspended in our opperations for the want of an eclaircessment respecting the extent of our commercial connection with England— We therefore hope your Excellency will favor us with your answer to the following questions, per return of Post if possible—Vizt:
Can American Vessels be Receiv’d in the Ports of England immediately after Peace is ratified? and if they will then be protected in the Ports of America with English Manufactored goods—?
We are told Congress are about contracting with the fermiers General to pay off the Continental debt in Tobacco,1 and shou’d this be the case we beg leave to crave your Excellency’s patronage, We have been in treaty with the fermiers nearly Eighteen Months one of them dined with us lately in Nantes. and gave us some flattering expectations— Should they make application to your honour, and your knowledge of us can Justify your recommendation in our favour, we will pledge our honour, that you will never have cause to regret your confidence. and we shall esteem ourselves equally Indebted, whether we succeed or not— We think it apropos to observe that no American house in Europe receiv’d so large Consignments of Tobacco as ourselves in the course of the last Year, and we may add without flattery. no one better situated for Strict regularity and dispatch—2
We are with every sentiment of respect / your Excellency’s— / Most Obedt. and very h’me Servants
Watson & Cossoul
RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “The Honble: John Adams Esqr. / Paris—”
1. On 24 March 1777 Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane signed a contract with the Farmers General for a loan of two million livres to be paid for by shipments of tobacco, half the money to be advanced immediately. The second million was never paid, and by the date of this letter the Farmers General had received tobacco valued only at 153,229 livres. In July the Farmers General wrote to Franklin to demand payment, but when Congress considered the request in November, it thought it inappropriate to enter into commercial transactions to discharge the debt, proposing instead that the debt be repaid using whatever revenues were available to Congress for the purpose. However, no payments had been made prior to the dissolution of the Farmers General in 1791 (Jacob M. Price, France and the Chesapeake, 2 vols., Ann Arbor, Mich. 1973, 2:714–715; JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford, Gaillard Hunt, John C. Fitzpatrick, Roscoe R. Hill, and others, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 25:792–793).
2. Watson & Cossoul was founded by Elkanah Watson, a young merchant from Massachusetts who had apprenticed with John Brown of Providence, and François Cossoul, a Nantes merchant. Watson, who first went to Europe in 1779, had exchanged letters with JA in 1780, beginning a sporadic correspondence that would continue through 1825 (vol. 9:32–34, 256–257, 276–278). Initially prosperous, by late 1783 the firm was bankrupt and dissolved. Watson and Cossoul moved their business to the Americas, establishing operations in Edenton, N.C., and Haiti (DAB description begins Allen Johnson, Dumas Malone, and others, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–1936; repr. New York, 1955–1980; 10 vols. plus index and supplements. description ends ). In his reply of 16 Feb., JA indicated his belief that American ships would be received in either British or U.S. ports without passports. He added that he would keep the firm’s request in mind if contacted by the Farmers General (LbC, APM Reel 108).