Benjamin Franklin Papers

The American Commissioners to Lord Stormont, 23 February 1777

The American Commissioners to Lord Stormont

AL (draft):2 Library of Congress

Paris, Feb. 23. 1777.

My Lord,

Captain Wickes of the Reprisal Frigate, belonging to the United States of America, has now in his Hands near 100 British Seamen, Prisoners. He desires to know whether an Exchange may be made with him for an equal Number of American Seamen now Prisoners in England?3 We take the Liberty of proposing this Matter to your Lordship; and of requesting your Opinion if there be no Impropriety in your giving it whether such an Exchange will probably be agreed to by your Court. If your People cannot be soon exchang’d here, they will be sent to America. We have the honour to be, with great Respect, My Lord, Your Lordship’s most obedient, and most humble Servants

Letter to Lord Stormont

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2It and the notation are in BF’s hand. The letter was subsequently published in the London Chron., Nov. 4–6, 1777.

3Wickes’ inquiry is above, Feb. 14. As he indicated to the commissioners on the 19th, he came under heavy pressure to release the prisoners, and in fact did so the day before this letter was written: Clark, Wickes, pp. 137–40. Stormont may have expected as much. In any case he ignored the overture, as the commissioners more or less expected; see below, their letter to Wickes under Feb. 25 and BF to Lee, March 2. The problem of prisoners grew larger as time passed, and proved to be insoluble. Although a few were eventually exchanged, no reliable system for doing so was established in Europe, as it was in America. Catherine M. Prelinger, “Benjamin Franklin and the American Prisoners of War in England . . .” 3 W&MQ, XXXII (1975), 261–94.

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