Lambert Wickes to the American Commissioners
ALS: American Philosophical Society
This letter speaks of preparations for a major American naval move, Wickes’s cruise in the Irish Sea. The commissioners had summoned him to Paris in mid-March, and out of their consultations had come the plan for the cruise. The tiny squadron was to consist of the Reprisal and a cutter, renamed the Dolphin, which had been intended for a packet and was now converted into a warship under Nicholson’s command. The idea of buying a frigate was dropped; but the brig Lexington had arrived with blank naval commissions from Congress, and Wickes’s suggestion here that she be added to his squadron was promptly accepted.8
Nantes April 15th, 1777
We Arrivd hear Late Last Wendnesday Night; and the Cutter Got up to pileren9 thursday and friday We Went on bord her in order to Give the Nessesary orders for fitting her. After Doing this We Went Down to Pain Beaf in order to procure All the American Seamen in our power. We Was tolerable Suckcesfull. We have Now Nine Americans Engaged Includeing Captn. Clarke and the Docktor.1 The Captn. and the Crue that Came from Haverdegrass in the Cutter is Inclined to Giv us Sum trouble but I Am in hopes We Shal be Able to take Such Measures as Will prevent them from Doing any Dammage.2 The Cutter is a fine Stout vessail And much Better than I Exspected She Would be for the purposes intended. We Shal mount her With: 10 Carage Guns And 12 Swivels and About 30 men. She is Now in the Carpenters Hands and I Am in hopes We Shall be Able to Get her fitt for Sea in 6 or 7 Days. I Shall Remain hear With Captn. Nicholson Until he Gets things in A fair Way and then Make the Best of my Way for L’Orient. I think our Little Squadren Would Receive a very Nessesary Addition of Streng if joind By Captn. Johnston of the Lexington if he is Not Distened for Any Particular Service or Cruize Would be Glad if he Would join me. I think you Would Do very Well to procure the Kings Pass for All persons Who Comes from parris to this With your Dispaches or Any other Urgent Business Where Dispach is Required. I think this hint Nessesary on Account of A Number of Delays that We met With from the postmasters and post Boys Comeing Down, and I Beleav We Should hardly Got here yet if We had not forced them to procead by Beating and hard Threats. From Gentlemen your Most Obligd Humble Servant
Addressed: To / The Honbl. Doctr. Benjamin Franklin / Paris.
Notation: Capt. Wickes April 15. 77. Nantes.
8. See Clark, Wickes, pp. 187–93. The author argues that the commissioners’ underlying purpose in ordering the cruise was to provoke war between Britain and France. But such evidence as he adduces is in later statements by Wickes and Carmichael; we have found none at the time to support his contention.
9. Le Pellerin, down river from Nantes. “We” were Wickes and Nicholson.
1. Seth Clark was a merchant captain who had been captured by the British and escaped, and had come to France with Nicholson; on April 1 the commissioners had advanced him 18 guineas (his receipt is in the Library of Congress). The doctor was Eliphalet Downer, formerly surgeon on Henry Johnson’s privateer, who had also escaped from England. Nicholson selected Clark for first officer and Downer for surgeon. Ibid., pp. 169, 183, 191; Naval Docs., VI, 517, 531; VIII, 723–4.
2. The French crew had signed on for a voyage to America in a packet, and had no stomach for serving on a warship. Deane Correspondence, pp. 91–2.