Benjamin Franklin Papers

The American Commissioners to the Comte de Vergennes, 7 May 1777

The American Commissioners to the Comte de Vergennes

LS: Archives du Ministère des affaires étrangères; AL (draft) and copy: Harvard University Library7

Paris, May 7. 1777

The Commissioners from the United States of America desire to represent to his Excellency the Count de Vergennes, that they have received Intelligence of a Vessel belonging to the States having been taken by the Culloden, an English Ship of War, close on the Coast of France;8 and that the same Ship of War chased another Vessel belonging to the States so near to the French Shore as to be herself in imminent Danger of running aground.

They have been further informed, that in consequence of Intelligence given by the Mate who lately betray’d an American Ship9 into the Enemy’s Hands, that twenty five Sail of Ships from Virginia laden with Tobacco, might soon be expected upon the French Coast, the Government of Great Britain have ordered an additional Number of Ships of War to cruise there, in order to intercept them; and have given Encouragement to Individuals to fit out small Privateers,1 which may run nearer Shore than is safe for large Ships.

The Capture of those Tobacco Ships will not only be a great Loss to the States, and Detriment to the Commerce of France, but will particularly disenable them to fulfil their Contract with the Farmers General so punctually as is necessary and as they desire. They are therefore the more earnest in wishing that2 his Majesty may immediately take such Measures as to his Wisdom shall seem proper for protecting the Commerce approaching his Coasts.3

B. Franklin
Silas Deane

Notation: 1777. Mai 7.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7We have silently supplied a few word endings, now obscured by binding, from the LS as reproduced in Stevens, Facsimiles, VII, no. 689. The draft and copy are in Arthur Lee’s hand and contain variations; those of any significance we note.

8In February the British navy had extended its patrol from the English Channel to the Bay of Biscay, where H.M.S. Culloden captured a South Carolina ship; Versailles in turn ordered its patrols to give protection on demand. Dull, French Navy, pp. 64–5, 70–1; Stevens, op. cit., VI, no. 636; Naval Docs., VIII, 784.

9The George: ibid.

1The encouragement was a recent act of Parliament, 17 Geo. III, c. 7, under which the government was issuing letters of marque: ibid., pp. 715–20.

2Here the draft diverges from the LS: “wishing that no moment may be lost in rendering the navigation of the coast of France, secure from the intended depredations of G. Britain.

“The Commissioners submit it to his Majesty’s consideration, whether, agreable to the Laws of neutrality, the american vessel taken by the Culloden british ship of war, Capt Balfour, upon the Coast of France, ought not to be demanded of the british Court, to be restord to those who claim her.”

3The copy adds “from the States of N. America.” France was already taking countermeasures, and this memorandum may have helped to strengthen them. In late April the squadrons patrolling from Brest had been increased, and on May 22 British intelligence reported, on the authority of Paulze, that ships of the line were at sea to protect American commerce. Dull, op. cit., p. 72; Stevens, op. cit., VII, no. 696, p. 3.

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