The American Commissioners to Vergennes
ALS: Archives du Ministère des affaires étrangères; copies with variations:6 Harvard University Library, National Archives (two)
Paris, July 17. 1777.
We are very sensible of the Protection afforded to us and to our Commerce since our Residence in this Kingdom, agreeable to the Goodness of the King’s gracious Intentions, and to the Law of Nations; and it gives us real and great Concern, when any Vessels of War, appertaining to America,7 do any thing that may offend his Majesty in the smallest Degree. The Captains Wickes, Nicholson, and Johnson have excus’d to us their Returning to France, being chased into the Channel and close to your Ports, by English Men of War; of the Truth of which we have no doubt, the Reprisal particularly having been obliged to throw her Guns overboard to facilitate her Escape.8 We had, some Days before we were honour’d by your Excellency’s Letter, dispatch’d by an Express the most positive Orders to them to depart directly to America, which they are accordingly preparing to do, as your Excellency will see by the Letter enclos’d, which we have just receiv’d by the Return of that Express.9 We shall communicate his Majesty’s Orders to our Friends residing in your Ports, and acquaint the Congress with the same, to the end that our arm’d Vessels may be warn’d of the Consequence that must attend an Infringement of them. We doubt not but they will henceforth be strictly attended to; And we are willing and ready to give any Security your Excellency may judge sufficient and reasonable, that after being fitted and provision’d for so long a Voyage, those Vessels shall proceed directly to America, without making any other Cruise on the Coasts of England. And that the Reality of this their Destination may be effectually ascertain’d, we request that they may sail under the Inspection of one of your Ships of War, till they are in the Main Ocean.1 We are thankful for the repeated Assurances of his Majesty’s Protection continu’d to us and such of our Nation as may reside in France, and for the Facilities indulg’d to our Commerce.2 We have the honour to be, with perfect Esteem and Respect, Your Excellency’s most obedient and most humble Servants
6. The ALS is in BF’s hand, and its present location suggests that it was the letter sent. Yet the variations from it, which appear in all three copies and are indicated below, are of considerable substance.
7. The copies here add “either thro’ Ignorance or Inattention.”
8. The implication of this sentence, that the commissioners had expected the squadron to sail for home instead of returning to France, becomes a statement in their next letter to the Minister below, July 21: Wickes had been ordered to make for America if possible. Perhaps so, for the sake of appearances; if he had any written orders they have apparently been lost. But the commissioners had clearly expected to see him again. They had told the committee for foreign affairs that he would make the cruise before crossing the Atlantic, and instructed his companion, Johnson, to return to France and send his prizes to French ports: above, XXIII, 472, 594. Wickes made clear, furthermore, that he had been on course for France (Land’s End to Ushant) when he met the British warship: to the commissioners above, June 28.
9. The letter above of July 14 from Desegray, Beaugeard fils & Cie.
1. The copies omit this sentence. The commissioners repeated their request on the 21st, and Vergennes took the proposal seriously; he offered it to Stormont as one of two alternative ways to get rid of the ships. Stevens, Facsimiles, XVI, no. 1594, p. 6.
2. The copies add to the sentence “at this Critical Conjuncture, which will always be remember’d in our Country with Gratitude and Affection.”