The American Commissioners to Vergennes
LS: Archives du Ministère des affaires étrangères; copy: Harvard University Library5
After Wickes’s squadron was sequestered on July 15 and Conyngham sailed from Dunkirk two days later, the commissioners’ relations with Versailles might have been expected to improve. Instead they grew worse, largely because Conyngham disobeyed his orders and took prizes. When one was recaptured, and most of the prize crew turned out to be French, the British suspected official collusion by Sartine. On August 5 Stormont protested. Vergennes laid the blame on the Americans at Dunkirk, and ordered the arrest of William Hodge as their principal instrument. On the 11th Hodge was found in Paris and thrown into the Bastille.6
Versailles, Aug. 12. 1777.
We understand with great surprize that one of our Countrymen, Mr. Hodge, a Merchant of Philadelphia, is apprehended at Paris with all his Papers, and carried away by Officers of the Police.
As Mr. Hodge is a Person of Character, connected with the best Houses in our Country, and employed here by a Committee of the Congress for the purchase of Merchandise we cannot conceive him capable of any wilful Offence against the Laws of this Nation: and our personal Regard for him, as well as the Duty of our Station, obliges us to interest ourselves in his Behalf, and to request, as we do most earnestly, that he may be immediately restored to us. We have the honour to be, with the greatest Respect, your Excellency’s most Obedient and most humble Servants.
His Excy. the Count de Vergennes
5. The LS is in WTF’s hand, the copy in Arthur Lee’s with his notation, “Sent to Count Vergennes by Mr. Franklin junr.” Lee had returned from Germany more than a fortnight before: Carmichael to ––, July 27, 1777, N.Y. Public Library.
6. Dull, French Navy, pp. 77–8; Clark, Wickes, pp. 294–303; Neeser, Conyngham, pp. xxxv-xxxviii, 69–93. Two hours after the arrest, Chaumont, as BF’s emissary, interceded for Hodge with the chief of the Paris police and assured him that the prisoner–the best possible American, the most zealous for the cause–had been arrested merely to satisfy the British Ambassador. Stevens, Facsimiles, XVIII, no. 1648.