Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Tristram Dalton, 13 May 1779

From Tristram Dalton2

Three ALS:3 American Philosophical Society

Philadelphia May 13th. 1779


I take the Liberty of enclosing to You sundry Papers, relative to the Loss of the Brigne. Fair Play—which Vessel was sunk, last Jany, by Shot, fired from a small Battery, on the Island of Gaudaloupe—4

The Depositions of Andrew Giddings & S Mc Clintock, the two principal Officers on Board said Brig, contain the particular Circumstances of this unhappy Misfortune—5

The Letter from the Governor of Gaudaloupe, to the Minister of the Marine Department in France, shows his Opinion, that Indemnification ought to be made to the Sufferers, & recommends the same accordingly—6

Capt Giddings not having taken proper Care to procure authenticated Copies of the Governor’s said Letter, render’d it Necessary, in the Opinion of the concerned, for me to repair to this City, for further Advice—

The enclosed Letter, which the Honl Delegates from the State of Massachusetts, have favor’d me with, shows their Advice as to the Mode of my Proceedings—7 And the Letter to Monseigr Sartine, which the Minister of France in America has honored me with, evinces his Opinion, in Corroboration of that of the Governor of Guadaloupe, to be, that Indemnification be made us—recommending the same—8

The Appraisement of the Value of the Vessel by Gentlemen of Character, under Oath, and who are not interested, must leave the Owners free from Suspicion that they ask any thing more than Justice—indeed, the Sum mentioned therein of 26666 & ⅔ spanish milled Dollars, would have been no Inducement for them to have sold the Brig, when they took into Consideration the Probability of a most successful Cruize, which she was then entring upon—9

Having, Sir, thus referred to the several Papers enclosed, I presume to ask the Favor of your kind Assistance to put this Affair in such a Line, at the Court of France, as that the Owners may receive full Indemnification for their Loss—1 giving Orders for any Intelligence, you may think proper, to be forwarded to me at Newburyport in the State of Massachusetts—

I cannot omit beseeching your Attention also to the Case of the Families of the Eighteen Men, who, by this Accident, unhappily perished—and to the remaining part of the Crew, who lost all they had on Board—Any Allowances made on this Acct we wish might be distinguished from the Indemnification to the Owners—and that the whole, which may be granted, be paid into the Hands of Jonathan Williams Esq—or to his Assigns, if He is not in France—subject to my further Directions—

Asking your Excuse for this Interruption to your public, and infinitely more important Concerns, I beg Leave to acknowledge myself to be, with the greatest Respect and Esteem, Sir Your most obedt hble Servt

Tristram Dalton

Honle Benjn Franklin Esqre—

Endorsed: Mr Dalton’s Letter relating to the Loss of the Brigt. Fairplay, Valuation Families of Persons drowned, &c,

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2Tristram Dalton (1738–1817), one of the owners of the brig Fair Play, was a wealthy Newburyport merchant and member of the Mass. House of Representatives. He later was elected one of that state’s first U.S. senators: Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, XIII, 569–78. He entrusted this letter and its enclosures to JA, his Harvard classmate, to forward to BF: Adams Papers, VIII, 59–60.

3We print from the one BF endorsed.

4All of these enclosures, in varying numbers of copies, are at the APS.

5The depositions of Capt. Andrew Giddings and Second Lt. Samuel McClintock, Jr., were given before a Newburyport justice of the peace on April 8. According to their testimony, Giddings had gone ashore and been given permission by the commandant of the fort at Port Louis to continue his cruise. As they sailed past a small battery a mile and a half from the fort, it opened fire. Two shots hulled the ship, which sank within six minutes. The justice’s attestation was certified (in multiple copies) with the Mass. state seal on April 20. One set of the certified depositions of both men and three additional copies of Giddings’ testimony are extant.

6Dalton enclosed an English translation of a letter dated Jan. 15, 1779, from the island’s governor, comte Helle d’Arbaud de Jacques, and its intendant, de Peynier, to Sartine. Two other identical translations are among BF’s papers. The French officials support Giddings’ appeal, but caution that the commandant of the battery should not be reproached for the accident because orders were in effect for the security of the coasts. On one of the copies is BF’s notation, “Translation of Letter from the Govr. of Guadeloupe.” The actual letter from the governor, which included a petition by Giddings for redress of grievances, had been sent to BF by Bingham (see the letter from the Mass. delegates, May 12); after he had his secretary Gellée prepare a copy to keep, BF forwarded it to Sartine.

7Their letter of May 12, above.

8French minister Gérard’s letter to Sartine, dated May 11, asks that the owners of the ship be compensated, not because they have a strict right, but out of the “bienfaisance de sa Majesté.” The LS and two copies are preserved.

9The certified appraisal (in quadruplicate) is dated April 12 and signed by four Newburyport merchants. One copy is endorsed by BF: “Papers relating to the Loss of the Privateer at Guadeloupe Tristram Dalton Esqr.” Further details about the ship’s ownership and worth are given in Allen, Mass. Privateers, p. 125.

1BF had already written. See his letter to Sartine of April 29, above, and the naval minister’s reply of May 26, below.

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