Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Bernard Dehez, 23 July 1779: résumé

From Bernard Dehez

ALS: American Philosophical Society

<San Sebastián, July 23, 1779, in French: I have the honor of informing Your Excellency that Capt. Gustavus Conyngham, in command of the armed privateer La Vengeance (Revenge), captured the brigantine Le Gracieux, whose French captain, Manuel Augustin Letournois, sailing from London, had entirely loaded his ship with British goods, supposedly destined for Coruña.8 The prize was brought into this port and the commandant général of the province [Marquis de Bassecourt] allowed part of the goods to be sold at auction. During that time, I rendered essential services to Capt. Conyngham and his crew.9 Impatient, he sailed away before the trial had taken place, without leaving any retainer to provide for its outcome.

The trial dragged on and ended surprisingly in the victory of the opposing party, whereupon the commandant, in his search for fairness, referred it to the War Council in Madrid. Meanwhile, Capt. Conyngham, who had left with me a power of attorney of which I include a copy,1 never deigned to answer the various letters I sent him requesting the funds necessary for the pursuit of this judicial matter.

In order to protect Conyngham’s interests, and those of Congress, I entrusted a friend in Madrid with enquiring quietly into the business; he informed me on July 15 that Conyngham has no legal representative in Madrid, but that, given the new ordinance passed by the King of Spain upon his declaration of war against England, the outcome of the trial is bound to be favorable, provided legal counsel is in place.

I beg Your Excellency to give instructions to Messrs. Gardoqui in Bilbao or anybody you choose to provide me with the financial means to pursue this affair which is bound to bring a considerable amount of money to Conyngham or to Congress.

P.S. I am enclosing the text of the ordinance of July 1, to let you appreciate how much it bolsters Conyngham’s claim.2>

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8For the initial accounts of Capt. Conyngham’s capture of the French merchantman Gracieux see XXV, 410–12; XXVI, 498–9. Dehez, a merchant in San Sebastián, had been assisting him with the litigation: XXVI, 498n.

9His efforts had obtained the liberation of the prizemaster and four crewmen who had been arrested: Neeser, Conyngham, p. 130.

1Conyngham on Jan. 10, 1778, had given Dehez a general and unlimited power of attorney to represent his interests before the War Council in Madrid. A copy is with BF’s papers at the APS. He obviously was not aware that Conyngham had been a prisoner of the British since April: Digges to BF, Aug. 20, below.

2The enclosure, in Dehez’ hand, included a paragraph from the royal ordinance stating that ships carrying goods belonging to the enemy could be seized and carried into Spanish ports. Dehez went on to assure BF that Conyngham’s prize was indeed valid. APS.

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