Benjamin Franklin Papers

Minutes of the Landais Inquiry, [15–24 November 1779]

Minutes of the Landais Inquiry3

D (draft):4 University of Pennsylvania Library

[November 15–24, 1779]

Minutes of the Enquiry into the Conduct of Capt. P. Landais

Present { B. Franklin Esqr
M. Le Ray de Chaumont
E. Bancroft Esqr.5

Monday 15th Nov. 79

Capt Landais was acquainted that the following Charges were made against him, viz

1st. Disobedience of Orders.—

2d Not coming in time to the Assistance of the Bonhomme Richard in her Engagement on the 23d of Sept. 79—

3d Firing into the B. h. Richard

4th Not intercepting any of the Convoy during the Combat of the B. Homme Richd. with the Serapis—6

Capt. L. produced the Act of his Naturalization & the Oath he had taken of Allegiance to the U.S.

Also7 B.F.s Orders for him to go from Nantes to L’Orient where he would receive further Orders.—dated 24 Ap. 79—8

Also BFs. Orders of the 28 Ap. 79 to put himself & Vessel under the Commd of Capt. Jones & proceed with him on the Cruize he was about to make & obey his Orders ’till his Return to France.9

He produc’d also B.Fs Orders of the 28th July 79 viz “In Case the Circumstances of the Bon h. Rd. should make a Delay of her sailing necessary, of which M. de. Cht. will inform you, You are to proceed to the North Seas & Cruize there ’till the End of Sept. in such Parts as are most convenient for intercepting the Northern Trade to England after which you are to go into the Texel & there wait further Orders.”1

Capt. Ls. says in his Justification, that by the Voyage to Borx. [Bordeaux] & the Cruise he made jointly with Cr. Jones in the Bay, he understood that on his Return to L’Orient the Orders he Recd from BF. of the 28th. of Apl. 79 were compleated.2 That M. De Chaumont never gave him any Directions to put himself under the command of Capt. Jones, nor instructed him to fulfil B. Franklin’s Orders of the 28th July 79 whereby he was to Cruize in the North Seas, in Case the Circumstances of the Bonhomme Richard, should make a Delay of her sailing necessary. & that in joining Capt. Jones afterwards, he acted not from any Orders but voluntarily for the good of the Service; not conceiving himself any longer under the Command of Capt. Jones.—3

C. L. also produced a Paper intitled an Extract of the Orders Capt. Jones had recd from BF. dated 30 June 79. Viz. “Being arrived at Grois, you are to make the best of your Way, with the Vessels under your Command &ca;.

“The Prizes you may make, send to Dunkirk, Ostend, or Bergen in Norway, according to your Proximity to either of those Ports. Address them to the Persons M. De Chaumont shall indicate to you.”

a true Copy (signed) J.P. Jones.

Sundry Letters were also read, which had passed between Commodore Jones & Capt. Landais, at Sea, viz.4

To P. Landais Esq—Capt. of the Alliance.


I am to request you to come yourself on board here immediately on business—

I am, Sir, Your very obedt. humble Servant.

(signed) J.P. Jones—

At Sea on board the Bonhomme Ricd. Sept. 2d. 1779

Answer to the foregoing.

J. P. Jones Esq Capt. of the B h. Rd.


I am to answer your Letter, that I cannot go, you know why: If you chuse to ask my Opinion upon any Business, You’ll please to send somebody who may communicate it—or send it by writing. I am, Sir, Your very obedient humble Servant

(signed) P. Landais.

At Sea on board the Alliance Sept. 2d 1779

The honble. Capt. John P. Jones of the Continental Navy, Commr. in Chief of the American Squadron now on an Expedition in Europe.

To Peter Landais Esqr. Capt. in the Continental Navy, & of the Frigate Alliance now at Sea & belonging to the sd. Squadron.

You are hereby required & directed forthwith to come on board the Ship of War the Bonhomme Richard, for which this shall be your Order.

Given on board the Ship B h. Richard at Sea the 5th of Sept 1779

(signed) J.P. Jones.

Answer to the foregoing—

To Paul Jones Esq. Capt. in the Continental Navy of the Frigate B. h: Richard now at Sea.

I shall not go on board the Frigate B. h. Richard as I wrote you in my last Letter you know the Reason why, for which this is my Answer—

Given on board the Frigate Alliance at Sea the 5th of Sept. 1779

Capt. Landais acknowledged these Letters, but justified himself as above, with regard to his not being oblig’d to obey Capne. Jones’s Orders; adding that the Commodore had us’d him very ill when last on board his Ship, giving him the Lye, &c. and that he could not expose himself again to such atrocious Injury; for which he must have Satisfaction.5

Wednesday 24 Nov 79.6

Dr Franklin being indisposed the continuation of the Enquiry was postponed ’till this Day When Capt Landais appeared. & B. Franklin Esqr. M. Le Ray de Chaumont & E. Bancroft Esqr were present.

1st. Capt Landais produced a Plan of the Manœuvres of the Squadron on the 23d of Sept. from the first Appearance of the Serapis & Countess of Scarborough to the End of the Action explaining all the different Positions of the Ships on both sides, at different Periods of the Engagement: in order to shew that he did every thing incumbent on him for the Success of it— Herewith is the sd Plan, contained in two Sheets, having on the back of each a Certificate from the Officers of the Alliance (Here insert it)7

2 Dr. Franklin having recd since the last Meeting the Charges of Comme [Commodore] Jones against Capt. Landais, more distinctly & particularly express’d than in his former Letters, it was thought proper to order a Copy of the sd. Charges to be made out & deliver’d to Capt. Landais, that he might have an Opportunity of answering in writing and the same was accordingly order’d;8

The said Charges received from Come Jones are as follows,

(Here insert them)9

To these Charges Capt. Landais made the following Answer, viz.

Here insert the Answer1

Capt. Landais requiring Extracts of Such Parts of Comme Jones’s Letter of the 3d. Oct. 79 as affected him, the same were made out and delivered to him.

He afterwards delivered in the following Letter,2 viz

(Here insert it.)

Commodore Jones, not being present3 to support his Charges against the Remarks made on them by Capt Landais, or to justify himself from the Recriminations of the said Captain, an End was put to the Enquiry here, and the Parties are referr’d to the proper Jurisdiction for determining Their Disputes, a Court Martial, which at present can only be obtain’d in America.—

Notation in Franklin’s hand: Minutes

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3Landais’ account of the inquiry is in his Memorial, pp. 52–6.

4In WTF’s hand. BF heavily corrected WTF’s draft, revising sentences, interlining words and phrases, and making marginal comments for incorporation into the text. We print his emendations and additions in italics. Presumably BF was preparing the fair copy that would become the formal account of the inquiry. We have not located it, but in a March 4, 1780, letter to President of Congress Samuel Huntington (National Archives) BF said he was sending the minutes via the Alliance.

5BF later explained to the Eastern Navy Board that he had chosen Chaumont as a friend of Landais and Bancroft as a friend of Jones: Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, III, 548.

6In his Memorial Landais paraphrased the charges, reversing the second and third. He opened his testimony with the following statement: “I observed to his Excellency Benjamin Franklin, Esq; that there was no body competent judges of those charges, as the first one depended whether I had obeyed his orders literally; and the three others required sea-officers to understand the nature of the case, and judge whether I had done, or not, all that could be done in these cases, for the best; however, that for his satisfaction I was going to answer every one of them”: Landais, Memorial, p. 52.

7WTF had originally numbered the main paragraphs; BF deleted the numerals and added “also”.

8XXIX, 372–3.

9XXIX, 388.

1XXX, 154–5.

2A carat at this point in the text indicates that something is to be inserted. We believe it is the following sentence, in WTF’s hand, written on a different sheet of paper and similarly marked for insertion. It must have become detached from the Minutes, and is now filed separately at the University of Pa. Library.

3Landais later wrote that on Chaumont’s suggestion he had requested from Jones a copy of his orders and had received the extract given below in which neither he nor the Alliance was mentioned (for the full orders see XXIX, 780–1). He then claimed that Jones had not replied to his contention that he was not under Jones’s orders: Landais, Memorial, p. 53; see also ibid., pp. 24–5.

For the joint cruise in the Bay of Biscay see XXIX, 709n. Landais describes in detail his discussion with BF: “I said agreeably to that order [of April 28] I had been on a cruize under Capt. Jones’s order, he being on board the Bonhomme Richard, and obeyed him until my own and his return to France, in Port l’Orient, where by the purport of said order ended his command over my ship and me: his Excellency replied it could not be called a cruize out of France, because we had cruized then only in the Bay of Biscay, which was called the French sea; I told him he might give what interpretation he pleased, but there were English men-of-war and privateers to cruize for, as well as in the channel, and that in his order he had not mentioned any particular place to cruize in, I could not know whether he intended, or not, any other cruize at that time, and therefore having cruized there under Capt. Jones’s order, where he laid me, I had fulfilled literally the contents of his Excellency’s order: his Excellency insisted by similar reasons, that that cruize was no real cruize; I told him it appeared he was determined to find me guilty, even against his own hand writing proofs to the contrary, and that all which had passed, and that I had heard, convinced me of what Capt. Jones had told me, on the 25th September 1779, that his Excellency had given him power to take the command of the Alliance from me, when at l’Orient.” Landais, Memorial, p. 52, (and see ibid., p. 17). BF “denied the fact and [said] that Capt. Jones could not have said any such thing, and that I wanted to reflect upon him”: ibid., p. 53.

4BF’s sentence replaces two by WTF: “B.F. shew’d Capt. Landais a Letter Capt. Jones had recd from him at Sea dated the 5th of Sept. whereby he refusd to go on Board of the B.h. Rd. as Capt. Jones had order’d him.

The following are copies of the Letters that passed between the Capts on that head.”

5Landais later recounted the dispute over Jones’s authority (Landais, Memorial, p. 53) and then described the argument at the hearing on this point:

“His Excellency insisted I was under Capt. Jones’s orders by his to me, and even as being my senior officer: I related that (which I have not mentioned heretofore) of the Captain of the Continental Frigate called the Queen of France, who was condemned, suspended, and his command took from him for have followed his senior officer, in the Frigate Warren, in Boston, as an instance how a Captain was liable to suffer when he broke superior orders to follow any senior officer’s to the contrary: I added there was another proof in his Excellency’s orders to me that I was not under Capt. Jones’s, because he intended to land at Shetland and other places, did never cruize, and met only accidentally the Baltic fleet off Flamborough-head (where the Alliance had been cruizing three weeks) as he came there but the very same day we saw and engaged them, &c. having been all the while to try to land upon the coast of Scotland, without effect: and that in the orders from his Excellency to me, it was expressed that I was to cruize in the North Sea, for intercepting the Northern trade to England, which proved those orders to me quite different from those of Capt. Jones. His Excellency replied, that the word cruizing implied as well landing as remaining at sea; I told him I never understood it so, but it was crossing to and fro in a station given: he maintained it was not. I begged to have a Dictionary, which was at last procured me, wherein I found and showed his Excellency the word cruize was explained much like what I had said: his Excellency said it was a mistake of the Printer. What can officers do who is subject to receive orders from a superior, who, out of partiality, uses such subterfuges to find him guilty? I could not help telling him that it was not my fault if there was such mistake in the Dictionary, and if he had fully explained his intention, I would have done my utmost to fulfil it; and I made this observation—supposing that your Excellency had died, and in the mean time, in following Capt. Jones, in landing without a pilot, I had, by accident, lost the Frigate Alliance on a rock, &c. and begged his Excellency to show me, in his orders to me, a word which would have justified me before Congress for losing their Frigate in following Capt. Jones; his Excellency knowing he could find none, said not a word.” Landais, Memorial, p. 54.

6On Nov. 22 WTF wrote Landais that BF was “pretty well recover’d.” He directed Landais to appear at 10 o’clock Wednesday morning. APS.

7For the certificate from the officers and the plan of maneuvers see XXX, 576n. In Landais’s account of the hearing he said he used this evidence to explain “all the positions, evolutions and motions of every ship, and all the faults of Capt. Jones.” BF listened attentively and then speculated that Landais “might through mistake, have fired upon the Bon-homme Richard”: Landais, Memorial, p. 54. Landais responded by showing the statement of the Alliance’s officers that there could have been no mistake, given the colors of the ships. He argued that had he wanted to have the Bonhomme Richard destroyed he could have stayed astern fighting the Countess of Scarborough and the Serapis would have soon accomplished it. Moreover, he asked, would the officers and crew have followed his orders to fire on their American brothers? BF supposedly admitted it was not likely: ibid., pp. 54–5. Landais then described his answer to the charge of not coming to the Bonhomme Richard’s assistance. He cited the published account of Capt. Pearson of the Serapis that the Alliance had kept sailing around him and raking him fore and aft and that he had surrendered as a result of being helpless to return her broadsides. He also cited Capt. Piercy of the Countess of Scarborough, who credited the Alliance with forcing his surrender to the Pallas. Finally, he expressed his satisfaction that the Alliance had no men killed. BF saying nothing, Landais then cited the small number of the Alliance’s remaining crew and the lack of signals as a justification for his failure to follow up the victory by capturing the British convoy. He suggested BF take the sketch, relation, and certificate of the Alliance’s officers to Sartine; if officers of the French navy judged the Alliance had not done all she could, he would regard himself as condemned. BF accepted, according to Landais, but after numerous delays, claimed that Sartine had refused involvement: ibid, pp. 55–6.

8WTF had originally written “… Opportunity of offering in Ansr to those Charges, whatever he has to say in his own Justification & the same was accordingly order’d.”

9The twenty-five charges in the Oct. 30 affidavit from the officers of the squadron (XXX, 625–31).

1“His Excellency brought in a pack of charges made against me, containing twenty-five articles, which he had kept till then, from me; I told him before I looked at them, that I had answered every one of those articles, which deserved to be answered; as I had proved I was not under Capt. Jones’s orders; that I had fulfilled his Excellency’s order to me, and that the Alliance had effected, during the engagement and after, all she could, for the good of the service; nevertheless I would answer them …”: Landais, Memorial, p. 57.

2Landais’ response is below, after Nov. 26 (the date he was given the charges: Landais, Memorial, p. 60.).

3BF first wrote, “being absent, and in Holland”.

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