Benjamin Franklin Papers

Intelligence from Paris and Other Places, 1 July 1780

Intelligence from Paris and Other Places

D: National Archives

During the period of the present volume Franklin received through the courtesy of his friend the chevalier de Kéralio eight intelligence reports; Franklin forwarded them, when the opportunity permitted, to the United States, as he had done with some 260 earlier reports.8 These were the last that Franklin bothered to send.9 Their cessation was not a great loss to Congress. Often little more than gossip, their information was outdated by the time it reached Philadelphia. As in past volumes we publish the first intelligence report and summarize the remainder.

(I) Bayonne, July 25: On the 19th an English prize made by the Comte d’Artois entered this port; it was the Charming Nancy of Portsmouth, carrying salt beef, rice, flour, and some woolen cloth to Gibraltar.1

(II) Brest, July 26: Two recently arrived Swedish ships were visited off Ushant by a fleet of twenty-two British ships of the line. A frigate and a lugger have been sent out to reconnoiter and it is possible that the seven ships of the line here will wait to sail until their return.2 Commandant Hector has received a letter from Naval Minister Sartine, telling him of the impending arrival of a convoy from the Baltic escorted by several warships of the northern powers.3 The King desires us to receive and assist any ships that wish to enter port. Letters from Lisbon report the capture of the frigate Artésienne.4

(III) Brest, July 31: The ships of the line Hector and Vaillant have arrived from Lorient.

(IV) Paris, July 31: We have learned from London that the French frigate Capricieuse sank after being captured by the British frigates Prudente and Licorne.5 A courier from Madrid reports that Admiral Cordoba’s Cadiz fleet of twenty-two Spanish and nine French ships of the line has sailed, reportedly for a cruise of ten or eleven days.6 A squadron from Toulon has arrived in the bay of Cadiz with a convoy.7

(V) Paris, August 6: The arrival of the Toulon squadron and convoy has been confirmed. There are various indications that the French fleet will winter in Cadiz. It is said that the formal siege of Gibraltar will begin this autumn. The combined Spanish-French fleet is cruising between Cape Spartel and Cape Ste. Marie. The frigate Etats d’Artois has been captured by a 50–gun British ship. A courier from Bordeaux reports the arrival of the Fier Roderigue and a convoy of eighteen ships.8 When it left Chesapeake Bay on June 26 there was not yet any news of Admiral Ternay. The marquis de Lafayette received a most flattering welcome in Boston. The frigate Hermione on which he had traveled subsequently captured three prizes and fought off two British ships; her captain was wounded.9

(VI) Bayonne, October 5: A letter from Madrid informs us that Admiral Antonio de Ulloa’s1 squadron of four ships of the line and two frigates has brought into La Coruña as prizes two British ships of the line and a frigate.

(VII) Bordeaux, October 9: On Tuesday the 5th [i.e., 3rd] a privateer frigate from this city arrived with three British prizes. It is reported that the Spaniards have captured two British ships of the line and several frigates.

Paris Le 1er. Juillet [1780]

M. le Cte. d’Estaing part dimanche pour aller, disent bien des gens, prendre le Commandement de la flotte combinée de Cadiz.2 Ils se fondent Sur ce que ce Général a eu depuis peu plusieurs conférences avec M. de sartine. D’autres prétendent qu’il va tout simplement aux eaux de Baréges, pour consolider la guérison de la blessure qu’il a reçüe l’année passée, et que les conférences qu’il a eües avec M. de sartine, n’ont eu d’autre objet que d’obtenir des graces pour les officiers de son escadre.

Un paquebot arrivé à la Corogne, et depeché de la floride occidentale à apporté la nouvelle de la prise du fort de la mobile par les Troupes d’Espagne; que le général Campbel s’etoit retiré; que le General Galvez marchoit vers Pensacola qu’on ne prévoïoit pas devoir tenir longtems, et que les prisonniers faits au fort de la Mobile etaient au nombre de 300. hommes de troupes réglées et d’une centaine de milice.3

On parle d’une Lettre de M. Joubert commandant en second à la martinique, dans laquelle il est dit que l’escadre de M. de Guichen etoit venüe au Nord de la Martinique, qu’elle y avoit embarqué un renfort considérable de Troupes de débarquement, et que de là elle avoit fait voile vers la Barbade.

Une Lettre de st. Eustache du 15. mai arrivée à Amsterdam, annonce la prise de la Barbade par M. de Guichen. Une lettre précédente du 3. mai annonçait Son débarquement dans cette Isle./.4

Notation: Intelligence recd. from Doctr. F March 12 1781

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8A list of them, arranged by place of origin, was eventually compiled at the instigation of then-Secretary of State John Jay and filed with the reports at the National Archives. The lack of communications between August and October undoubtedly was related to Kéralio’s absence from Paris.

9Although Kéralio does not seem to have written BF directly during the period of this volume, he continued to take an interest in American affairs; on Oct. 24 and on Nov. 2 he wrote WTF for information about the Battle of Camden, which he could circulate among German newspapers (APS). For the most recent prior intelligence reports see XXXII, 70–3. None of the present reports is in Kéralio’s hand. All were written in French and are now at the National Archives.

1The Comte d’Artois was a privateer, whose capture of the Charming Nancy was reported in the Aug. 18 issue of the Courier de l’Europe: VIII (1780), 112.

2The French ships of the line presently at Brest were the Bretagne, 110, Royal Louis, 110, Ville de Paris, 100, Auguste, 80, St. Esprit, 80, Languedoc, 80, and Northumberland, 74. The fleet was in the process of being stripped of its ships in order to reinforce the Spanish fleet at Cadiz, whose vulnerability had frightened the French. The British Navy hence enjoyed superiority in French coastal waters : XXXII, 70n; Dull, French Navy, p. 366; Jonathan R. Dull, “The French Navy and American Independence: Naval Factors in French Diplomacy and War Strategy, 1774–1780” (Ph.D. diss., University of California at Berkeley, 1972), pp. 335–6n.

3Jean-Charles, comte d’Hector (1722–c. 1808), was commandant of the arsenal at Brest and became port commandant on Feb. 1, 1781: Didier Neuville, ed., Etat sommaire des archives de la marine antérieures à la Révolution (Paris, 1898), p. 136n. The French government hoped that Denmark, Sweden, and Russia, using the mechanism of Empress Catherine II’s League of Armed Neutrality, would escort Baltic naval stores to French ports. The Russian Baltic Fleet did sail on June 21, but it extended protection only to Russian ships: Madariaga, Harris’s Mission, p. 212. It arrived off the English coast in mid-August: Courier de l’Europe, VIII (1780), 118 (issue of Aug. 22).

4The Artois (or Artésienne or Etats d’Artois) was a 40–gun privateer captured off Cape Finisterre by H.M.S. Romney, 50: William Laird Clowes, The Royal Navy: a History from the Earliest Times to the Present (7 vols., London and Boston, 1897–1903), IV, 52. Possibly this is the same ship as the Comte d’Artois.

5The crew of the Capricieuse “displayed the greatest intrepidity in offering so stubborn a resistance to so superior a force”: Clowes, Royal Navy, IV, 53; Courier de l’Europe, VIII (1780), 55–6, 100–1 (issues of July 25 and Aug. 15).

6On August 8–9 Córdoba’s fleet captured a huge outbound convoy for the British East and West Indies; the sixty-one prizes were worth £1,500,000: Mackesy, War for America, p. 357; Dull, French Navy, pp. 193–4.

7This convoy of twenty-five supply ships was escorted by four ships of the line: Dull, “French Navy,” p. 335n. The Aug. 6 intelligence report indicates that it also included seven ships for the Western Hemisphere.

8As was reported in the Aug. 15 issue of the Courier de l’Europe (VIII [1780], 100). The Fier Roderigue, 50, was the largest ship in Beaumarchais’ fleet. She had sailed from Yorktown on June 14 with a convoy of thirty-four merchant ships: Roger Lafon, Beaumarchais, le brillant armateur (Paris, 1928), p. 144.

9Admiral Ternay’s fleet, bringing General Rochambeau’s expeditionary force to America, reached Newport, R.I., on July 11: XXXII, 72–3n; Rice and Brown, eds., Rochambeau’s Army, I, 17n. Lafayette, who had gone ahead to announce its arrival, was welcomed in Boston on April 28: XXXII, 333, 414n. In June the Hermione, 32, fought an engagement with H.M.S. Iris, 32: Clowes, Royal Navy, IV, 52.

1Lt. Gen. of the Navy Antonio de Ulloa (1716–1795) was a distinguished naval officer and scientist: Larousse. His accomplishments, however, did not include the one ascribed to him here.

2D’Estaing had been appointed to bring the French contingent of the combined fleet to Brest, which he did at the end of 1780: Jacques Michel, La vie aventureuse et mouvementée de Charles-Henri, comte d’Estaing (n.p., 1976), pp. 250–60.

3Bernardo de Gálvez, the Spanish governor of Louisiana, captured Mobile in March, 1780. Among his prisoners were about 100 soldiers. His attack on Pensacola had to be postponed, however, largely for logistical reasons: John Walton Caughey, Bernardo de Gálvez in Louisiana 1776–1783 (Berkeley, 1934), pp. 171–82, 191.

4After failing to capture Barbados (or any other British island) Lt. Gen. of the Navy Guichen brought his fleet to Cadiz and placed himself under d’Estaing’s command: Dull, French Navy, pp. 188–90. Joubert was commandant at St. Pierre, the chief commercial port of Martinique: Rice and Brown, eds., Rochambeau’s Army, I, 228.

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