Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from John Laurens, 9 March 1781

From John Laurens

LS:9 American Philosophical Society; copy: South Carolina Historical Society

L’orient 9 March 1781.

Dear Sir,

The interval between my debarkation and the departure of the post allows me only a moment to aprise Your Excellency of my arrival at this place in the frigate Alliance after a passage of twenty six days from Boston.1

I should have prosecuted my journey to passy without an instant’s repose, in order to deliver Your Excellency the dispatches of Congress and pursue under your auspices the important objects to which they relate, but the expected arrival of the Marquis de Castries detains me this evening.2

I anticipate the happiness of assuring Your Excellency in person of the gratitude and veneration with which, as a Citizen of America, I am inspired by the distinguished part which you have acted in the present Revolution—and of my earnest desire to recommend myself to Your Excellency’s friendship—in the mean time I have the honor to be, with the most profound respect, Your Excellency’s most obedient, very humble Servant

John Laurens

Notation: Laurens John 9 March 1781.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9In the hand of William Jackson, Laurens’ secretary.

1From Thomas Paine’s description of the voyage it was eventful as well as exceptionally quick. The Alliance encountered icebergs and rescued a Venetian ship from a British privateer’s prize crew: Philip S. Foner, ed., The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine (2 vols., New York, 1945), II, 1191–4.

2Laurens did meet Castries, probably on the evening of the 11th. The naval minister subsequently told Vergennes that Laurens demanded an interview. According to Castries, during the meeting Laurens said that even if America did not succumb during the present campaign due to the shortage of the means of war, it would be the last one it could undertake. He asked for more French troops, money, uniforms, and enough ships to establish naval superiority. Castries expressed his uneasiness at this news, assured him of the King’s good intentions, and recommended that he talk to Vergennes. The timing of this meeting could not have been more opportune. Castries was en route to Brest to oversee the departure of a large fleet and convoy for the West Indies. He met with de Grasse, the fleet’s commander, aboard his flagship. They may well have discussed Castries’ conversation with Laurens, and at the beginning of the summer hurricane season de Grasse, in response to the appeals of Ambassador La Luzerne and others, did decide to bring his entire fleet to North America (his orders leaving him free to make such a choice). Through Castries, Laurens may have helped prepare de Grasse to make this decision, so central to the Franco-American victory in the Yorktown campaign: “Mission of Col. Laurens,” I, 24–5; Dull, French Navy, pp. 221–3, 242–3; François Caron, La guerre incomprise ou la victoire volée (Bataille de la Chesapeake—1781) ([Vincennes, France, 1989]), pp. 369–70n; Jean-Jacques Antier, L’Amiral de Grasse: Héros de l’Indépendance américaine (Paris, 1965), pp. 171–2.

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