Benjamin Franklin Papers

Franklin: Certificate for Gustavus Conyngham, [7 August 1782]

Franklin: Certificate for Gustavus Conyngham3

DS:4 Joseph Kleiner, Trenton, New Jersey (1968)

[August 7, 1782]

I do hereby certify whom it may concern, that the Commissioners of the United States of America at the Court of France, did issue on the first Day of March One thousand seven hundred & seventy seven, to Captain Gustavus Conyngham a Commission of Congress appointing him a Captain in the Navy of the said States and to command a Vessel then fitting out at Dunkerque on their Account to cruise against their Enemies, in which Vessel he took the English Packet Boat going from Harwich to Holland.5 But their being no War at that Time between France & England, and the Clandestine Equipment of an armed Vessel in a French Port to cruise against the English being therefore an unjustifiable Proceeding, he was apprehended by Order of the French Government6 and his Papers seized, among which was the said Commission, which was never restored, and cannot now be found.7 It is therefore that at the Request of the said Capt. Conyngham, and to ascertain the Fact that such a Commission was issued to him, I give this Certificate, at Passy, this 7th. Day of August, 1782.

B Franklin
Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States
of America at the Court of France.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3In response to Conyngham’s June 8 letter to WTF, written from Nantes. It asked WTF to remind BF of his promise to either retrieve Conyngham’s commission from Vergennes or grant him a certificate of its existence. Hist. Soc. of Pa.

4In WTF’s hand. Upon returning to America after the war, Conyngham entrusted this certificate to Col. Walter Stewart and presented a copy to Congress, along with a memorial requesting a new commission as a captain in the American Navy: Neeser, Conyngham, pp. 206–7. The matter was referred to a congressional committee headed by Arthur Lee, which refused the request on the grounds that commissions issued by the commissioners were only for temporary expeditions: JCC, XXVI, 7. Congress had not specified such limits: JCC, VI, 1036; illustration of Conyngham’s commission in Neeser, Conyngham, facing p. 16.

5In May, 1777: XXIII, 585n; XXIV, 5–6, 48–9.

6XXIV, 64n, 73–4, 243; Stevens, Facsimiles, XV, no. 1530.

7The commission (XXIV, 243n; XXX, 246, 386, 414–15; Deane Papers, II, 52) disappeared for almost 125 years before being offered for sale: Neeser, Conyngham, pp. xxii–xxiii. Conyngham was issued a replacement, but it was captured by the British: XXIV, 243n; Stevens, Facsimiles, XVI, no. 1589.

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