Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Paul Jones, 4 September 1787

From John Paul Jones

New-York Septr. 4th. 1787.


Some time after your departure for the South of France I set out to go to Copenhagen; expecting to receive, at Bruxelles, the necessary Funds for my Journey and transactions in the North. I had the mortification to be disappointed; which induced me to turn about and embark in the Packet at Havre de Grace, as the method the most sure and expeditious to procure the necessary supply. I should have returned by the July Packet, but was unexpectedly detained by the Treasury; and notwithstanding my continual pressing application since that time the Board has not yet reported to Congress on my Business done with the Court of France. There is no Congress at this moment; but as the grand Convention is expected to rise about the 20th. there is little doubt but that Congress will be full soon afterwards. The Board, I understand, is now ready to report. I expect to obtain from Congress a Letter of Thanks to the King, for the Force he put under my command, and supported under the Flag of the United-States, and my Promotion has been talked of to be dated from the day I took the Serapis. I am much obliged to you for the Letter from Madame T—— which you forwarded by the June Packet. I now take the liberty to enclose a Letter for that worthy Lady; and as I had not the happiness to introduce you to her, (because I wished her Fortune to have been previously established) I shall now tell you in Confidence that she is the Daughter of the late King and of a Lady of Quality, on whom his Majesty bestowed a very large Fortune on her Daughter’s account. Unfortunately the Father Died while the Daughter (his great favorite) was very young; and the Mother has never since shewn her either Justice or natural Affection. She was long the silent Victim of that injustice; but I had the pleasure to be instrumental in putting her in a fair way to obtain redress. His present Majesty received her last year with great kindness. He gave her afterwards several particular audiences, and said he charged himself with her Fortune. Some things were, as I have understood, fixed on, that depended solely on the King; and he said he would dictate the Justice to be rendered by the Mother. But the Letter you sent me, left the feeling Author all in Tears! Her Friend, Her Protectoress, Her introductoress to the King, was suddenly Dead! She was in dispair! She lost more than a Mother! A loss, indeed, that nothing can repair; for Fortune and Favor are never to be compared to tried Friendship. I hope, however, she has gone to visit the King in July, agreeable to his appointment given her in the Month of March. I am persuaded that he would receive her with additional kindness, and that her loss would, in his Mind, be a new claim to his protection; especially as he well knows and has acknowlidged her superiour Merit and just pretentions. As I feel the greatest concern for the situation of this worthy Lady, you will render me a great favor by writing her a Note requesting her to call on you, as you have something to communicate from me. When she comes, be so good as to deliver her the within Letter, and shew her this; that she may see, both my confidence in you and my advice to her. The lateness of the Season will oblige me to seek a Passage as directly as Possible for Copenhagen, where I pray you to write me (Poste Restante) or by the Courier of the Count de Montmorin, aux soins de Monsieur le Baron de La Houze. I am, with the highest esteem, Sir, Your most Obedient and most humble Servant,

J Paul Jones

RC (MdAN); at head of text: “Private”; endorsed. Recorded in SJL as received 13 Oct. 1787. Enclosure: John Paul Jones to Mme. T. Townsend, 4 Sep. 1787, which reads: “No language can convey to my fair mourner the tender sorrow I feel on her account! The loss of our worthy friend is indeed a fatal stroke! It is an irreparable misfortune which can only be alleviated by this one reflection, that it is the will of God, whose providence has, 1 hope, other blessings in store for us. She was a tried friend, and more than a mother to you! She would have been a mother to me also had she lived. We have lost her! Let us cherish her memory, and send up grateful thanks to the Almighty that we once had such a friend. I cannot but flatter myself that you have yourself gone to the king in July as he had appointed. I am sure your loss will be a new inducement for him to protect you, and render you justice. He will hear you, I am sure; and you may safely unbosom yourself to him, and ask his advice, which cannot but be flattering to him to give you. Tell him you must look on him as your father and protector. If it were necessary, I think, too, that the Count d’A[rtois] his brother, would, on your personal application, render you good offices by speaking in your favour. I should like it better, however, if you can do without him. Mr. Jefferson will show you my letter of this date to him. You will see by it how disgracefully I have been detained here by the board of treasury. It is impossible for me to stir from this place till I obtain their settlement on the business I have already performed; and as the season is already far advanced, I expect to be ordered to embark directly for the place of my destination in the north. Mr. Jefferson will forward me your letters. I am almost without money, and much puzzled to obtain a supply. I have written to Dr. Bancroft to endeavour to assist me. I mention this with infinite regret, and for no other reason than because it is impossible for me to transmit you a supply under my present circumstances. This is my fifth letter to you since I left Paris. The two last were from France, and I sent them by duplicates. But you say nothing of having received any letters from me! Summon, my dear friend, all your resolution! Exert yourself, and plead your own cause. You cannot fail of success; your cause would move a heart of flint! Present my best respects to your sister. You did not mention her in your letter; but I persuade myself she will continue her tender care of her sweet godson, and that you will cover him all over with kisses from me; they come warm to you both from the heart!” (This letter was among the personal papers of John Paul Jones which were sent to his family in Scotland after his death and were subsequently brought to America by his niece, Janette Taylor; their present whereabouts is unknown. The above text is taken from Life and Correspondence of John Paul Jones, Robert Sands, ed., New York, 1830, p. 373–4.)

The letter from Madame T——which you forwarded by the June packet: This first mention to TJ of the mysterious “Madame T——,” about whom Jones’s biographers have made so many and so diverse conjectures, implies that it was she who took the initiative in informing TJ of the relationship which existed between herself and Jones. Whether Jones’s rather detailed explanation of the lady’s situation was occasioned by a desire to explain why he had not previously mentioned her or because he desired TJ’s cooperation in her interest, he was, at least, willing to have TJ continue to act as intermediary. In that position, TJ wrote to Mme. Townsend the day after he received Jones’s letter; Mme. Townsend replied when she returned from the country, signing her name “Townsend” in her first letter and “T. Townsend” in the next (see TJ to Mme. Townsend, 15 Oct., 6 and 7 Nov.; Mme. Townsend to TJ, 5, 7, and 13 Nov. 1787). This exchange of correspondence between TJ and “Madame T——” invalidates various conjectures that have been made about her identity; but her full name and identity and the information which Jones gave TJ about her cannot apparently be verified. A survey of the genealogies of the House of Bourbon which identify the illegitimate children of Louis XV does not disclose any facts which substantiate Mme. Townsend’s claim. Henri Vrignault, in Les Enfants de Louis XV. Descendance illégitime (Paris, 1954), lists eleven “certain,” five “probable,” and four “possible” illegitimate children of Louis XV, none of whom seems to relate to Mme. Townsend. Whatever her background or identity, it is possible that she had manufactured a story by which she hoped, through Jones’s influence in court circles, to profit. In any case, Jones’s last mention of her to TJ throws some doubt on her integrity: “I pray you to inform me, if you possibly can, what is become of Mrs. T——. I am astonished to have heard nothing from her since I left Paris‥‥ You must know, that besides my own purse, which was very considerable, I was goodnatured, or, if you please, foolish enough to borrow for her, four thousand four hundred livres‥‥ When that affair is cleared up, I shall be better able to judge of the rest” (Jones to TJ, 29 Aug./9 Sep. 1788). The reference to the “sweet godson” of the sister of Madame Townsend in Jones’s letter to the latter of 4 Sep. 1787 has led some scholars to suppose that Madame Townsend bore Jones a son—a plausible supposition in the context in which the allusion was made.

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