Foreign Relations, 1777 | Naval History


    About the author

    Gardner W. Allen
    Gardner W. Allen

    Gardner W. Allen (1856–1944) was an American naval historian known for his detailed studies of naval operations and ship histories. Allen’s most significant contribution is his work on American naval history, particularly during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. His notable publications include “Our Navy and the Barbary Corsairs,” “Our Naval War with France,” and “The Naval History of the American Revolution.”



      From the beginning of the Revolution the eyes of America and of France were directed towards one another across the sea. With instructions dated March 3, 1776, Silas Deane was sent to France, where he was to seek an audience of the Comte de Vergennes, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, and attempt to obtain military supplies for the American army, to be paid for by Congress (Wharton, ii, 78.) In the very same month Vergennes reminded Louis XVI and his ministers of the advantages which France might derive from the quarrel between England and her colonies, and suggested the expediency of encouraging the Americans even to the extent of advancing secret loans of money and supplies. This advice on the part of Vergennes was prompted by the report of a secret agent who had been sent to America in 1775. A paper addressed to the King by Caron de Beaumarchais, an enthusiast in the American cause, also greatly influenced French policy at this time. While this policy was plainly dictated by antipathy towards England and fear of her growing power, it is nevertheless true that there was in France, more or less widespread, a warm sympathy with the cause of American freedom (Wharton, i, ch. iv; Narr. and Crit. Hist., vii, ch. i; Doniol’s Participation de la France, i, chs. vii, viii; Hart’s American Nation, ix, ch. xii.)

      The aid advanced to the Continental Congress by the French government was sent through Beaumarchais, and to make the transactions still more secret a fictitious mercantile house, under the name of Hortalez and Company, was reputed to carry on the business. In the summer of 1776 Beaumarchais received from the French government a million francs and another million from Spain, to be employed in aid of the Americans. Ships were purchased or chartered for the transportation of military stores. Some of these vessels sailed directly for the United States and others to the West Indies, where their cargoes were discharged and exchanged for American produce, which was taken back to France. Martinique and St. Eustatius were the principal depots for this exchange in the West Indies. The chief staple in this traffic was tobacco, brought to the islands in Continental vessels which returned to the United States with the warlike supplies. A number of French officers also took passage in these ships, to volunteer in the American service. Some of the vessels were ready to sail in December, 1776, but were delayed by unforeseen obstacles. Of several ships that sailed early in 1777 the Amphitrite was perhaps the first and arrived at Portsmouth in April with a valuable cargo and several officers. Nearly all these vessels seem to have crossed the ocean safely, but one of the earlier ones was captured by the British on her return voyage. First and last, large amounts of clothing, artillery, including field pieces from the royal arsenals of France, and other stores of all kinds found their way to America through the medium of Hortalez and Company (Wharton, i, 369, 370, 442, 454, ii, 148, 171, 262, 276, 328; Stevens’s Facsimiles, 152, 240, 263, 1445, 1552, 1559, 1752; London Chronicle, July 17, 1777; Channing, iii, 283, 284, 405-408.)

      Silas Deane arrived in Paris in June, 1776, and was well received by Vergennes. He was the sole American agent in France until Arthur Lee came over from England in December, closely followed by Franklin, who arrived in the Reprisal from America. These three had been appointed by Congress commissioners for the supervision and advancement of American interests in Europe. They were instructed to purchase or hire eight line of battle ships of seventy-four and sixty-four guns; also a frigate and two cutters (Jour. Cont. Congr., October 3, 22, 1776; Wharton, ii, 176, 177.)

      About the 1st of October, 1776, the letter of marque schooner Hawke, Captain John Lee, of Newburyport, arrived at Bilbao in Spain, having captured five English vessels which she sent back to America, keeping some of the prisoners. These persons entered a protest through the British consul at Bilbao. Captain Lee was accused of piracy and with his vessel and crew was detained in port. Deane having made application in his behalf to Vergennes, the French government interceded with Spain with the result that the Hawke was released. (Annual Register, xix (1776), 261; Wharton, ii, 174,175,195, 208, 379; Stevens, 587, 589, 590.) In November, 1776, a French vessel arrived at Alicante in Spain and reported having met, off the Rock of Lisbon, “a North American armed vessel which forcibly put on board of her 11 Sailors, part of crews belonging to two English vessels, which she had seized on 12th Nov. about 25 Leagues W. of said Rock. This Pirate is a sloop called the Union, belong[ing] to Cape Ann, of 10 Carriage Guns, 8 Swivels & 40 Men. Comd. by Isaac Soams, she had capt. 3 other ships, of which 2 sent to Cape Ann, another in ballast let go.” (Brit. Adm. Rec., Consuls’ Letters, No. 3837 (November 26, 1776.)

      The commercial house of Joseph Gardoqui and Sons of Bilbao had long had business connections in the American colonies, and during the war the Revolutionists had a firm friend in Diego Gardoqui, the head of the house, who at the same time had influence with the Spanish court. His aid was apparent in obtaining loans from Spain and even more so in extending a helping hand to American ships of war and privateers cruising in European waters. He secured their friendly reception and the disposal of their prizes in Bilbao and other Spanish ports, generally with success during the earlier years of the war at least, in spite of the strenuous protests of the British ambassador at Madrid. His services were especially important and valuable at a time when the Americans most needed friends in Europe, that is, before the French alliance. No doubt he took an interest and, though keeping himself in the background, an active part in procuring the release of the privateer Hawke, detained at Bilbao (Wharton, i, 442, ii, 292, 308, 315, 405, 424, 533; Channing, iii, 283,284.)

      The Reprisal, Captain Wickes, was the first vessel of the Continental navy to arrive in European waters, although probably several privateers besides the Hawke and Union had preceded her. The prizes taken by the Reprisal on the passage over and brought into Nantes were probably the first American captures sent into French ports. The Committee of Secret Correspondence had written to the American Commissioners in Paris: “We desire you to make immediate application to the court of France to grant the protection of their ports to American men-of-war and their prizes. Show them that British men-of-war, under sanction of an act of Parliament, are daily capturing American ships and cargoes; show them the resolves of Congress for making reprisals on British and West India property, and that our continental men-of-war and numerous private ships of war are most successfully employed in executing these resolutions of the Congress; show them the justice and equity of this proceeding and surely they can not, they will not refuse the protection of their ports to American ships of war, privateers and prizes.” They were also, if possible, “to obtain leave to make sale of those prizes and their cargoes.” If successful in these applications, they were to “appoint some person to act as judge of the admiralty, who should give the bond prescribed for those judges, to determine in all cases agreeable to the rules and regulations of Congress.” (Wharton, ii, 179.)

      The arrival at Nantes of these first American prizes brought forth from Lord Stormont, the British ambassador, a vehement protest. In an interview with Vergennes, December 17, 1776, Stormont said he expected that the Reprisal’s prizes would “be immediately restored to their owners; . . . that it was a clear and indisputable Principle [of the law of nations] that no Prize can be a lawful one that is not made by a ship who has either a Commission or Lettre de Marque from some sovereign Power.” Vergennes replied that France must be cautious about exposing her trade to the resentment of the Americans, but that treaties with England would be observed. The Treaty of Utrecht, concluded between France and England in 1713, expressly closed the ports of either power to the enemies of the other. Stormont said that England might have to issue letters of marque, because it was “next to impossible for our Frigates alone to get the better of the numberless small American vessels with which the seas swarmed and which greatly distressed our Trade. [He] added that the Difficulty was considerably encreased by France and Spain receiving these Armateurs into their Ports, which was a step . . . never expected, as it was the General Interest of all civilized Nations to give no Refuge or Assistance to Pirates.” (Stevens, 1392 (Stormont to Weymouth, December 18, 1776.) On a later occasion Vergennes asked if such letters of marque would be authorized to search neutrals, as to which Stormont was without the information necessary for a definite answer. Vergennes was apprehensive of results that might follow to French Commerce, especially the shipment of supplies to America, from the inquisitorial zeal of British privateers. A number of British agents were employed in France to collect intelligence for their government, and through them Stormont was kept advised of much that was going on. The transactions of Hortalez and Company were known to him, and the connection of the French government with that establishment was doubtless surmised. The delay in shipping stores to America was chiefly due to the ambassador’s protests and to efforts to elude his vigilance. In reply to his complaints, January 28, 1777, about the sailing of the Amphitrite and other French vessels for America, Vergennes professed complete ignorance and promised to bring the matter to the attention of the King and his Prime Minister, the Comte de Maurepas. Soon after this Maurepas declared to Stormont that, while he had heard that some French merchants were intending to send cloth to San Domingo which Americans might perhaps purchase there, he did not believe any military stores were being shipped. It was impossible, he said, to prevent private trade, but an inquiry into the alleged transactions had been ordered (Stevens, 1418, 1427 (Stormont to Weymouth, January 29, February 5, 1777) ; Proc. U. S. Naval Institute, xxxvii (September, 1911), 937, 938.)

      As soon as she could refit, after her arrival in France, the Reprisal sailed on a cruise in the Bay of Biscay and returned to L’Orient in February. On the 14th, Wickes reported to the commissioners: “This will inform you of my safe arrival after a tolerable successful cruise, having captured 3 sail of Brigs, one snow and one ship. The Snow is a Falmouth Packet bound from thence to Lisbon. She is mounted with 16 guns and had near 50 men on board. She engaged near an hour before she struck. I had one man killed. My first Lieut. had his left arm shot off above the elbow and the Lieut. of Marines had a musquet ball lodged in his wrist. They had several men wounded, but none killed . . . Three of our prizes are arrived and I expect the other two in to-morrow.” (Hale’s Franklin in France, i, 114.) In due time Stormont was informed of these proceedings and, February 25, he called upon Vergennes, intending to demand “the Delivery of these Ships with their Crews, Cargoes, &c.”; but the French minister said “that immediately upon the Receipt of this News, a Resolution was taken to order the American Ship and her Prizes instantly to put to Sea and that orders were given in Consequence,” and added that these directions had probably already been carried out. Vergennes also said that instructions had been issued “not to suffer any American Vessel to cruise near the Coast of France.” (Stevens, 14, 38 (Stormont to Weymouth, February 26, 1777.) On March 4, Stormont complained that the Reprisal was still at L’Orient and that two of the prizes had been sold. Vergennes doubted the sale of these vessels and declared that the Reprisal had been ordered to sail immediately, although Captain Wickes had asked to be allowed to make necessary repairs first (lbid., 1442 (March 5, 1777.) Two weeks later Stormont sent a memorandum to Vergennes setting forth that the orders of the French government had been disregarded, that the Reprisal was still at L’Orient, careened and undergoing repairs, and that all five of the prizes had been sold and must have been sold with the knowledge and consent of the French commissary at L’Orient. The immediate departure of the Reprisal and the restoration of the prizes, which had all been sold to Frenchmen, was demanded (lbid., 1483 (Stormont to Vergennes, March 18, 1777.) Vergennes admitted that if these prizes, sailing under French colors and manned by French crews, should fall in with British cruisers, they might rightfully be taken. “Property cannot be altered by such sales; you would restore us the sailors.” (Stevens, 1484 (Stormont to Weymouth, March 19, 1777.) Through M. de Sartine, the Minister of Marine, an investigation of the affair was made, but no satisfactory explanation of the condemnation and sale of the prizes could be furnished (lbid., 1536 (Sartine to Vergennes, May 22, 1777.) Meanwhile the American Commissioners had at the outset disclaimed responsibility. February 20 they wrote: “We have ordered no Prizes into the Ports of France, nor do we know of any that have entered for any other purpose than to provide themselves with necessaries, untill they could sail for America or some Port in Europe for a Market . . . The Reprisal had orders to cruise in the open Sea and by no means near the Coast of France.” If she “has taken a Station offensive to the Commerce of France, it is without our Orders or Knowledge and we shall advise the Captain of his Error.” They had been informed, they said, that the cruise had been on the coast of Spain and Portugal (lbid., 644.) In April they wrote to the Committee of Secret Correspondence of Congress that bringing the prizes “into France has given some trouble and uneasiness to the court and must not be too frequently practiced.” (Wharton, ii, 287. See Wickes’s letters in Hale, i, 115, 119, 120.)

      An early move in the direction of American expansion and the acquisition of territory beyond the seas was taken by the commissioners in Paris when in January, 1777, the following warrant was issued by them to the Baron de Rullecourt: “We the undersigned Commissioners Plenipotentiary of the United States of North America do in their Name & by their Authority take you into the Service of the sd States as Chief of a Corps which you are to raise & Command agreeable to the Plan by you delivered, respecting the Islands of the Zaffarines, understood to be disowned & deserted.” The Zaffarines were off the coast of Morocco. Rullecourt was authorized to fortify and defend the islands and to raise the American flag and fight under it. He and his officers were to be naturalized as American citizens. To defeat this scheme it was proposed to the British government to induce Morocco to seize the islands, when Spain would probably interfere and they would be occupied by one or the other power. Apparently the enterprise was soon abandoned (Stevens, 4 (warrant), 54, 144 (P. Wentworth to Earl of Suffolk, March, 3, 5, 1777), 651 (map.)

      Among the seafaring men who found their way from America to Europe during the Revolution and entered the service of the commissioners was Samuel Nicholson, a brother of Captain James Nicholson. He received the commission of lieutenant in the Continental navy, and later that of captain. Nicholson was directed by Franklin, January 26, 1777, “to proceed to Boulogne and there purchase, on as good terms as possible, a cutter suitable for the purpose of being sent to America. . . . Should you miss of one at Boulogne, proceed to Calais and pursue the same directions. If you fail there, pass to Dover or Deal and employ a person there to make the purchase.” (Wharton, ii, 254.) In pursuance of these instructions Nicholson got to England before meeting with success. Being in London he wrote to Captain Joseph Hynson, February 9, 1777: “I came to town 12 OClock last Night, my Business are of such a nature wont bare puttg to Paper. Shall say nothing more, but expect to see you Immediately. I shall leave Town early the Morrow Morning, therefore begg You will not loose A Minutes time in Coming here, as I have business of Importance for you, wch must be transacted this Day.” (Stevens, 9.) A week later Nicholson and Hynson were in Dover together and there evidently purchased a cutter, which was called the Dolphin and was to be used as a packet. February 17, Nicholson sailed her over to Calais. Hynson still remained in Dover, but went over to France a few days later, apparently in a sloop which sailed the 22d. Lord North was promptly advised by one of his agents of the presence in England of these two Americans. Hynson was a brother-in-law of Captain Wickes, and was employed by Silas Deane in the mercantile affairs of the commissioners. His zeal for the American cause was unquestioned, but all the while he was secretly in the service of the British government. Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, an Englishman, was intimate with Hynson and drew much information from him, which from time to time he forwarded to London. A number of agents were employed who watched the movements of Wickes, Nicholson, and other captains, as well as of the American Commissioners in Paris, and reported the doings of Hortalez and Company, the arrival of American vessels, and other items of news. The Massachusetts state cruisers Freedom and Massachusetts, which arrived in the spring of 1777, were kept under observation, but as they had sent their prizes back to America, they did not so much disturb the Englishmen in France (Stevens, 9.)

      William Hodge, a Philadelphia merchant who had come to France by way of Martinique with dispatches from Congress, was employed by the commissioners in the purchase of vessels for the naval service. On this errand he proceeded to Dunkirk, where in April a lugger was bought which was called the Surprise (Wharton, ii, 162, 181, 261, 283, 287, 380. Deane says the Surprise was bought in Dover; Conyngham says in Dunkirk. An socount in Nav. Inst., xxxvii, 938, based on the archives at Dunkirk, differs slightly but not essentially from the above.) Meanwhile Gustavus Conyngham, an American mariner of Irish birth, who had been sent out from Philadelphia to procure military supplies, had come to Dunkirk from Holland, having also visited London. He seems to have been recommended to the commissioners by Hodge as a capable man to take command of the Surprise. They accordingly filled out for him one of the blank commissions they had received for that purpose, signed by the President of Congress and dated March 1, 1777. The Surprise was fitted out, armed with ten guns, and got to sea about the 1st of May. In a few days she returned to Dunkirk with two prizes, one of them an English mail packet from Harwich. The British ambassador saw Vergennes and Maurepas, May 8, and they were obliged to yield to his demands. The Surprise was seized, her captain and most of his crew were put in prison, and the prizes released. Conyngham’s commission was sent to Versailles and was not returned to him; it was alleged that the French ministry endeavored to persuade the American Commissioners to repudiate this document. Apparently the French were willing in this way to sacrifice Conyngham’s good name in aid of their policy, which was to avoid a rupture with England until the time was ripe for it. However, they refused to deliver him in person to his enemies. Stormont recorded with satisfaction: “The Success of my application with regard to the Dunkirk Pirate has been highly displeasing to Franklin and Deane. They made strong Remonstrances, but were given to understand that there are some things too glaring to be winked at.” (Stevens, 1533 (to Weymouth, May 14, 1777.) Vergennes wrote to the Marquis de Noailles, the French ambassador at London, that Conyngham’s prizes had been restored to the British, not “for love of them, but only to do homage to the principles of justice and equity”; and that gratitude on the part of England was not to be expected (Ibid., 1546 (June 7, 1777.)) It was not long before the American Commissioners procured an order for the release of Conyngham and his crew, but so far as concerned the latter it was not at once executed for fear that the crew would disperse, and they were needed to man a cutter which Hodge had purchased at Dunkirk. This vessel was named the Revenge and carried fourteen guns. Meanwhile Stormont continued to complain that both in France and in the French West Indies vessels were fitted out and manned with French sailors under American captains, given American commissions, and then cruised against British commerce. If boarded by a British man-of-war, the crews would all talk French and show French papers and nothing could be proved against them. Vergennes promised to have these abuses corrected, and Sartine, the Minister of Marine, issued orders to prevent the fltting-out of vessels with American commissions in the French West Indies. Vergennes thought Stormont showed want of consideration in keeping spies in French ports (lbid., 159, 245, 690, 1529, 1530, 1531, 1543, 1548, 1551, 1552, 1553, 1555; Nav. Inst., xxxvii, 938-941; Almon, v, 143, 146,176; Williams, 200, 201; Penn. Mag. Hist. and Biog., January, 1899; Outlook, January 3, 1903.)

      The Continental brig Lexington, Captain Henry Johnson, sailed from Baltimore, February 27, 1777, and arrived in France early in April. Johnson had been captured the year before in the privateer Yankee and had escaped from a prison ship. Upon his return to America he had been given a Continental commission. The American Commissioners in Paris now planned to send the Reprisal, Lexington, and Dolphin on a cruise along the shores of the British Isles. George Lupton, one of the Englishmen in France engaged in watching the course of events, wrote May 13 to William Eden of the foreign office in London: “I have at last with some certainty discovered the intended voyage of Nicholson, Weakes & Johnson; they have all sail’d from Nantes and mean if possiable to intercept some of your transports with foreign troops, but in what place or latitude cannot say.” (Stevens, 158.) It is probable that the squadron did not sail quite as early as this. The orders for the cruise issued by Wickes, who was senior officer, to Johnson and Nicholson were dated May 23. The ships were not to separate “unless we should be Chased by a Vessel of Superior Force & it should be Necessary so to do for our own preservation.” In such an event “you may continue your Cruize through the Irish Channel or to the North West of Ireland, as you may Judge Safest and best, untill you Arrive off the Isles Orkney and there Cruize 5 or 6 Days for the Fleet to Come up & join you. If they do not appear in that time You may make the best of your Way back for Bilboa or St Sebastian & there Refit as fast as possible for Another Cruize, informing the Honourable Commissioners of your Safe Arrival and the Success of your Cruize.” Prizes were to be sent into Spanish or French ports, all the prisoners having been taken out. “The Prize Master must not Report or Enter her as Prize, but as An American Vessel from a port that will be most likely to gain Credit according to the Cargo she may have on board . . . Be Very Attentive to your Signals and if you should be taken, you must take Care to Distroy them . . . Take care to have all the Prisoners properly Secured, to prevent their Rising & taking your Vessel, & if you meet a Dutch, French, Dean, Sweed, or Spainish Vessel, when you have a Number of Prisoners on board, I think it would do well to put them on board any of those Vessels, giving as much provision and Water as will serve them into Port. If any of your prizes should be Chased or in danger, they may Run into the first or most Convenient Port they Can reach in France or Spain, prefering Bilboa, St Sebastians, L’Orient, or Nantz. . . . If you take a prize that you think worth Sending to America, you may dispatch her for Some of the Northern Ports in the Massechusets States.” (Pap. Cont. Congr., 41, 7, 145.)

      The squadron cruised a month, and while they missed the linen ships which they had hoped to capture, several prizes were made in the Irish Sea, and the Dolphin took a Scotch armed brig after a half-hour’s engagement. Upon his return to France Wickes wrote to the Commissioners from St. Malo, June 28, informing them of his “safe arrival at this port yesterday, in company with Capt. Samuel Nicholson of the sloop Dolphin. We parted from Capt. Johnson the day before yesterday, a little to the east of Ushant. Now for the History of our late cruise. We sailed in company with Captains Johnson and Nicholson from St Nazaire May 28th, 1777. The 30th fell in with The Fudrion [Foudroyant, 84,] about 40 leagues to the west of Bellisle, who chased us, fired several guns at the Lexington, but we got clear of her very soon and pursued our course to the No West in order to proceed round into the North Sea.” The squadron fell in with several French, Portuguese, and Dutch vessels, and on the 19th of June, off the north of Ireland, they took their first prizes – two brigs and two sloops. During the following week they cruised in the Irish Sea and made fourteen additional captures, comprising two ships, seven brigs, and five other vessels. Of these eighteen prizes eight were sent into port, three were released, and seven were sunk, three of them within sight of the enemy’s ports. June 27 “at 6 a. m. saw a large ship off Ushant; stood for her at 10 a.m. [and] discovered her to be a large ship of war standing for us; bore away and made sail from her. She chased us till 9 p. m. and continued firing at us from 4 till 6 at night; she was almost within musket shot and we escaped by heaving our guns overboard and lightening the ship. They pay very little regard to the laws of neutrality, as they chased me and fired as long as they dared stand in, for fear of running ashore.” (Hale, i, 122.) One of the prizes, taken in the Irish Sea and released, had been sent into Whitehaven full of prisoners, including a hundred and ten seamen besides a number of women and children. During the exciting chase described by Wickes the Dolphin sprung her mast, but also got safely into St. Malo, and the Lexington into Morlaix. Lupton wrote to Eden, July 9: “These three fellows have three of the fastest Sailing Vessell in the employ of the Colonies and its impossiable to take them unless it Blows hard.” (Stevens, 179.) The squadron required refitting and the Reprisal a new battery (Hale, i, 120-124; Almon, v, 174,175; Wharton, ii, 379, 380; Boston Gazette, October 6, 1777; Stevens, 61, 154, 175, 178, 680, 703, 1437, 1521, 1539.)

      An earlier visit of American cruisers to the coast of Ireland was reported in a letter from Galway: “Two American privateers [the Rover and Montgomery], mounting 14 guns each and as many swivels, put in here to procure some fresh provisions and water. On being supplied with such necessaries as they wanted, for which they paid in dollars, they weighed anchor and sailed, after being in the bay Only 24 hours. During the short time the Captains were on shore they behaved with the greatest politeness . . . The crews that came on shore with them were dressed in blue uniforms with cockades and made a genteel appearance, but were all armed with pistols, &c. They had been out from Philadelphia ten weeks and had taken only four prizes, which they had sent to America.” (Boston Gazette, June 2, 1777; London Chronicle, March 29, 1777.) Another letter, from Kinsale, says: “Two fishing boats, who came in here yesterday, brought on shore the crew of a ship taken by an American privateer off Bristol Channel. The privateer made a signal to the fishing boats, which they thought signified their want of a pilot . . . and accordingly went on board them, having sent the vessel the day before for France. The privateers’ people behaved very well to the fishermen, paid them for what fish they took, and the Captain gave them a cask of brandy for their trouble in coming on board. She was called the Resolution, mounted fourteen guns and had one hundred and ten men when she left New England, but at that time not above eighty, on account of the number they had put on board their prizes, having taken five already.” (Almon, v, 174.)

      The presence of American armed vessels in British waters caused apprehension among the English. In April, while Wickes’s squadron was fitting out, Stormont had information, which he believed reliable, that eight or ten French ships under American commanders were preparing for descent upon Great Britain and that Glasgow was likely to be attacked (Stevens, 1519.) “It is true,” says a contemporary chronicler, “that the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland were insulted by the American privateers in a manner which our hardiest enemies had never ventured in our most arduous contentions with foreigners. Thus were the inmost and most domestic recesses of our trade rendered insecure, and a convoy for the protection of the linen ships from Dublin and Newry was now for the first time seen. The Thames also presented the unusual and melancholy spectacle of numbers of foreign ships, particularly French, taking in cargoes of English commodities for various parts of Europe, the property of our own merchants, who were thus seduced to seek that protection, under the colours of other nations, which the British flag used to afford to all the world.” (Annual Register, xxi (1778), 36.) Insurance rose very high, which of course was one inducement for English merchants to ship their goods in foreign bottoms. In July, 1777, the British Admiralty stationed four ships in the Irish Sea for the protection of the coasts of England and Ireland (Wharton, ii, 168, 254, 391; Williams, 209. For rates of in. surance, see Channing, iii, 389, note.)

      The British ambassador in France was fully informed of the purchase and fitting-out of the Revenge at Dunkirk and made strenuous efforts to have the proceeding stopped. It was necessary, therefore, to use circumspection in managing the affair, and this Hodge did by making a fictitious sale of the vessel to an Englishman, who guaranteed that she would go to Norway on a trading voyage. Nevertheless Captain Conyngham and his crew of a hundred and six men, including sixty-six French, and, according to English report, “composed of all the most desperate fellows which could be procured in so blessed a port as Dunkirk,” (Almon, v, 173.) were put on board. The Revenge then hastily put to sea, before she could be detained in port or stopped off the harbor by an English captain who had threatened to seize and burn her. Conyngham had been given a new commission, dated May 2, 1777, and instructions “not to attack, but if attacked, at Liberty to retaliate in every manner in our power – Burn, Sink & destroy the Enemy.” The Revenge sailed July 16, and the next day, the captain says, was “attackd, fired on, chased by several british frigatts, sloops of War & Cutters.” (Penn. Mag. Hist. and Biog., January, 1899, Conyngham’s narrative.) She escaped, however, and made a cruise in the North Sea, Irish Sea, and Atlantic, taking many prizes. One of these was recaptured by the British, who found on her a prize crew of twenty-one, including sixteen Frenchmen.

      Conyngham landed on the coast of Ireland for water and sailed for the Bay of Biscay, putting into Ferrol. From here and from Coruna he cruised successfully the rest of the year, sending his prizes into Spanish ports (Penn. Mag., January, 1899; Outlook, January 3, 1903; Nav. Inst., xxxvii, 941, 942; Stevens, 200, 274, 1556, 1560, 1569, 1575, 1582,1589,1593,1594.)

      The cruises of the Reprisal, Lexington and Dolphin, and of the Revenge, brought forth renewed protests from Stormont and more or less lame excuses and promises of increased vigilance from Vergennes. The latter reproached the American Commissioners for failure to keep their cruisers away from French ports. They expressed concern at the continued presence of these vessels in forbidden waters, and explained that they had been driven in by the enemy’s men-of-war. Hodge was arrested and thrown into the Bastile, where he was confined several weeks. He was well treated, however, and finally released at the solicitation of the Commissioners. The Reprisal, Lexington, and Dolphin were ordered to be sequestered and detained until sufficient security could be obtained that they would return directly to America. But in regard to captures Vergennes was indisposed to yield too far, and represented to the King that if he should consent “to compel the surrender, without examination, of the prizes that American privateers may bring into his ports, to the owners who may have been despoiled of them, it will have the effect of declaring them and their countrymen to be pirates and sea-robbers.” (Stevens, 706 (August 23, 1777.) The account of England against France was to a slight degree offset by the case of an American sea captain in Cherbourg who was enticed on board a British vessel in the harbor. and then seized and carried off a prisoner (Ibid., 180, 701, 1562, 1574, 1578, 1588, 1591, 1594, 1596, 1597, 1646, 1654, 1694; Wharton, ii, 364, 365, 375, 377, 381, 406; Nav. Inst., xxxvii, 942-947; Adams MSS., William McCreery to Adams, Nantes, September 29, 1777. See Almon, ix, 201-241.)

      After being driven into port at the end of their cruise around Ireland, Captains Wickes and Johnson were employed several weeks in refitting their damaged vessels, the Reprisal at St. Malo and the Lexington at Morlaix. The Dolphin was converted into a packet, for which service she had been purchased in the first place. Stormont’s demands became too insistent to be longer evaded, and in July the commissioners issued peremptory orders for the Reprisal and Lexington to proceed directly to America and to cruise no longer in European waters (See Wickes’s letters in Hale, i, 125-128.) In September the ships were ready for sea. Wickes wished to make the voyage in company with Johnson, but they did not meet, and each sailed forth alone, marked out for disaster. The Reprisal, homeward bound, was lost on the Banks of Newfoundland and all on board, except the cook, it is said, went down with her. Wickes was one of the best officers in the Continental navy and his loss was irreparable. The Lexington, on September 19, two days out of Morlaix, fell in with the British ten-gun cutter Alert, Lieutenant Bazeley, who says in his report: “I gave chace at five in the Morning and came up with him at half past seven, had a close Engagement till ten, when He bore up and made Sail; as soon as I got my Rigging to rights, again gave Chace and came up with him at half past one, renewed the Action till half past two, when he Struck.” (Stevens, 1695.) The Lexington lost seven killed and eleven wounded; the Alert, two killed and three wounded, one of them mortally. According to the log of the Alert, the Lexington carried fourteen four-pounders, two sixes, twelve swivels, and eighty-four men. The Alert carried ten four-pounders, ten swivels, and sixty men. Apparently on the authority of Richard Dale, an officer on the Lexington, it is said that she was short of ammunition, which would account for her striking to an inferior force. Several letters were captured on the Lexington, but the most important papers, including dispatches to Congress, were thrown overboard before the surrender. A report, fortunately untrue, that Captain Johnson had been killed in the action, added to the depressing effect of the ship’s loss upon Franklin and other Americans in France (lbid., 181, 703, 1572,1583, 1654,1677,1685, 1686, 1699,1708; Almon, v, 362; Brit. Adm. Rec., Captains’ Logs, No. 51 (log of Alert); Boston Gazette, January 12,1778; Port Folio, June 1814.

      Captain Hynson’s service in the American cause came to an end in the fall of 1777. During several previous months various plans for sending him to America with cargoes of stores and dispatches had been made by Deane, and plots for intercepting him and turning his employment to the advantage of the British had been laid by Colonel Smith. Hynson was to have sailed as a passenger in March, and Smith made arrangements to have his vessel captured soon after leaving port. Stormont feared that Hynson was too much under Deane’s influence to be trusted. Owing to various circumstances the different plans made during the spring and summer fell through. In October, Deane sent to Hynson a packet containing dispatches for Congress which were to be conveyed to America by a vessel commanded by Captain John Folger of Nantucket, about to sail from Havre. Hynson delivered the parcel to Folger as instructed, having first, however, removed the dispatches, which were turned over to British agents. In due time this transaction became known to Deane, who expressed his opinion of it in appropriate terms in a letter to Hynson. Upon his arrival in America, Folger was suspected of the theft, which was then first discovered, and he was kept in prison about six months. Deane was suspected by Arthur Lee, and this circumstance may have served to protect Hynson. These intercepted letters, together with those captured on the Lexington, gave the British a good deal of information about the American Commissioners’ plans. Shortly before this another vessel with dispatches from Congress to the commissioners had narrowly escaped capture and the dispatches had been thrown overboard (Stevens, 51, 52, 53, 64, 165, 166, 167, 181, 193, 203, 205, 208, 269, 472; Wharton. ii, 468; Lee MSS., October 7, 1777, January 5,12,17, April 18,1778.)

      The Continental sloop Independence, Captain Young, arrived at L’Orient late in September and disposed of two prizes before the English had time to interfere. She was followed shortly after by the Raleigh and Alfred. The Randolph came in December. These vessels do not seem to have cruised in European waters, presumably on account of the necessity, which the French government felt, of pacifying England. Stormont protested against their remaining in port, and they sailed for home early in the following year. The Ranger also arrived in December. Captain Jones had hoped to be the first to bear the glorious tidings of Burgoyne’s surrender, but he was forestalled by a special messenger in a swift packet (Stevens, 204, 274, 1708, 1799, 1808 Wharton, ii, 428.)

      American privateers were very active in foreign waters during the year 1777, and displayed boldness and enterprise in pursuing the enemy close to his own shores. They cruised all about the British Isles, in the North Sea and the Bay of Biscay, and in the West Indies. The British stationed men-of-war in the English Channel for the protection of commerce (Stevens, 47; Almon, v, 144.) The Americans were well rewarded for their activity and sent in many a rich prize. Captain Lee of Newburyport, who had been charged with piracy at Bilbao the year before, sent safely into port a vessel which was said to be the most valuable prize taken during the war up to that time (Boston Gazette, September 8, 1777.) On the other hand, the risks were great, and many of these predatory American cruisers were captured by the British (lbid., August 18, 1777; London Chronicle, April 12, 22, July 22, 26, 31, August 5, 1777; Almon, v, 168.) The Republic, 24, was wrecked on the Orkney Islands and all hands were lost (Boston Gazette, December 22, 1777; Continental Journal, December 25, 1777.) Until summer probably all the American privateers in European seas came out from home with commissions. In December, 1776, the Committee of Secret Correspondence had written to the commissioners in Paris that “Congress approve of armed vessels being fitted out by you on continental account, provided the court of France dislike not the measure, and blank commissions for this purpose will be sent you by the next opportunity. Private ships of war or privateers cannot be admitted where you are, because the securities necessary in such cases to prevent irregular practices cannot be given by the owners and commanders of such privateers.” (Wharton, ii, 231.) But by the following May the views of Congress in this regard had undergone a change, and in response to a request of Franklin and his associates, “commissions for fitting out privateers in France” were sent (Wharton, ii, 249, 314. )

      Every visit of an American armed vessel to a port of France was brought to the attention of the French government by the British ambassador. A letter from Guernsey, June 5, says: “An American privateer of twelve guns came into this road yesterday morning, tacked about on the firing of the guns from the Castle, and just off the Island took a large brig bound for this port, which they have since carried into Cherburgh. She had the impudence to send her boat in the dusk of the evening to a little island off here . . . and unluckily carried off [two officers] who were shooting rabbits for their diversion. Two gentlemen of consequence are gone to Cherburgh to demand them.” (Almon, v, 143.) The prize, being ordered away on her arrival at Cherbourg, was sold outside the harbor (Stevens, 1599.) In July the General Mifflin, a twenty-gun ship from Boston commanded by Captain Daniel McNeill, sailed into the harbor of Brest and saluted the French admiral. After a consultation of the admiral with his officers, this salute was returned and naturally became the subject of complaint and international correspondenee (Almon, v, 203; Stevens, 1599; Wharton, ii, 381.) Vergennes wrote to Noailles, August 16, that the General Mifflin had been allowed to put into Brest on account of a leak and that he had not heard of the salute; and he added that French cruisers were employed in keeping “off all privateers from our latitudes and . . . we have at the mouth of the Garonne a frigate whose only duty is to protect there English commerce.” (Stevens, 1651.) Stormont also complained of the General Mercer and Fanny, which had brought two Jamaicamen into Nantes; these prizes were afterwards given up for having been falsely declared as American vessels (lbid., 1661, 1664, 1801; Wharton, ii, 381, 496.) The privateer Civil Usage took a French ship from England with a Spanish cargo, for which the commissioners apologized to the King of Spain, and in other instances, such as the seizure of a Dutch vessel, irritation was caused (Stevens, 1745; Wharton, ii, 429, 430, 431, 435; Lee MSS., Gardoqui to Lee, October 27, 1777.) Consequently the commissioners sent a circular letter, dated November 21, to the captains of American armed vessels: “Complaints having been brought to us of violences offered by American vessels armed in neutral nations, in seizing vessels belonging to their subjects and carrying their flag and in taking those of the enemy while they were under the protection of the coasts of neutral countries, contrary to the usage and custom of civilized nations; these presents are to request you not to commit any such violations contrary to the right of nations, but to conform yourselves to the express powers in your commissions, which is to limit yourselves to the capture of such vessels at such times as they shall not be under the protection of a port, river, or neutral coast, and confine yourselves only to seizing such ships as shall have on board soldiers, ammunition, provisions, or other contraband merchandizes destined for the British armies and vessels employed against the United States. In all other cases you will respect the rights of neutrality as you would yourselves expect protection, and treat all neutral vessels with the greatest regard and friendship, for the honour of your country and that of yourselves.” (Almon, v, 509. See Appendix IV.)

      The privateer brig Oliver Cromwell, Captain William Cole, of Beverly, carried sixteen guns and a hundred men and cruised in the Bay of Biscay. August 4, 1777, and again on the 6th, she was chased by a sixty-gun ship, and not only escaped, but during the chase captured two brigs, one of which “was formerly an American Privateer called the Montgomery, mounting 18 Guns, taken & carried into Gibralter, Capt. Fibby Commander. She had Several Laidys on Board boun to Lisbon, whom we determined to take on Board us &, together with all our other Prisoners, land them (as they were effectionately desireous of it) on the British Shore. But at 3 P.M. saw 2 Brigs which we bore away for, and not knowing what they might prove to be, ordered Capt. Gray to keep away from us on a westward Course. Out Oars (being a small Breeze) & rowed towards them. They kept near each other & hove too and formed in a Posture of Battle to receive us. Every Thing being prepared for Battle, we advanced; one of them gave several Sho[t], which we took no Notice of till we came nigh enough to give her 2 Broad Sides, She continuing her Fire. By our well directed Fire She was compelled to strike to us & earnestly beg of us to desist our Fire on her. Our Capt. then ordered to bear away for the other Brig, which orders were immediately complyed with. We then charged the other with an incessant Fire for almost 3 Glasses. She returned our Fire for some Time with Spirit, but being disanabled, wore off. The other which fell a Stern & notwithstanding she had fairly struck to us, yet seeing her Partners Fire, she worried us with her Bow Chacers, but did us no Damage. But now our Officers began to think of the Man of War, which had been in Chace all Day & was now reasonably expected to be near up with us; therefore being dark, they rightly judged it best to give over the Assault for this Night, least falling in between three of them we must be obliged to submit, & so altered our Course.” Two days later the Oliver Cromwell fell in with a fleet of British transports convoyed by three men-of-war. August 16 she took three prizes, and a week later was at Bilbao, where she found the Civil Usage and another American privateer. The Cromwell returned to America by a southerly route, and by the middle of October was not far from the Canary Islands. On the 16th she saw a sail which gave chase. “Discovered her to be a Frigate. Now she began to fire at us; many of her Shot went over us. Several struck our Hull & Sails. We hove our Guns overboard & stove some Water & by that means got a little from her.” The next day, “the Man of War in Chace hard by. We Rowed & kept at a Distance.” October 18, “lost sight of the Man of War.” (Essex Inst. Coll., July, 1909; Boston Gazette, December 15, 1777; London Chronicle, September 2, 1777. See further, for movements of American privateers in foreign waters, Boston Gazette, October 6, 13, 1777; London Chronicle, July 24, August 5, 1777; Almon, v, 171, 176; Stevens, 1551, 1650.)

      The American Commissioners in Paris endeavored to carry out the instructions of Congress, which called for ships of the line and other vessels to be built, purchased, or hired in France, but met with difficulties. The French government positively refused to sell or loan eight ships of the line, on the ground that they could not be spared from their navy, as the possibility of trouble with England made any reduction of their defensive force inadmissible at that time. This was a great disappointment, as it had been confidently believed that the British blockade of the American coast could be successfully broken by these heavy ships together with the thirteen Continental frigates, all of which it was hoped would soon be at sea. The project was formed of procuring three ships in Sweden, of fifty or sixty guns each, but no move appears to have been made to carry it through. In addition to purchasing and fitting out the Dolphin and Surprise, whose service was very temporary, and the Revenge, the commissioners provided for three larger vessels during the year 1777. A frigate was built at Nantes, of five hundred and fifty tons and designed to carry twenty-four twelve-pounders, eight fours, and two sixes. This vessel was called the Deane, and when finished was commanded by Captain Samuel Nicholson. While she was under construction the Dolphin was kept at Paimboeuf, according to information furnished to Stormont, serving as a receiving ship, on board of which Nicholson held about seventy men, including a number of Englishmen, ready to be transferred to the Deane when finished; but this was denied by Sartine. Another vessel, somewhat smaller, was purchased, fitted out as a twenty-eight-gun frigate, and called the Queen of France. The commissioners also began the construction in Holland of a forty-gun ship called the Indien, but owing to international complications she was sold to the King of France (Wharton, ii, 176, 177, 230, 277, 284, 285, 433; Stevens, 187, 493, 683, 1658, 1766, 1826; Lee MSS., January 21, 1778, May 2, 1779.)

      Attempts were made to interest other European nations in the American cause and to obtain the privilege of entering their ports, refitting armed vessels in them and disposing of prizes. Arthur Lee visited Spain and Prussia with hopes of securing concessions of this sort, but he found both these powers very desirous of maintaining amicable relations with England. The same cautious attitude marked the policy of Holland. In Spain, however, owing largely to the influence of Gardoqui, powerful though unobserved, the Americans found less difficulty, for a time at least, in refitting their cruisers and disposing of their prizes than in France. The disposition of Spain is indicated in a letter, dated October 17, 1777, from Count Florida Blanca, the Prime Minister, to the French ambassador at Madrid, in which he says that a long duration of the American war would be “highly useful” to Spain and France. “We should sustain the Colonists, both with effectual aid in money and supplies,” and with “prudent advice”; at the same time England should be kept pacified (Stevens, 1725.)

      The situation of the United States from a naval point of view at the end of 1777 was not altogether encouraging. The bright hopes of the year before were in large degree unrealized. Of the thirteen frigates which were to dispute the naval supremacy of England in American waters, or at least to keep open some of the principal harbors and bays, only four, the Hancock, Boston, Raleigh, and Randolph had yet got to sea; and one of these, the Hancock, had been taken by the enemy. Of the remaining nine, the Delaware, together with several smaller vessels, had been lost in the unsuccessful defense of the Delaware River. Philadelphia in addition to New York had fallen into the hands of the enemy, whose occupation of these two cities made impossible the escape of four other frigates; in consequence of which, two of these vessels, the Congress and Montgomery in the Hudson, had already been destroyed in October, while the Washington and Effingham in the Delaware were awaiting the same fate. This still leaves four, of which the Warren and Providence were blockaded in Narragansett Bay and the Virginia in the Chesapeake, while the Trumbull continued to lie in the Connecticut River, unable to pass over the bar. Of the more important smaller Continental vessels, the Andrew Doria had been destroyed in the Delaware River, the Cabot and Lexington had been captured by the enemy, and the Reprisal had been lost at sea. The only naval vessel captured during the year, the frigate Fox, had been retaken by the British.

      To offset, though only partially, these heavy losses, the navy had made a few acquisitions. In addition to the frigates just mentioned and the vessels procured in Europe, the Ranger and sloop Surprise (Not to be confounded with Conyngham’s lugger Surprise) were in active service, and a brigantine called the Resistance went into commission about the end of the year. Of two of the three ships of the line authorized by Congress in 1776, something is learned from information furnished to Admiral Howe by a prisoner at Boston, who says “that he saw the Keel and Floor-Timbers laid for a 74 Gun Ship, building at North End in Boston, The Scantlings whereof appeared scarce sufficient for a Frigate; And only 12 Men were at work upon her. He was informed another Ship of the same Class [the America] was building at Portsmouth in New Hampshire, but did not hear any further particulars concerning her. By another person released from Portsmouth and arrived about the same time at New York, this last Ship is said to be covered in as high as the Lower Deck and proposed to be finished in next May.” (Brit. Adm. Rec., A. D. 488. Intelligence received December 25,1777.) Work on the Boston seventy-four was probably soon abandoned, and the third ship of this class, which was to have been built at Philadelphia, may never have been begun. Sixty-nine letters of marque were issued to private vessels of war by the Continental Congress in 1777 and probably a still larger number of privateers were commissioned by the individual states; and many were fitted out in the West Indies.

      In 1777 the British navy had in commission two hundred and fourteen vessels, besides ships in ordinary and under repair, the whole manned by forty-five thousand seamen and marines. It is difficult to state the exact force in American waters. The figures furnished by Admiral Howe’s returns and by other authorities vary slightly and of course the number of ships was changing from time to time. There were about eighty vessels of all classes on the North American Station in 1777. About half the fleet consisted of frigates and rather less than a quarter of ships mounting sixty-four, fifty or forty-four guns, the rest being sloops of war and smaller vessels. There was also a squadron at Newfoundland and a fleet of nearly twenty in the West Indies. Altogether, therefore, more than a hundred vessels were stationed in American waters. Many privateers were sent out of New York (Brit. Adm. Rec., A. D. 487, January 15, No. 4, June 8, 1777, No. 30: Disposition of His Majesty’s Ships and Vessels in North America; Schomberg, i, 436, iv, 324-331; Beatson, iv, 291.)

      Although the Americans inflicted so little injury upon the British navy, the activity of some of the smaller Continental cruisers and of the state navies and numerous privateers had dealt a heavy blow at English commerce. Four hundred and sixty-four vessels were taken from the British during the year 1777, of which seventy-two were recaptured, twelve destroyed, and nine released (Almon, v, 76, 108, 405, 513, vi, 39; Clark, i, 62, ii, 169. These lists are doubtless inaccurate and incomplete.) The Continental navy alone made over sixty captures of merchantmen (Neeser, ii, 286.) The British may have made about as many captures as the Americans, but doubtless a large proportion of their prizes were small coasting vessels of little value (Almon, v, 168, 231; London Chronicle, July 15, 1777; Annual Register, xxi (1778), 36. The lists cover only a part of the year, See table of captures in Clowes, iii, 396, evidently based on incomplete data.) It is impossible from available data to make a correct statement of actual or comparative losses by capture.

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