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Letter from the Committee of Secret Correspondence to the Commissioners in France



Philadelphia, October 24, 1776.

GENTLEMEN: The Congress having committed to our charge and management their ship-of-war called the Reprisal, commanded by Lambert Wickes, Esq˙, carrying sixteen six pounders, and about one hundred and twenty men, we have allotted her to carry Doctor Franklin to France, and directed Captain Wickes to proceed to the


Port of Nantes, where the Doctor will land, and from thence proceed to Paris; and he will either carry with him or send forward this letter by express, as to him may then appear best. The Reprisal is a fast-sailing ship, and Captain Wickes has already done honour in action to the American flag. We have therefore ordered him to land at Nantes some indigo he has on board, take in refreshments, stores, provisions, or other necessaries he may want, and immediately to proceed on a cruise against our enemies, and we think he will not be long before he meets with a sufficient number of prizes. We have directed him to send them into such of the French ports as are most convenient, addressing them at Dunkirk, to Messrs˙ P˙ Stival & Son; at Havre-de-Grace, to Mr˙ Andrew Limozen; at Bordeaux, to Messrs˙ Samuel & J˙ H˙ Delap; at Nantes, to Messrs˙ Pliarne, Penet & Co.; and at any other ports in France, to such persons as you may appoint to receive them. When he finishes his cruise he will call in at Nantes, Bordeaux, or Brest, for your orders and advices, which we beg you will have ready for him, lodged at those places.

In consequence of this plan for the Reprisals cruise, 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 those resolutions of the Congress; show them the justice and equity of this proceeding, and surely they cannot, they will not, refuse the protection of their ports to American ships-of-war, privateers, and prizes, If your application on this head is crowned with success, try any other which it is their interest to grant: that is, to obtain leave to make sale of those prizes and their cargoes, or any part thereof that may be suitable for that country. If you succeed in this also, you must 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; and for this purpose we will report to Congress some resolves vesting you with authority to make such appointment, and authorizing such Judge to condemn without a jury, as required here. If these resolves are agreed to by Congress, they shall be immediately transmitted to you. If they are not, that plan must drop, and the prizes must all proceed for America for condemnation. You can in the mean time consult the Ministry whether they will permit such courts in France, and in the French West-India Islands.

If protection is granted to our cruisers and their prizes, you will immediately procure proper orders to be sent to the officers of all their ports on this subject, and write yourselves to those houses we have named at the several ports, that the prizes are to remain for Captain Wickes' s further orders. Also lodge such orders with proper persons at the other ports in France. On the contrary, if the prizes are not to be protected in their ports, then give immediate notice to all these houses, and proper persons at the other ports, to furnish the prizes that Captain Wickes, of the Reprisal, may send into their port, with any necessaries the prize-master may judge they stand in need of, and to order him to make the best of his way with the prize to the first safe port he can make in the United States of America. Lodge advice also for Captain Wickes at Bordeaux, Brest, and Nantes, whether his prizes are to be protected in port or not, and whether or not any sales will be permitted. If they are protected, he can take his own time to collect and bring them home under his own convoy. If any sale is permitted, he can sell all perishable commodities and vessels unfit for so long a voyage as to this coast. If no protection for prizes, they will come away by your orders, and need not stay for his. And if they deny protection to our cruisers themselves, he will only remain in port for your advices, and to obtain such supplies as may be necessary.

We have recommended Captain Wickes to take on board his own ship as many valuable commodities as he can, if successful; but should he be unsuccessful in cruising, then Messrs˙ Pliarne, Penet & Co˙ may put some goods on board when he is coming away.

You will readily see the tendency these measures have;


and as their consequences may be very important, so we hope your attention to them will be immediate and constant, whilst necessary.

Captain Wickes is a worthy man, and as such we recommend him; and should he have the misfortune to be taken, or meet with any other misfortune, we hope you will adopt measures for his relief. He will treat prisoners with humanity, and we are convinced his conduct will do honour to his appointment.

We have the honour to be, gentlemen, your most obedient and most humble servants.