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passed, that after the expiration of six months (from the 20th July, 1775) all the ports of the said colonies were declared to be thenceforth open to the ships of every state in Europe that would admit and protect the commerce of the colonies.*
Although by the above articles the colonists usurped the rights of sovereignty with regard to peace and war, the entering into alliances, the appointment of civil and military officers, &c., still their connection with Great Britain was maintained, and no de facto independent government was established.
On the 12th June, 1775, General Gage issued a proclamation, by which a pardon was offered in the King's name to all those who should forthwith lay down their arms, threatening the treatment of rebels and traitors to all those who did not accept the proffered pardon. This proclamation was looked upon as the preliminary to immediate action, and on the 17th June hostilities commenced between the colonists and royal troops in the neighborhood of Charlestown.
In July, 1775, the confederacy assumed the appellation of the Thirteen United Colonies, and General Washington was appointed to the command of the army of the confederation. Hostilities were carried on not only in the colonies, but Canada was also invaded by the colonial forces.
· The first act of the Congress for the formation of a navy was promulgated on the 13th October, 1775, when two vessels were ordered to be armed, and on the 30th of the same month two more armed vessels were ordered to be fitted for sea. On the 25th November, 1775, resolutions were passed, directing seizures and capture under commissions obtained from the Congress, together with the condemnation of British vessels employed in a hostile manner against the colonies; the mode of trial and of condemnation was pointed out, and the shares of the prizes were apportioned. On the 28th November, 1775, Congress adopted rules for the regulation of the navy of the United Colonies. On the 13th December, a report was sanctioned for fitting out a naval armament, to consist in the whole of thirteen ships. On the 22d December, officers were appointed to command the armed vessels.
On the 6th January, 1776, a regulation was adopted relative to the division of prizes and prize money taken by armed vessels.
On the 234 March, 1776, resolutions were adopted authorizing the fitting out of private armed vessels, to cruise against the enemies of the United Colonies.
On the 2d April, 1776, the form of a commission for private armed
manders of private armed vessels were considered and adopted. They authorized the capture of all ships and other vessels belonging to the inhabitants of Great Britain on the high seas, or between high-water and lowwater marks, except vessels bringing persons who intended to reside and settle in the United Colonies.
The whole of these laws were promulgated previously to the final Declaration of Independence issued on the 4th July, 1776.
In the mean time the different powers of Europe, notwithstanding their declarations of neutrality in the conflict between Great Britain and her colonies, more particularly France, Spain, and Holland, almost openly expressed their sympathy with the cause of colonists, and aided them with arms and money, and allowed the fitting out of ships, the re
* The trade of the British colonies, at this period, was carried on solely by British and colonial shipping.
pairs and armaments of privateers in their ports, even previously to the receipt of the Declaration of Independence of the colonies, signed on the 4th July, 1776; the letter from the American committee of secret correspondence to Mr. Silas Deane, their agent in Paris, inclosing the declaration of independency, with instructions to make it known to the powers of Europe, not being received until the 7th of November, 1776.
In March, 1776, Mr. S. Deane had been sent to France by the committee of secret correspondence of America * with instructions to communicate, in the character of a mercbant, with M. de Vergennes, the French minister for foreign affairs, and to procure through the assistance of that government a supply of clothing and arms for 25,000 men. Mr. Deane was provided with letters of introduction addressed to various French subjects interested in the success of the colonists. Already, previously to the arrival of Mr. Deane, the French minister for foreign affairs had obtained authority from the King to furnish “un million de livres pour le service des colonies Anglaises." A. M. de Beaumarchais was secretly charged with the disposal of this money for the benefit of the colonies.
The following particulars regarding the movements of the American ships of war subsequently to the Declaration of Independence of the colonies have been obtained principally from the 66 History of the United States Navy," by Fenimore Cooper, the authenticity of which is, however, sufficiently borne out on reference to the official correspondence of that period.
The Reprisal was the first American man-of-war that ever showed herself in Europe. She quitted America not long after the Declaration of Independence, and appeared in France in the autumn of 1776, bringing in with her several English prizes. A few privateers had preceded her, and slight difficulties had occurred in relation to some of their prizest that had gone into Spain; but it is believed that these were the first English captured ships that had entered France since the commencement of the American Revolution. The English ambassador complained of this infraction of the treaty between the two countries, but means were found to dispose of the prizes without detection, The Reprisal haying refitted, soon sailed toward the bay of Biscay on another cruise. Here she took several English vessels, and among the rest a King's packet that plied between Falmouth and Lisbon. When the cruise was terminated, Captain Wickes went into Nantes, taking his prizes with him. This proceeding caused further representations to be made by the British ambassador, which resulted in the prizes being ordered to quit France. The Reprisal, however, was allowed to remain, in consequence of her leaky state. The prizes were taken into the offing and sold to French purchasers.
In April, 1777, the Lexington arrived, and the old difficulties were renewed. The American commissioners in Paris, who had been authorized by their government to equip vessels, appoint officers, and do other matters to annoy the enemy, now planned a cruise that surpassed anything of the sort that had yet been done in Europe under the American flag. Captain Wickes was directed to proceed to sea with his own vessel (the
* This committee was established by the colonists on the 29th November, 1775, to correspond with the friends of America in other countries. The committee was denominated the “ Committee of Secret Correspondence," and continued in operation till April 17, 1777, when the name was changed to that of the - Committee of Foreign Affairs." On the appointment of a Secretary of Foreign Affairs, on the 10th of August, 1781, the committee was dissolved, and the foreign correspondence from that time went through the hands of the Secretary. # See reference to policy of Spain, page 596.
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Reprisal) and the Lexington, and to go directly off Ireland, in order to intercept a convoy of linen ships that was expected to sail about that time. The Dolphin, a cutter which had been purchased and fitted out in France, was also directed to join the squadron. .
1777, and sailed round the coast of Ireland, capturing and destroying many ships, and afterwards returned to France.
The boldness and success of this cruise produced much sensation in England, and the French government was driven to the necessity of either entirely throwing aside the mask, or of taking some more decided steps in relation to these cruisers. Not being prepared for war, it resorted to the latter expedient. The Reprisal and Lexington were ordered to be seized and held until security was given that they would quit the European seas, while the prizes were ordered to quit France without delay. The latter were accordingly taken outside the port and disposed of to French merchants in the same informal manner as in the previous cases, and the vessels of war prepared to return to America.
While the American commissioners (Dr. Franklin and Silas Deane) were directing the movements of Captain Wickes in the manner that has been described, they were not idle in other quarters. A small frigate was building at Nantes on their account, and an agent was sent by them to Dover, where he purchased a fast-sailing English-built cutter, and had her carried across to Dunkirk. Here she was privately equipped as a cruiser, and named the Surprise, and Captain G. Conyngham was appointed to command her, by filling up a blank commission from John Hancock, the president of the Congress. This commission was dated March 1, 1777. Having obtained his officers and crew in Dunkirk, Captain Conyngham sailed on a cruise about the 1st May, and on the 7th he captured the Harwich packet Prince of Orange, with which he returned to Dunkirk.
This proceeding of the Surprise called forth the earnest remonstrance of the English ambassador, and Captain Conyngham and his crew were imprisoned, the cutter seized, and the prizes liberated. The commission of Captain Conyngham was taken from him and sent to Versailles.
Notwithstanding these proceedings, the American coin missioners purchased and fitted out another cutter at Dunkirk, which was called the Revenge, and means were found to liberate Captain Conynghain and his people, to whom a new commission was given, doubtless one of those in blank which had been confided to the commissioners to fill at their discretion.
The Revenge, under the command of Captain Conyngham, sailed from Dunkirk on the 18th July, 1777, and captured many British vessels, some of which were destroyed, but the most valuable were sent to Spain.
After a cruise of almost unprecedented success as far as injury to British merchants was concerned, the Revenge went into Ferrol, refitted, and finally sailed for the American seas.
The characters of the Surprise and Revenge, says Fenimore Cooper, appear never to have been properly understood. In all the accounts of the day, these vessels were spoken of as being privateers authorized to act by the commissioners in Paris. That the two vessels commanded by Captain Conyngham were public vessels, however, is proved in a variety of ways. Like the Dolphin, the Surprise and Revenge were bought and equipped by agents of the diplomatic commissioners of the United States.
The sensation produced among British merchants by the different
cruises in the European seas was very great; Mr. Deane,* one of the American agents in Paris, stating that it had caused insurance to rise, and even deterred British merchants from shipping goods in English bottoms, so that in a few weeks forty sail of French ships were loading in the Thames on freight.
Insurances in some instances rose as high as twenty-five per cent., and for a short period ten per cent. was asked between Dover and Calais..
In 1776 the American commissioners in Paris, with a view to increase the naval force of the country, caused a frigate of extraordinary size and of peculiar armament and construction for that period to be laid down at Amsterdam. This ship had the keel and sides of a two-decker, though frigate-built, and her main deck armament was intended to consist of 32-pounders. She was named the Indian. In consequence, however, of the apprehension of the Dutch government, and the jealousy of that of England, the American Cougress was induced to make an offering of the Indian to Louis XVI, and she was equipped and got ready for sea as a French vessel of war.
This vessel subsequently entered the American service under the following circumstances, and was finally captured after having destroyed a large amount of British shipping.
The following are the circumstances related by Cooper:
In 1779 Commodore Gillon was sent to Europe by the State of Caro: lina, provided with large amounts of colonial produce, for the purpose of raising funds to purchase ships of war for the American navy. Commodore Gillon, after many unsuccessful attempts to obtain the class of ships he required, finally went to Amsterdam, where he found the Indiail, which vessel, as previously mentioned, had been laid down by the American commissioners, and subsequently presented to France. She had the dimensions of a small seventy-four, but was a frigate in construction, carrying an armament of twenty-eight thirty-six's on her gun deck. This ship, though strictly the property of France, had been lent by Louis XVI to the Duke of Luxemburg, who hired her to the State of South Carolina for three years on condition that the State would insure her, sail her at its own expense, and render to her owner one fourth of the proceeds of her prizes. Under this singular compact the ship, which was named the South Carolina for the occasion, got out of Amsterdam in 1781, and made a successful cruise in the narrow seas, sending her prizes into Spain. She afterwards sailed for America, capturing ten sail, with which she went into the Havana.
Cooper states that most of the vessels of South Carolina were purchased, and its seamen were principally obtained, from places out of its limits; Commodore Gillon and Captain Joyner being both natives of Holland.
Having thus given an outline of the proceedings of the American vessels of war in Europe, it will be interesting to refer to the diplomatic correspondence, and also to that of the American commissioners in Paris.
On the 18th of August, 1776, Mr. Silas Deane, who, as before stated, had been sent to Paris as the agent of the revolted colonies, and who had arrived in that city about the beginning of July, reported the result of his secret interviews with the French minister for foreign affairs. M. de Vergennes assured Mr. Deane that the importance of American com. merce was well known, and that no country could so well supply the colonies and receive their produce as France, for which reason the court
* This letter contains an interesting report on the proceedings of the American cruis ers and privateers in France and Spain since their first arrival in the European seas.
had ordered their ports to be kept open and equally free to America as to Britain. · With regard to the shipment of arms, M. de Vergennes stated that, considering the good understanding between the two courts of Versailles and London, they could not openly encourage the shipment of warlike stores, but no obstruction of any kind would be given; if there should, as the custom-houses were not fully in their secrets in the matter, such obstructions would be removed on the first application.
So satisfied was Mr. Deane with the result of his intercourse with the French minister, that he stated that he had hopes of obtaining liberty for the armed vessels of the United Colonies to dispose of their prizes in the ports of France, and also for the arming and fitting out of vessels of war from thence. He further urged that a few American cruisers should be sent to the French coast, where they would do very well, as they would find protection in the harbors of the kingdom. Coming ostensibly for the purpose of commerce, he stated no questions would be asked, and they might wait until opportunity offered, and then strike something to the purpose. . On the 8th October, 1776, Mr. Deane stated that the French court, as well as other courts in Europe, had expected that the declaration of independence would be formally communicated to them. He also urged the necessity of eight or ten American frigates being collected at Bordeaux, where they might bave leisure to refit and procure supplies. The appearance of American cruisers in Europe had, he stated, amazed the British merchants, and that insurance would now be on the war establishment; and as the American vessels of war would be protected in the ports of France and Spain, the whole of the British commerce would be exposed. He also prayed that the committee would forward him blank commissions, or a power to grant commissions to ships of war, as there were many persons wishing for an opportunity for using them in this way. Mr. Deane made frequent applications for blank commissions, which were subsequently forwarded to the American ministers in Paris in December, 1776.
The first country which appears to have publicly acknowledged the vessels of the United States as being entitled to belligerent rights was Spain, under the following circumstances:
In September, 1776, Captain Lee, commanding the American vessel Hawke, who on his passage from America had captured some valuable British vessels, went into Bilbao, not with the prizes, but with the captains and crews of the captured vessels. The British consul at Bilbao and the captains of the vessels protested, and complained against Captain Lee as a pirate, on which his vessel was detained, and his commission, &c., sent to Madrid by the Spanish authorities.
On the 7th of October, 1776, the Spanish government directed the governor of Bilbao to release the. Hawke, and declared 66 that in consequence of the amity subsisting between his Catholic Majesty and the King of Great Britain, he should maintain a perfect neutrality during the war; that he should not give any aid to the colonists; but should not deny their being admitted into any ports of his dominions while they conformed to the laws of the country.”
On the 26th of September, 1776, commissioners were appointed by the American Congress for transacting the business of the United States at the court of France. The persons chosen were Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, and Thomas Jefferson; the latter was subsequently replaced by Arthur Lee. The three commissioners met in Paris about the middle of December, where they continued to reside, chiefly employed in procuring military supplies and money for the United States, till they signed