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Beaumarchais Contract / New Hampshire Privateer Ship Amphitrite





L’Amphitrite [Amphitrite]
Beaumarchais Contract Ship

Nicholas Fautrel

Secret Committee Ship

[October] 1776-

New Hampshire Privateer Ship


Commissioned/First Date:

[October] 1776

Out of Service/Cause:


Owners:

John Joseph de Monthieu


Tonnage:

480


Battery:

Date Reported:13 June 1777

Number/Caliber  Weight        Broadside

24

Total: 24 cannon/

Broadside: 12 cannon

Swivels:


Crew:

161 [total]


Description:


Officers:


Cruises:

(1) Havre-de-Gras, France to L’Orient, France, 14 December 1776-4 January 1777

(2) L’Orient, France to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 24 January 1777-20 April 1777

(3) Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Charleston, South Carolina, [July] 1777-[August] 1777

(4) Charleston, South Carolina to L’Orient, France, [October] 1777-[10] November 1777


Prizes:


Actions:


Comments:



On 15 October 1776, Pierre-Augustin, Caron de Beaumarchais, the ostensible owner of the “commercial” firm of  Rodrigue Hortalez et Cie [the front organization for the furnishing of war supplies to the Americans]; the American representative in France, Silas Deane, and one John Joseph de Monthieu, signed a contract for the supply of shipping. De Monthieu agreed to furnish 1600 tons of shipping “on account of the thirteen United Colonies of north america . . .” De Monthieu rented the vessels at 200 livres per ton, with half to be paid in advance. Additional charges applied to passengers. The lading was to be made by Rodrique Hortalez et Cie and by the Continental Congress. It was expressly agreed that the risk of being chased, driven ashore, or capture were to be compensated by the United States. The vessels were to be ready to depart in November and December 1776.1 The purchase of about eight vessels was contemplated at this time.2


One of these vessels was L’Amphitrite, a large (480-ton) ship (Nicholas Fautrel)3 taken up at Havre de Gras, France.4 L’Amphitrite was thus French-owned and French-flagged. L’Amphitrite was armed with twenty5 or twenty-four guns.6 L’Amphitrite fitted out  under the care of one D’Eyries.7 She was being hove down and cleaned there on 12 November 1776.8


Beaumarchais put an enormous quantity of munitions aboard this ship. The following items are only examples, taken from the invoice, which Beaumarchais forwarded by one of the passengers in L’Amphitrire: 52 brass field pieces, with carriages; 20160 4-pound cannon balls, 9000 grenades, 24000 pounds of lead balls, several thousand entrenching tools, 6132 muskets, 255000 gun flints, musket balls, grape shot, bales of tents, and 12000 pounds of gunpowder.9 In addition it appears that cloth and clothing for 12000 men may have been added later.10


Also aboard L’Amphitrite were a number of French officers en route to America, to take service with the Continental Army. The account of the passengers vary, but included Philippe-Charles-Jean-Baptiste Tronson du Coudray, a French artillery officer who was to be a Major General in the Continental Army,11 “Colonel” Thomas Conway12 and up to twenty-two other officers, in addition to artificers and workmen.13 A British intelligence report indicates that thirty-nine officers and fifty-six private artillerymen went out as passengers.14


L’Amphitrite sailed from there at 120015 on 14 December 1776.16 Two days after L’Amphitrite’s departure orders arrived from court to stop her from sailing.17 Unfortunately, after about three weeks at sea, L’Amphitite was forced to return to France, putting in at L’Orient about 4 January 1777.18 The cause of the problem was the large number of passengers and the desire of du Coudray to see Benjamin Franklin. There was a good deal of quarreling aboard with each party blaming the other for the delays.19


At L’Orient, orders were received from the French court, forbidding the ship to sail.  Beaumarchais quickly informed Silas Deane (5 January) of her return and the new orders from court forbidding her to proceed again. “Your Chagrin and vexation on this Event, cannot exceed Mine,” wrote the American Commissioner Silas Deane to Beaumarchais on 6 January. Deane noted that the cargo of L’Amphitite “would be a Capital Supply in the present destitute situation of Our Army in America.” He consoled Beaumarchais with the thought that when the “Noise” caused by the officers aboard the ship had died down, this ship might sail again.20


The next day (7 January) Deane appealed to Conrad Alexandre Gérard, an intermediary with the French court, to have the order forbidding the sailing of L’Amphitrite lifted. Deane pointed out that shipping the supplies in American owned vessels was not possible and that “every delay is in a greater or less degree fatal to the American cause.”21 This complaint was followed up by a memoir from the American Commissioners in France. The difficulty now found was that the French captains were forced to give security that they would only land these cargos in French ports. The American Commissioners were aware of the political reasons for such security, but requested an indemnity for the captains who did land the military stores in ports of the United States.22


Meanwhile, at L’Orient, Captain Lambert Wickes of the Continental Navy went aboard L’Amphitrite to examine into her situation, at the request of Philippe-Charles-Jean-Baptiste Tronson du Coudray, the leader of the French contingent going out as passengers, and who was to be appointed as a Major General in the Continental Army. Wickes examined the ship before 11 January. He reported that it was probably a good thing that she had returned, for she was so “Lumbered & Short of provision” and needed to be re-supplied. Wickes advised du Coudray “to Leave Some of his most Useless officers behind Which he Did . . . he had Dischargd 12 or 13 & Sent the Rest forward in the Ship . . .” L’Amphitrite was watered and supplied and then du Coudray sent her off, fearing she would be stopped. Wickes noted that he had performed this business at the request of the general, who had gone to Nantes and might go to Paris before he left.23 Affairs aboard L’Amphitrite quieted considerably after du Coudray left the ship.


Fautrel, presumably reassured by Beaumarchais,  had signed a bond on 10 January stipulating that he was to sail directly to Port-au-Prince, Saint-Domingue, and upon arrival, to present himself to the governor of the colony.24 L’Amphitrite was still in Port Louis on 13 January.25 She was still there two days later, detained by adverse winds. A rumor was circulating that she would be detained yet again.26 The American Commissioners heard that she had sailed on 15 January, but she had not.27 L’Amphitrite was now wind bound and was still at L’Orient on that date.28 Finally, at 0700 on 24 January, L’Amphitite sailed, bound for America.29


Having finally gotten away from France, Fautrel now had to manufacture an excuse not to go to Saint-Domingue. On 9 February 1777, Fautrel had documents signed by his passengers showing reasons to sail for Boston. More testimony was signed by the officers and passengers on 21 March.30 Rumors of her sailing were current in informed circles in America before she arrived.31 Fautrel and his passengers had a tedious, long passage of eighty-five days,32 arriving at Portsmouth, New Hampshire on 20 April 1777.33 The supplies were unloaded and shipped off to Boston by land. The British soon learned of the arrival and that L’Amphitrite was to sail to Virginia or the Carolinas to take on a cargo for Bordeaux.34 Beaumarchais received word of her safe arrival on 1 July 1777.35


The arrival of L’Amphitrite at Portsmouth seemed to offer an opportunity to use the talents of Captain John Paul Jones, as well as to use the opportunity of an available armed ship, to annoy the British. On 9 May 1777 Captain John Paul Jones was ordered, by the Secret Committee of the Continental Congress, to proceed to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Nicholas Fautrel, the captain of the French ship, the Secret Committee told Jones, was a “Gentleman that has acquitted himself honorably of the Charge he undertook . . .” L’Amphitrite was to proceed to Charleston, South Carolina to load with rice and then sail to France. The Secret Committee had proposed to Fautrel that Jones “Should go in her this Voyage taking your Commission and Appearing or Acting on Suitable Occasions as the Commander.” The Secret Committee authorized Jones to recruit enough men to man such prizes as were captured on the way. The number of men should be sufficient to defend L’Amphitrite against any “Armed Merchantman,” but she was still designed to lade a cargo at South Carolina and too much room could not be given up to water and provisions. Continental Agent John Langdon would issue warrants for petty officers, if needed, and would put aboard provisions for the American crew. Fautrel would supply the French crew. Jones was to give all his assistance to get this ship away as soon as possible. As for the prizes, the French crew, Fautrel, and the owners of L’Amphitrite were to have one third of their value, and the United States and Jones and his men would divide the other two thirds. “You will readily see the propriety and Necessity of preserving A Strict harmony and friendship with Monsr Fautrel . . .” observed the Secret Committee to Jones. The purpose of this peculiar arrangement was to get Jones to France where he and his crew would be transferred to a “Fine Frigate” procured by the American Commissioners in France and to make use of L’Amphitrite’s “Guns & men to make a Cruizing Voyage to France” to do some “Mischief to our Enemies and some good for yourself and the Country you have engaged to Serve.” Jones received these orders at Boston on 22 May.36


The Secret Committee wrote to John Langdon the same day, informing him that orders had been given for the disposition of L’Amphitrite’s cargo. Fautrel had been ordered by the Secret Committee to proceed to Charleston to load with rice and indigo. Langdon was to assist Fautrel in getting the ship away, providing money and stores if necessary. The Secret Committee then advised Langdon of the plan to put Jones aboard and thought that Fautrel would “gladly embrace the offer . . .” Blank warrants were sent to Langdon. He was advised to charge expenses for Jones and his men to the Marine Committee, and Fautrel’s expenses to the Secret Committee. If Fautrel objected to his share of the prizes, Langdon was authorized to increase the French share to one half.37 The American Commissioners in France were also advised that Jones was coming over in L’Amphitrite.38


There was a further difficulty, although an interesting one. Jones’s commission as a Captain in the Continental Navy was for a particular vessel, presumably the sloop Providence. On 9 May the Marine Committee issued him a new one “whereby tou are appointed a Captain in our Navy and of course may command any Ship in the service.” That is to say Jones was not assigned to any particular ship or vessel. He was ordered to follow the instructions of the Secret Committee.39


Jones plunged into preparations for the voyage on L’Amphitrite. He sent off one Louis Daniel Charrier to recruit for the American crew for the ship,40 Jones then set out for Portsmouth. Not everyone was pleased with this scheme. William Whipple, writing to John Langdon, on 10 May, said “Inter nos I have not a very high opinion of the plan of sending Capt Jones in her, however if it succeeds I shall be very agreeably disappointed.” Whipple need not have worried, for the French captain Fautrel had yet to be consulted on this bizarre plot.


When Jones arrived at Portsmouth, around the first of June 1777,  he discovered that Fautrel “absolutely refused to permit my Proceeding with him in any other Character than as a Passenger, as he thinks it will be a dishonor to the French Flag to suffer an American Commission to supersede his . . .” Furthermore, Fautrel declined to sail for South Carolina, except on “Conditions such as Colo Langdon the Agent doth not think himself Authorized to Insure.”41 Jones reported this outcome in a letter to the American Commissioners in France on 3 June. Disappointed in this venture, Jones returned to Boston about 7 or 8 June.42


On 13 June L’Amphitrite, as the Amphitrite, was issued a privateer commission by New Hampshire. In the commission, Fautrel was listed as a resident of Portsmouth. The ship is listed as being armed with twenty-four guns and as having a crew of 160 men. The $10000 bond was signed by Fautrel, Langdon, and George Wentworth of Portsmouth. The owner of the ship is listed as John Langdon.43 This commission was apparently taken out to give Fautrel a legal standing to take prizes in L’Amphitrie’s proposed voyage to the south.


From Portsmouth Fautrel and L’Amphitrite sailed down to Charleston, South Carolina and picked up a cargo of rice and indigo.44 After lading, Fautrel sailed for France, arriving at L’Orient a few days before 14 November 1777, when her arrival was reported to Sartine, the French Minister of Marine by the Commissary of Marine at L’Orient.45 Fautrel quickly discovered that he was personally in very hot, and very deep, water.


First, there was the matter of sailing to America. Charles Pierre Gonet, the Commissary of Marine at L’Orient, in his report to Sartine, noted that, before he had sailed Fautrel had to sign a bond to sail directly to Port-au-Prince, Saint-Domingue, and upon arrival, to present himself to the governor of the colony. Of course Fautrel had not done this. Fautrel had documents signed by his passengers showing reasons to sail for Boston. More testimony signed by the officers and passengers was dated on 21 March 1777. Fautrel showed these documents to Gonet who sent them to Sartine. These documents did not convince Sartine. In his reply to Gonet, on 22 November 1777, Sartine said they showed “the disobedience of the captain who voluntarily set course for Boston with the advice and consent of these same officers and passengers.” Sartine decided such disobedience could not remain unpunished, and ordered Gonet to arrest Fautrel and put him in prison. A seemingly grim injunction followed: “You will take steps so that the captain be kept in prison in safety, you will interrogate him to find out the truth, and you will show him your dissatisfaction at his disobedience.”46


On 25 November Sartine sent more instructions to Gonet. He had now received the orders to arrest Fautrel and was to do so. He was to be questioned on three points: (1) why he changed the destination of his ship; (2) why he took on a cargo of rice and indigo and why he did not go the Chesapeake Bay to take on a cargo of tobacco “a capital point upon which we must enlarge;” (3) what was the news and condition of the Americans at the time of his departure; (4) anything about his voyage and the non-execution of his instructions. Sartine was to be informed. Finally, there is this notation to Gonet: “You understand well that this questioning ought not to be judicial.” Gonet received these instructions on 1 December 1777.47


Gonet carried out his instructions. Fautrel was arrested, put in prison, and questioned. Gonet reported to Sartine on 1 December, with Fautrel’s answers. Sartine reported these to the king, who was “pleased to accept his justification” and ordered him released. Sartine passed this order for release along to Gonet on 9 December. That some part of this procedure was a foregone conclusion may be determined by a letter of Sartine to Gonet on 2 December, before Fautrel’s answers can have been received. Gonet had been told to inform Fautrel that “nothing will excuse him from carrying out the precise orders which you will have given him before his departure.”48


The question remains as to why Fautrel was jailed. It could have been as a cover to forestall British protests, but, by December 1777, the British had a lot more to protest about. If Fautrel was jailed for disobeying orders, it might be well to ask which set of orders? Was it the failure to proceed to Port-au-Prince, or the failure to load tobacco in Virginia?


On 26 November the American Commissioners in France wrote to Bérard Frères & Co. on the subject of the Amphitrite’s return cargo. He had notified the Commissioners on 17 November. He was to follow their instructions. The ship was at the order of Peltier, and the “sooner he has her the better.”49 By 4 December 1777, Amphitrite was reported to be laying in the outer road of L”Orient. She had a valuable cargo aboard and was said to be proceeding to Nantes, but possibly to St. Malo.50



1 NDAR, “Contract between John Joseph de Monthieu, Roderique Hortalez et Cie, and Silas Deane,” VII, 691-692

2 NDAR, “Marquis de Grimaldi to Count de Aranda,” VII, 707 and 707-708 note

3 NDAR, “Beaumarchais to the Continental Congress,” VIII, 622 and 622-623 note

4 NDAR, “Beaumarchais to the Continental Congress,” VIII, 622 and 622-623 note

5 NDAR, “Copy of a Letter from Captain Brisbane of His Maj’s Ship Flora, dated at Halifax the 12th of July 1777 to the Rt Honble Lord Visct Howe,” IX, 275; “Secret Committee of the Continental Congress to Captain John Paul Jones,” VIII, 937-939

6 NDAR, “Copy of a Letter from Captain Brisbane of His Maj’s Ship Flora, dated at Halifax the 12th of July 1777 to the Rt Honble Lord Visct Howe,” IX, 275

7 NDAR, “Statement concerning the Employment of Lieut. Col. Edward Smith with regard to Captain Hynson and a Sketch of the Information obtained.,” VIII, 725-730

8 NDAR, “Beaumarchais to Vergennes,” VII, 736-737 and 737 note

9 NDAR, “Beaumarchais to the Continental Congress,” VIII, 622 and 622-623 note. The full invoice is reprinted here.

10 For American listings of the cargo, see NDAR, “Joshua Brackett to William Whipple,” VIII, 396-397 and 397 note; “James Warren to John Adams,” VIII, 405-406 and 406 note; “The Freeman’s Journal, Saturday, April 26, 1777,” VIII, 434 and note

11 NDAR, “Baron de Kalb to Silas Deane,” VII, 796

12 NDAR, “Joshua Brackett to William Whipple,” VIII, 396-397 and 397 note; James Warren to John Adams,” VIII, 405-406 and 406 note

13 NDAR, “The Freeman’s Journal, Saturday, April 26, 1777,” VIII, 434 and note

14 NDAR, “Statement concerning the Employment of Lieut. Col. Edward Smith with regard to Captain Hynson and a Sketch of the Information obtained.,” VIII, 725-730

15 NDAR, “Baron de Kalb to Silas Deane,” VII, 796

16 NDAR,“Baron de Kalb to Silas Deane,” VII, 796;  “Beaumarchais to the Continental Congress,” VIII, 622 and 622-623 note

17 NDAR, “Baron de Kalb to Silas Deane,” VII, 796

18 NDAR, “American Commissioners in France to the Committee of secret Correspondence,” VIII, 531-533; “Silas Deane to Beaumarchais,” VIII, 512

19 NDAR, “William Carmichael to Silas Deane,” VIII, 537-538

20 NDAR, “Silas Deane to Beaumarchais,” VIII, 512

21 NDAR, “Silas Deane to Conrad Alexandre Gérard,” VIII, 512-513

22 NDAR, “Memoir of the American Commissioners in France,” VIII, 517-518

23 NDAR, “Captain Lambert Wickes to the American Commissioners in France,” VIII, 518-519 and 519 note

24 NDAR, “Gabriel de Sartine to Charles Pierre Gonet, Commissary of Marine at L’Orient,” X, 1015-1016

25 NDAR, “M. Gourlade, Lorient Merchant, to Captain Lambert Wickes,” VIII, 521 and note

26 NDAR, “Jonathan Williams, Jr. to the American Commissioners in France,” VIII, 533-535

27 NDAR, “American Commissioners in France to the Committee of secret Correspondence,” VIII, 531-533

28 NDAR, “Jonathan Williams, Jr. To the American Commissioners in France,” VIII, 533-535

29 NDAR, “Jonathan Williams, Jr. to the American Commissioners in France,” VIII, 346

30 NDAR, “Gabriel de Sartine to Charles Pierre Gonet, Commissary of Marine at L’Orient,” X, 1015-1016

31 NDAR, “John Page to St. George Tucker,” VIII, 323-324, letter dated 11 April 1777

32 NDAR, “Beaumarchais to Vergennes,” IX, 451

33 NDAR, “Joshua Brackett to William Whipple,” VIII, 396-397 and 397 note; “John Bradford to the Continental Marine Committee,” VIII, 398-399 and 399 note; “James Warren to John Adams,” VIII, 405-406 and 406 note; “The Freeman’s Journal, Saturday, April 26, 1777,” VIII, 434 and note. NDAR, “Independent Chronicle, Thursday, April 24, 1777,” VIII, 418-419 and 419 note indicates she arrived on 21 April.

34 NDAR, “Copy of a Letter from Captain Brisbane of His Maj’s Ship Flora, dated at Halifax the 12th of July 1777 to the Rt Honble Lord Visct Howe,” IX, 275

35 NDAR, “Beaumarchais to Vergennes,” IX, 451

36 NDAR, “Secret Committee of the Continental Congress to Captain John Paul Jones,” VIII, 937-939

37 NDAR, “Secret Committee of the Continental Congress to John Langdon,” VIII, 939-941

38 NDAR, “Secret Committee of the Continental Congress to the American Commissioners in France,” VIII, 941

39 NDAR, “Continental Marine Committee to Captain John Paul Jones,” VIII, 942

40 NDAR, “Louis Daniel Charrier to Captain John Paul Jones, Boston,” IX, 80-81 and 81 note

41 NDAR, “Captain John Paul Jones to the American Commissioners in France,” IX, 9-10

42 NDAR, Captain John Paul Jones to Leonard Jarvis, Dartmouth,” IX, 76-77

43 NRAR, 226; NDAR, “List of Bonds for New Hampshire Privateers,” XI, 220

44 NDAR, “Gabriel de Sartine to Charles Pierre Gonet, Commissary of Marine at L’Orient,” X, 1015-1016 and 1016 notes; “American Commissioners in France to the Committee of Commerce,” X, 1051-1054

45 NDAR, “Gabriel de Sartine to Charles Pierre Gonet, Commissary of Marine at L’Orient,” X, 1015-1016

46 NDAR, “Gabriel de Sartine to Charles Pierre Gonet, Commissary of Marine at L’Orient,” X, 1015-1016

47 NDAR, “Gabriel de Sartine to Charles Pierre Gonet, Commissary of Marine at L’Orient,” X, 1027-1029

48 NDAR, “Gabriel de Sartine to Charles Pierre Gonet, Commissary of Marine at L’Orient,” X, 1027-1029

49 NDAR, “American Commissioners in France to Bérard Frères & Co.,” X, 1037-1038

50 NDAR, “F. Steward to the Earl of Sandwich,” X, 1105-1106


Revised 6 August 2014 © awiatsea.com