To James Hutchinson March 11th, 1781
L’Orient, March 11th, 1781.
My Dear Hutchinson
I wrote you from New Windsor and Boston, the former Express, the latter by Mr. Curry, which I hope you have received; but in case you should not, I just mention to you that they contain nothing material. — We sailed from Boston on Sunday evening Feb. 11th and arrived here on fryday afternoon the 9th of March, and for your particular information I send you a chart of the track we made. Our setting out was favorable, until the Thursday night, which was accompanied with a circumstance that will not be easily worn from our memories. — It was exceedingly dark and we were running eight or nine miles an hour till about nine at night, when from a sudden tremulous motion of the ship attended with a rushing noise, the general cry was that she had struck, and was either a ground or on a rock. The noise and the motion increased fast, but our apprehensions were in a short time abated by finding ourselves surrounded with large floating bodies of ice against which the ship was beating. This was in about Lat. 45 and Long. 55 as you will see by the chart. We sounded to find our depth of water, but the lead and line were carried away, however, a second tryal gave us the satisfaction of finding no bottom. The wind encreased to a severe gale, and before we could take in the sails one of them was torn in two. Nothing could now be done but to lay the ship to and let her take her chance. The ice became every moment more formidable, and we began to apprehend as much danger from it as when we first supposed ourselves a ground. The sea, in whatever direction it could be seen, appeared a tumultuous assemblage of floating rolling Rocks, which we could not avoid and against which there was no defence. — The thundering attacks, that were every moment made by those massy bodies on the ship’s sides, seemed as if they were breaking their way in. About eleven o’clock our larboard quarter gallery was torn away. Happily for Col. Laurens he had quitted it about a minute before, and the pleasure occasioned by his escape made us for a while the less attentive to the general danger. In this situation, dark, stormy, and plunging in an unguided ship to we knew not where, we remained from nine at night till four in the morning. The wind was sufficiently high to have made our condition serious, but to be dashed every moment against a succession of Icy Rocks, to which there appeared no end, and of whose extent no judgment could be formed, nor yet of the magnitude of these we had still to encounter, made our situation both dangerous and uncommon. — About four in the morning we began to hear the agreeable noise of the water round the sides of the ship and felt her roll easily, which to us were the welcome tokens of escape and safety. As we were near eight hours in the ice and made considerable headway, the extent of it I suppose to be about 20 miles. The next morning we were in sight of an island of ice which appeared out of the water like a mountain, how many of these we might pass in the night, or how near, the darkness prevented our knowing.
A few days after this, as you will see by the chart, we had a glorious breeze which carried us from nine to twelve miles an hour for seven days; on the last of which we saw to sail and chased; but finding each of them nearly as large as the Alliance we stood our Course, and they in their turn chased us, and as they sailed very unequally we expected to reduce the affair to single actions, but this the foremost prudently declined by discontinuing the chase. All the passengers turned out as marines of whom Col. Laurens had the Command.
The next day we again saw two sail and chased, one was a large ship the other a cutter, and as we approached we perceived the large one to be under the command of the smaller, by which we concluded it was her prize. When we got within a league, the smaller one quitted and stood a different Course; we bore away for her, and she not being able to get off, lay to and waited our coming. She proved to be a Scotch Cutter of ten guns, Russel, Commander, and eight days from Glasgow. About two hours before we appeared in sight she had fallen in with the above ship, an unarmed Venetian having not a single gun mounted either for defence or offence, and bound from London to Venice; which, contrary to every principle of justice, honor, or ability, she had made a capture of, put the Crew in irons and was Convoying her to Glasgow; what pretence they might have formed to support the capture is not easy to guess at. Her Cargo was pepper, Indigo, glass bottles, and other like articles of merchandize, without a single thing contraband. — Capt. Barry put an officer aboard the Venetian for that night to take charge of her till the Circumstances could be enquired into, and took the Capt. of the Venetian, his son and the pilot on board the Alliance. They supped with us in the Cabin, and their joy at being released from their piratical Captors seemed beyond their power to express. The son, an agreeable looking youth, crossed his hands and pointed to his ankles to make us understand he had been in Irons, and the Father, an elderly man of a good appearance, showed a countenance that sparkled with the happiness of his heart, tho’ at that time he could not be affected by anything but a change of treatment and an Idea of personal safety.
The next day, when his papers had been examined, the matter enquired into and consulted on, it was the unanimous opinion of the Capt. and officers, that the Captivation by the Cutter was contrary to the rights of Neutral Nations and could be held in no other light than an Act of Piracy, and that the Justice of America, and the honor of her flag, made it a duty incumbent on her officers to put the much injured Venetian in possession of his property, and restore him to the Command of his vessel, without accepting either recompense or salvage. The opportunity of doing an act of humanity like this, must, to every mind capable of enjoying the chief of human pleasures, that of relieving insulted distress, be esteemed preferable to the richest prize that could have been taken. — The finding her in the possession of an Enemy might have afforded a ground for detaining her, but as no right can arise out of an original wrong, therefore it became a duty to consider the merits and not the pretences of the case. Had the opinion of the officers been for detaining her, Col. Laurens, who formed an early judgment of the matter, and was warmly affected by the injuries done to the Venetian, would, from the double motives of humanity and honor, have become their advocate; but as no difficulty arose when the question was proposed by the Capt. the occasion of argument was superseded. A Certificate was given the Venetian of the Case we found him in, and others received from him, which when published will do honor to the new Constellation.
I have now related to you the principal Circumstances of our passage. We made land in 23 days but head winds and fogs kept us off three days more.
As to News, I shall not at present write you much. The rupture with the dutch you have undoubtedly heard of, and reports, which I suppose true, say, that the British Ministry have since that made propositions of accommodations to France, which have been rejected by her as being confined and ungenerous. A formidable fleet 27 sail of the line, 3 of which to R. Island, will sail from Brest with Troops in a short time; and the dutch are getting twenty sail of the line ready for sea. Be forward in filling up your Army and fear nothing.
No account has been received of the Shelalah, and the prevailing apprehension is, that she is gone to the Bottom, Hard fate indeed and unexpected. Had I set off when my first plan I should have sailed in the Shelalah as she seemed the favorite ship, and the same opportunity was proposed to Col. Laurens.
L’Orient is a clean agreeable town, the streets straight but not in general at right angles. I found here several Americans, among whom, your Brother of the faculty, Doctor Shendal, who in conversation mentioned to me a circumstance relative to supplying the army with medicines, which, as it is within your line of judgment I likewise mention to you, which is, that of having all medicines for the public hospitals and the army purchased by some gentleman of the medical profession in France, commissioned for that purpose in preference to the blending them with the general articles of mechandize. It strikes me in this manner that medicines are not within the line of mercantile knowledge and may be procured cheaper and with more certainty of their goodness by one of the faculty than by any other person. Dr. Shendal comes passenger to America in the Lucerne. If you think it an object of public utility you will easily have an opportunity of conversing with him on the subject.
Please to acquaint Mr. Milnes that I have delivered his letter to Mr. Cummins, and make at the same time my best respects to him.
Mr. & Mrs. Linn desired me to treat with Doctor Franklin for the purchase of a lot adjoining to their house, but in looking over my papers, I miss (at least for the present) the note they gave me, which though I can very well describe the lot to the Doctor, yet for greater certainty I wish you to enclose me another line from them in your first letter to me, though I hope to get it accomplished as soon as I get to Paris, at which place I expect to be in a few days — remember me to them and to Mrs. Shepele and her brother.
My affectionate wishes to your whole family, and to avoid exceptions present the same to all my friends and commission Dr. Bass to do the same to all his Whig visitants. — I hope your brother Owen has not forgot to send me a Copy of his Oration and if he, Mr. Rittenhouse, or Col. I. P. Smith have leisure at any time to favor me with a line I shall receive it with pleasure. Do not forget my respects to Mr. McClanaghan, and as a particular Case I request you to wait on Mr. Izard, you are acquainted with my obligation and gratitude to that gentleman, as soon as I collect material worthy of a separate letter to him I shall with much pleasure devote an hour to that service. Present my compliments to Mr. Bee and his family and acquaint him that no letters from him had arrived at Boston when the Alliance sailed.
I find myself no stranger in france, people know me almost as generally here as in America. The Commandant of L’Orient paid me very high complts on what he called the great success and spirit of my Publications.
Toward the latter end of the year I hope to see you all safe happy and well — adieu and consider me as your much obliged and Affectionate Friend
P. S. Please to call at my Lodging and let them know I am well. A large ship the Marquis de la Fayette with Cloathing Arms Ammunition, will sail from here in a few days.
Track of the Alliance Frigate from Boston Feb. 11 to L Orient March 9th, 1781.