WICKES AND CONYNGHAM IN EUROPEAN WATERS
WICKES AND CONYNGHAM IN EUROPEAN WATERS
Nothing illustrates so completely the daring and enter prise of the Americans, save possibly the boldness of certain
privateersmen, as the harrying of the British coast by Wickes, Conyngham, and Jones. In the fall of 1776,
Captain Lambert Wickes, of the 16-gun brig Reprisal; while carrying Benjamin Franklin to France, captured
two prizes. The next spring, the Lexington joined the Reprisal, and these two vessels captured about fifteen prizes. With these the cruisers returned to France; but,
as the latter country was ostensibly at peace with England, The vessels were ordered to leave. After disposing of the prizes clandestinely to French merchants, the
Lexing ton quickly. refitted mid sailed from Morlaix on Sep tember 18, 1777. She was captured shortly after by the'
Alert, and her officers and men were taken to Plymouth und thrown into Mill prison on a charge of high treason.
Richard Dale, who later distinguished himself on the /Bonhomme Richard under Jones, was one of these prisoners, but he made his escape a year later by boldly walking past the guards, dressed in a British uniform. On the insistence of the British, the Reprisal also left
F'rance; she foundered on her way home, off the Banks or Newfoundland, and, with the exception of one of the
crew, all hands, including the brave Wickes, were lost.
The reckless daring and success of Captain Conyng ham in harrying British commerce, strained almost to the
brcaking point the relations between England and France.
The American Commissioners at Paris, through an agent, had bought a cutter at Dover, and had then manned and equipped her at Dunkirk, naming her the Surprise. Congress, over the signature of John Hancock, as
presi dent, had issued blank commissions to the American Com missioners in France; it
was such a commission, dated March 1, 1777, that Benjamin Franklin and Silas
Deane, the commissioners, had filled out with the name of Gus tavus Conyngham, authorizing him to sail in the
Sur prise as a captain of the American Navy. A great deal of difficulty was encountered in getting the Surprise out of Dunkirk. Captain
Conyngham "took his arms out of his ship and said he should load it with merchandise for one of the ports in Norway. As this declaration was
sus pected, security was demanded. Two persons, Hodge and Allen, became responsible for him. Conyngham actually left the port of Dunkirk without arms, but he caused sailors, cannon, and ammunition to be sent out to him in the night, while he was in the road, off Dunkirk; and he shortly after took the English packet boat, Prince of Orange. As soon as this came to the knowledge of the French Government, Hodge, one of the securities, was arrested., and conducted to the Bastille. The packet boat was restored to the British Government without the form of process. After six weeks of confinement, Hodge was released."
Shortly after this, Conyngham captured the Harwich packet and took it to a French port. This open violation of neutrality so enraged the British, that their ambassador threatened to leave France if Conyngham and his prize were not at once given up. The French Government imprisoned the captain and crew of the Surprise, and
returned the vessel to her owners. But before England could enforce her demand for the delivery of Conyngham and his men to the sloops of war sent over for this
pur pose, the Americans, by some intrigue, had been released and sent to sea in another cutter, the Revenge, a vessel provided and equipped partly by the American
Commissioners, and partly on private account. It seems prob able that Hodge, a Philadelphia merchant, and perhaps some others, were pecuniarily interested, at least in the later cruises of this cutter.
The Revenge captured many prizes, and on two occasions boldly sailed in disguise into British ports and refitted. As Deane wrote to Robert Morris in August, 1777:
"Conyngham 's cruise effectually alarmed Eng land, prevented the great fair at Chester, occasioned insurance to rise, and even deterred the English merchants from shipping goods in English bottoms at any rate, so that in a few weeks forty sail of French ships were loading in the Thames on freight-an instance never
kown before. . . . In a word, Conyngham, by his first and second bold expeditions, is become the terror of all the eastern coast of England and Scotland, and is more dreaded than Thurot
was in the late war."
On a later cruise, Conyngham sent most of his prizes to Ferrol Spain, and thus his depredations on British commerce embarrassed France and the American Com- missioners less than former expeditions had done. In 1778, Captain Conyngham was captured, and while in prison he was treated with such severity, that Congress,
in a resolution on July 17, of that year, protested against a treatment" contrary to "all dictates of humanity and the practice of civilized nations."