1. This is the earliest extant letter reporting Henry Laurens' capture, but it was not the means by which JA first learned of it, hence his complaint about the letter's delayed arrival. JA heard of Laurens' capture, probably from a newspaper account, on or about 11 Oct., for he mentioned it at the very end of his letter to the president of Congress of that date
(No. 15, calendared, below). For JA's first detailed comment on the capture, see his letter to Digges of 14 Oct.
Digges' information came from London newspaper reports appearing on or about 3 Oct., all of which contained inaccuracies, most notably Laurens' arrival on the frigate Vestal, rather than the sloop Fairy. Henry Laurens and most of his official papers were captured off the banks of Newfoundland on 3 Sept., when the Mercury packet was taken by the Vestal, Capt. George Keppel, and the sloop Fairy, Capt. Berkley. Laurens was put on the Vestal and taken to St. John's, Newfoundland, from whence he wrote on 14 Sept. to the Committee for Foreign Affairs to report his capture and imminent departure for England on the Fairy, now commanded by Keppel. The sloop departed St. John's on or about 18 Sept., and reached Dartmouth, England, on the 29th. Put ashore in the custody of Lt. Hugh Norris, the two men then set off for London, arriving there on the evening of 5 October.
Digges' mention here of two “Gentlemen” and his later reference to a second ship from Newfoundland are erroneous. The newspapers reported the capture, with Laurens, of his “Secretary [Moses Young] and another gentleman,” but did not state that they had been sent to England with Laurens. In fact, Young did not reach England until mid-November, and then it was on the frigate Vestal
, in company with Winslow Warren and Capt. William Pickles of the Mercury
. The reference to a second vessel stems from the erroneous report that Laurens had come in the Vestal
, rather than the Fairy
, for the same papers that reported the frigate's arrival also reported the Fairy
's arrival at Portsmouth on the 30th, to which it had gone from Dartmouth, (London Courant
, 3 Oct.; London Chronicle
, 30 Sept. – 3 Oct., and 3–5 Oct.; Morning Post
, 3 Oct.; Laurens, “Narrative,”
p. 19–23; Davies, ed., Docs. of the Amer. Rev., 1770–1783
, 18:166–157; 16:398, 408, 443; for a partial list of the documents captured with Laurens, see p. 420, 424; Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev.
, 4:56; from Mercy Otis Warren, 8 May, note 1
, above; from Thomas Digges, 17 Nov.