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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 4

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[Commissioners to Gabriel de Sartine]

[salute] Sir

In the several Cruises made by Captains Wicks, Johnson, Cunningham, Thompson and others, of our armed Vessells, on the Coasts of Great Britain, it is computed that between four and five hundred Prisoners have been made, and set at Liberty, either on their landing in France, or at Sea, because it was understood that We could not keep them confined in France. When Captain Wicks brought in, at one time, near an hundred, We proposed to Lord Stormont, an Exchange for as many of ours confined in England: but all Treaty on the Subject was rudely refused, and our People are still detained there, notwithstanding the liberal discharges, We had made of theirs, as abovementioned. We hear that Captain Jones has now brought into { 100 } Brest, near 200, which We should be glad to exchange for our Seamen who might be of Use in our Expeditions from hence: but as an Opinion prevails that Prisoners of a Nation with which France is not at War, and brought into France by another Power, cannot be retained by the Captors, but are free, as soon as they arrive, We are apprehensive that these Prisoners may also be sett at Liberty, return to England, and serve to man a Frigate against Us, while our brave Seamen, with a number of our Friends of this nation, whom We are anxious to sett free, continue useless and languishing in their Goals. In a Treatise of one of your Law Writers, entituled A Treatise of Prises or Principles of French Jurisprudence concerning the Prizes, which are made at Sea4 printed in 1763 We find the above Opinion controverted page 129 §. 30. in the following Words. “This seems to shew, that it is not true, as some Persons pretend, that as soon as a Prisoner, making his escape or otherwise, has sett his foot on Land, in a neutral Power, he is absolutely free from that moment. Indeed it will not be permitted to retake him, without the consent of that Power; but she would be wanting to the Laws of Neutrality, if [s]he should refuse her Consent. This is a Consequence of the Assylum due to the Ship in which was the Prisoner or the Hostage.”
We know not of what Authority this Writer may be, and therefore pray a moment of your Excellencys Attention to this matter, requesting your Advice upon it, that if it be possible some means may be devised to retain these Prisoners, till as many of ours can be obtained in exchange for them. We have the Honor to be &c.
[signed] Benjamin Franklin
[signed] Arthur Lee
[signed] John Adams

[addrLine] To Mr. De Sartine.

Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2018.