Recipient: Sartine, Antoine Raymond Jean Gualbert Gabriel de
[dateline] Passy, 14 May 1778.
printed:JA, Diary and Autobiography
. The Commissioners requested that they be given permission to confine on French soil
the prisoners taken by American vessels in order to permit their exchange for American
prisoners held in England, a question of particular urgency because of John Paul Jones’
arrival at Brest with nearly two hundred prisoners (Jones to the Commissioners, 9 May
, above). Rejecting the prevailing opinion that English prisoners could not be held
in France, which was not yet at war with England, the Commissioners supported their
argument with a quotation from René Josué Valin, Traité des prises, ou principes de lajurisprudence françoise concernant les prises qui se font sur mer
..., La Rochelle, 1763, p. 129, sect. 30. This passage, in French in JA
’s Letter-book copy (Lb/JA/4, Microfilms, Reel No. 92) and translated by him for his
Autobiography, declared that it was not true that a prisoner became free as soon as
he stepped onto neutral soil. In fact, although the belligerent could not retake the
prisoner without the consent of the neutral power, to withhold such consent would
be a violation of the laws of neutrality.