Papers of John Adams, volume 6

John Bondfield to the Commissioners

From Arthur Lee

John Paul Jones to the Commissioners, 4 – 5 July 1778 Jones, John Paul First Joint Commission at Paris JA John Paul Jones to the Commissioners, 4 – 5 July 1778 Jones, John Paul First Joint Commission at Paris Adams, John
John Paul Jones to the Commissioners
Passy. June 5. July 4–5 17781

Plan for expeditions2 submitted to the American Plenipotentiaries and to the French minister of Marine by Com. Jones.

As the first proposal,3 will be impeded for some time, in the interval A great variety of projects present themselves, some of which might prove of great utility to France and America by distressing the common enemy at a small expence.

Three very fast sailing frigates, with one or two tenders, might enter the Irish Channel and burn at Whitehaven from two to 262three hundred ships and besides the town, which contain 50,000 inhabitants, this would render it difficult, if not impossible to supply Ireland with coal the ensuing winter.

The same force would be sufficient to take the Bank of Ayr in Scotland, and to destroy the town:—or, perhaps, the whole shipping in the Clyde, with the towns and stores of Greenwich and Port-Glasgow provided no alarm was first given at other places. The fishery at Cambletown is an object worthy attention, and in some of the ports of Ireland ships may perhaps be found worth from 150,000 to £200,000 Sterling each.

It might, perhaps, be equally expedient to alarm Britain on the east Side which might be effected with equal and perhaps inferior force, by destroying the Coal shipping, of New-castle &c. which would occasion the utmost distress for fuel in London: and there are many towns of Consequence on the east and north coasts of England and Scotland which are defenceless, and might be either burnt or laid under contribution.

The success of either of these, or the like enterprizes will depend on surprizing well, and on despatch both in the attack and in the retreat, therefore it is necessary the ships should sail fast, and that their force should be sufficient to repel any of the enemy's cruizing frigates, two of which may perhaps be met at a time.

It is scarcely conceivable how great a panic, the success in any one of these projects, would occasion in England. It would convince the world that their coasts are vulnerable, and would, consequently, hurt their public credit.

If alarming the coast of Britain should be thought inexpedient, to intercept the Enemy's West-Indian or Baltic fleets, or their Hudson Bay ships, or to destroy their Greenland fishery, are capital objects, which promise success if well adopted, and any one of them might be finished, before the first can take place.

FC in an unknown hand (DLC: John Paul Jones Papers); docketed, not by JA: “Plan of Expeditions proposed June 5 1778 to the French minr. of marine & the American Plenipots.”; notations in another hand: “Exd. Examined? J. Copd.”


These dates seemed indicated because Jones was still at Brest on 5 June, and in his private correspondence with Franklin at that time he made no mention of an expedition such as is described in this proposal. Such an error in dating may have resulted from Jones' having, at the beginning of a new month, inadvertently inserted the name of the previous month, a relatively common error. The “Plan” could have been drawn up on 5 July, since Jones was then present and meeting with 263Sartine, who wrote to the Commissioners on that date (below) concerning him and an “expedition particuliere.” The date of 4 July seems equally possible because on 2 Aug., Jones wrote to the Commissioners (below) asking permission to make a copy of his “Memorandum” of the 4th, which had been intended for use in conversations then being held, and of which only one copy had been made. It seems likely that Jones referred to the plan here under consideration and that, from the notations immediately following the docketing, this document is the copy he obtained from the one in the possession of the Commissioners, which has not been found.


The plan is of additional interest, and perhaps significance, because of its close similarity to the course followed by Jones in his Bonhomme Richard expedition of 1779 (see Morison, John Paul Jones , p. 200–220, particularly the map on p. 211). Indeed, JA states that Sartine's letter of 5 July (noted above), marked “the first conception of the Plan which was afterwards carried into Execution under Jones in the Bonhomme Richard” ( Diary and Autobiography , 4:158). Moreover, Jones, in the portion of his 1786 memoir to Louis XVI which discusses his visit to Paris and meetings with Sartine in the summer of 1778, notes his failure to gain command of the Indien and states that he made proposals, apparently much like those contained in this plan, for “secret missions” to be undertaken by a “small, light squadron” of as few as “three frigates and three cutters” (John Paul Jones' Memoir of the American Revolution, ed. Gerald W. Gawalt, Washington, 1979, p. 22–23). Finally, on 17 July, Jones wrote Sartine (PCC, No. 168,1, f. 177–178) in terms that seem to refer to this plan. In the letter he stated that “had your first plan taken Effect the most pleasing prospect of success would have been before me. But that seems now a distant Object. I have no doubt but that many Projects, that would Promise Success, might be formed from the Hints which I had the Honor of sending, lately for your Inspection: had I been entrusted with the Chief Command, I would have held myself Responsible for the Consequences.”


Very likely the scheme to obtain the command of the frigate Indien for Jones (see the Commissioners to Jones, 25 May, calendared above; Jones to the Commissioners, 3 July, above).