Coldham, Peter Wilson. American Migrations, 1765-1799, (Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 2000.)
Farns, -------. "Roster of the Continental Navy - Naval History of the Revolutionary War", (Ancestry.com, 2016.)
Kaminkow, Marion and Jack. Mariners of the American Revolution, (Magna Carta Book Company, 1967.)
Lewis, James A. Neptune's Militia: The Frigate South Carolina during the American Revolution, (The Kent State University Press, 1999.)
Lorenz, Lincoln. John Paul Jones: Fighter for Freedom and Glory, (United Sates Naval Institute, 1943.)
Mahony, Henry Thayer and Marjorie Locke. Gallantry in Action: A Biographical Dictionary of Espoinage in the American Revolutionary War, (University Press of America, 1999.)
Morison, Samuel Eliot. John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography, (Little, Brown, and Company, 1959.)
Newman, A. N. "Yorke, Hon. Joseph (1724-1792)", (History of Parliament Online, 1964-2016.)
Wikipedia, "Joseph Yorke, 1st Baron Dover", (last modified June 11, 2015.)
Letter, "To Benjamin Franklin from Charlotte Amiel, 10 November 1778", (Founders Online, National Archives.)
Letter, "The American Commissioners to Peter Amiel, 23 June 1778", (Founders Online, National Archives.)
Letter, Peter Amiel: Oath of Allegiance to the United States, 23 June 1778", (Founders Online, National Archives.)
Letter, "To Benjamin Franklin from Poreau, Mackenzie & Co., 27 June 1778", (Founders Online, national Archives.)
Letter, "Poreau, Mackenzie & Cie., to the Commissioners: A Translation, 7 July 1778", (Founders Online, National Archives.)
Letter, "Francis Coffyn to the Commissioners, 9 July 1778", (Founders Online, National Archives.)
Letter, "[11-13 July 1778], "Commissioners to Francis Coffyn", (Founders Online, National Archives.)
Letter, "To Benjamin Franklin from American Gentlemen in France, [March 1780]", (Founders Online, National Archives.)
Letter, "From Benjamin Franklin to Jean-Charles-Pierre Lenoir, 22 July 1780", (Founders Online, National Archives.)
Pension Application of John Mayrant S32390
In the course of this overall blog, it should be apparent that the life of a sea-going vessel, especially that of a ship-of-war in time of strife, is made up of the collective stories of the lives of her crew members. Many, many of the previous posts have examined the lives of a single individual or the prosopographies (collective biographies of a group of individuals) of men on board the frigate South Carolina. As the writer of this blog has encountered these stories, or portions of them, he has dug a bit deeper into these narratives and come up with fuller stories that inform upon the overall story of the patriot frigate. Understandably, as one life story of service is developing, frequently another story's facts come to light and lead to another post on that certain individual. Again, frequently, these stories, with a bit of research, begin to unfold and reveal their true contents. But, one story involving the frigate South Carolina has persistently remained rather illusive and shadowy. References to this individual have popped up from time to time and always from the same source - the pension application filed by Lieutenant John Mayrant after the termination of the American Revolution, "Pension Application of John Mayrant S32390". This document has been utilized in several of the prior posts, so this statement concerning this individual in question has constantly been observed in previous research. The fact that the writer of this blog has not encountered any other references to this individual has intrigued him, so he began to focus his efforts on finding out about this specific man - Peter Amiel, First Lieutenant on board the frigate South Carolina for her maiden voyage to America, August 4, 1781 to May 29, 1782. As the title of this specific post strongly implies, the information uncovered by the writer of this blog has opened a whole new facet of the frigate South Carolina that has only been alluded to in her story until now - the subtle, yet intense, web of intrigue, intelligence-gathering and espionage that swirled around the frigate South Carolina from the commencement of her construction in Amsterdam, Holland in 1778 right up to her capture by elements of the British Royal Navy on December 20-21, 1782 off the Capes of the Delaware on the coast of North America.
As stated above, this particular figure in the history of the frigate South Carolina has been, through out the course of this blog on the frigate, illusory and always on the fringes of the story. The intriguing reference cited by the writer of this blog in the introductory paragraph above is recorded here with only the pertinent information regarding this individual being cited. This piece of information is drawn from the pension application of John Mayrant, "Pension Application of John Mayrant S32390". Mayrant was a lieutenant on board the frigate South Carolina for her first or maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to America. He had prior combat experience with Captain John Paul Jones on board the frigate Bon Homme Richard in the famous fight between that patriot ship-of-war and the HMS Serapis. He was familiar with the rest of the command staff of the frigate as she journeyed from the coastal waters of Europe to North American waters. Again, only the pertinent portions of the citation are recorded here and read as follows:
"...that deponent [John Mayrant] having omitted to state above [in his pension application] who were the officers on board the South Carolina when she left Amsterdam now adds that Commodore Gillon was commodore, Peter Arniel [Ansiel] was first Lieutenant,... that when the Frigate was at Philadelphia just before the capture Thomas White was 1st Lieut. in place of Peter Anirel [Ansiel] who had been cashiered for holding correspondence with Sir Joseph York [sic: Joseph Yorke] the British Ambassador at the Hague...".
This is the sole reference to this shadowy individual in the history of the frigate South Carolina that is the focus of this overall blog. Again, in the course of writing on the numerous other individuals and their related stories on board the frigate South Carolina, this reference has appeared several times but, has never been directly cited before. The writer of this blog's interest has always been piqued by this brief citation to "Peter Anriel, Anirel [Ansiel] but, searches for additional information has revealed nothing at all...until now. Further research in "Founders Online, National Archives" has uncovered small references to a "Peter Amiel" as a Continental Navy officer who did play a part in the American Revolution but, then mysteriously disappears from the scene of action towards the conclusion of the American Revolution with no subsequent references to him or his life.
(Note: (actually, a HUGE disclaimer note here): There might be some confusion of individuals here and the writer of this blog does not want to potentially compound this confusion further. Please be apprised that there is in fact a "Peter Amiel" who did indeed serve as a patriot naval officer during the American Revolution and that there might be a "Peter Ansiel" conflated in this particular post. In further research, the writer of this blog has encountered references to "Peter Amiel" but, never any references to a "Peter Ansiel" at all, except in John Mayrant's pension application with the relevant portions cited above. He includes possible variations of the spelling of this individual's last name as "Anriel", Anirel" and "Ansiel". None of these variations of last name spellings have been encountered by the writer of this blog in his research on this specific post. But, the writer again noticed that "Peter Amiel" is referred to in a foot note to the Founders Online document, "Peter Amiel: Oath of Allegiance to the United States, 23 June 1778" as "...Peter Amiel, formerly of Boston...". According to Coldham's work, American Migrations, page 654, there is implication that he may have been either a resident or native of Charleston, SC during the American Revolution. This second reference matches up more closely with the fact that the early officer contingent of the frigate South Carolina were overwhelmingly from Charleston, SC as was Commodore Alexander Gillon. Gillon most likely either personally knew these young men prior to the outbreak of hostilities with Great Britain or he knew their families. So, when he came to France in search of ships-of-war with which to equip the South Carolina Navy, his junior officer contingent was already selected, by and large. It will be the efforts of this writer to prove that "Peter Amiel" is the individual in question in this post and not "Peter Ansiel" who, more than likely, never existed.
But, there also exists the possibility that there are indeed two distinct individuals who are both named Peter Amiel, one originating from Boston, MA and the other from Charleston, SC. The possibility of this does seem rather remote for a few reasons. First, the baptismal name of "Peter" though not at all unknown or uncommon in colonial times, is also rather rare when compared along with other first names like John, Robert, James, Edward and the like. Second, the last name is very unique - Amiel. The writer of this blog has never encountered this last name prior to the commencement of this blog focusing on this specifically named individual. Third, both of these individuals are cited as having served in the naval forces of the patriot military efforts against the British Crown during the American Revolution.
In summation, the writer of this blog is relatively certain of the specific issues cited above in this lengthy foot note. First, that there is no known individual who went by the name of "Peter Ansiel". This is a misspelling or an improper transliteration of the name of "Peter Amiel". Second, that there was only one individual who was known as "Peter Amiel" in the history of the American Revolution. This singular individual originated from either Boston, MA or Charleston, SC or, possibly, both of these locales, having relocated from Boston, MA to Charleston, SC in the most probable order, for some unknown reason.)
Solid information on Peter Amiel is scarce and fragmentary in nature. The writer of this blog can only hope to present a type of picture of the man in this specific post. For instance, we know nothing of his early life or his upbringing. We know nothing of his birth date nor his birthplace. We can only infer that he was reared either in Boston, MA or Charleston, SC because we do have two references to him being from one of those geographical locations. As referred to in the above paragraph, he is there cited as "...Peter Amiel, formerly of Boston, [MA]...". But, in Coldham's work, American Migrations, also referred to above, his mother, Christian Amiel, cites herself as being of "...Charleston, SC, Pennsylvania, and New York City...". It is possible that the reference contained in the Founders Online document that referred to peter Amiel as being "...formerly of Boston, [MA]..." may have been referring to an earlier residence that no longer applied to Peter Amiel due to his having relocated to another place such as Charleston, SC. This is just a supposition because his mother's claim for lost or seized property clearly indicates that the last place of residence for her in the colonies was Charleston, SC.
Concerning this fragmentary information on Peter Amiel, the first citation we have on him is the appearance of his name on a list of naval officers and officers of marines commissioned in the Continental Navy. According to "Farns's work, "Roster of the Continental Navy, Naval History of the Revolutionary War", page 7, the name of Peter Amiel is cited on a "Supplementary List" of Naval Captains and Lieutenants and Captains of Marines and Lieutenants of Marines. This is a relatively brief list, consisting of a total of twenty-nine names. Upon examination, though, the majority of these names appear to be either French or Irish in origin or extraction. The list concludes with a citation stating that:
"...includes officers commissioned in France and other officers not included in the lists compiled by the Continental Congress. Some of these were never regularly commissioned officers.".
In the second portion of this "Supplementary List", under the section entitled "Lieutenants", Peter Amiel is the fifth individual who is cited within this specific section of the list. There is no date of reference for this document and none associated with the appearance of the name Peter Amiel on it. Nothing more concerning Peter Amiel is included in this "Supplementary List" and there is no further information given on Peter Amiel in this citation.
Chronologically, the next reference we have to Peter Amiel is from a Founders Online, National Archives document entitled, "Oath of Allegiance to the United States, 23 June 1778". This was a standard oath of allegiance administered to all naval officers of the newly independent United States of America and was witnessed, in Peter Amiel's case, by William Moore, Castle Joy, John Adams, Arthur Lee, and Benjamin Franklin. At the bottom of the document, and in the hand of Arthur Lee, is the brief citation, "Sworn before us at Passi [Passy, France] this 23rd day of June 1778.". Yet, even this simple, straightforward oath is subject to question and became an issue of dispute. Contained within the oath is a phrase that states, "... [I] will Serve the Said United States, in the office of Commander of the armed sloop the Alliance which I now hold, and to any other Office which I may hereafter hold,...". The same day another Founders Online document entitled, "The American Commissioners to Peter Amiel, 23 June 1778" was issued to Peter Amiel who is specifically cited at the bottom of the brief document as being "...Peter Amiel Commander of the private Sloop of War, the Alliance...". It simply states that:
"The foregoing is a true Copy of original Instructions from Congress to Commanders of private Ships or Vessels of War, having Commissions or Letters of Marque and Reprisal, which you are strictly enjoyned [enjoined] and required to observe."
This brief document is also signed or witnessed by Arthur Lee, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. The foot note associated with this document indicates that Peter Amiel received his commission the day before, June 22, 1778, this document was issued. The foot note also indicates that Peter Amiel received the orders prior to his taking his oath of allegiance to the United States, even though these two documents are both dated June 23, 1778.
The association of the "Sloop-of-War" Alliance with Peter Amiel is a curious episode. Evidently, according to the foot notes included in the Founders Online document, "Peter Amiel: Oath of Allegiance to the United States, 23 June 1778", page 1, a company named "Poreau, Mackenzie & Cie", located in Dunkirk, France developed a plan to outfit a privateer ship-of-war and have her operate out of that port city. They approached the American commissioners in France at the time, John Adams, Arthur Lee, and Benjamin Franklin concerning the appointment of an officer to command her as captain. The commissioners chose Peter Amiel, who is cited in the above named document as being "...formerly of Boston and captain of the merchant ship Ranger...", to be the privateer's commanding officer. Peter Amiel was evidently in Paris at the time and was in contact with the American commissioners. After taking his oath of allegiance and receiving his orders, Peter Amiel journeyed to the port city of Dunkirk to see his newest command. He was disappointed in the small size of the sloop-of-war Alliance and after some thought withdrew his command from the privateer and the project was then cancelled.
Quite understandably, this was not the end of the issue. This was a plan in which money, time, risks, and potential profits were all involved. The company interested in building Alliance, the privateer ship-of-war in question and at issue here -Poreau, Mackenzie & Cie. of Dunkirk, France - protested in writing, first to Benjamin Franklin and later to the American Commissioners in France, those being Franklin, Arthur Lee, and John Adams. Both letters are found in Founders Online, National Archives. The first is "To Benjamin Franklin from Poreau, Mackenzie & Co., 27 June 1778" while the second is "Poreau, Mackenzie & Cie., to the Commissioners: A Translation, 7 July 1778". Both letters refer to Peter Amiel by name but, restraint is used to a degree in order to keep from directly criticizing a naval officer who had been duly commissioned by the very men to whom the letters are addressed. The slightly veiled references from Poreau, Mackenzie & Cie of Dunkirk, France which directly applied to Peter Amiel are cited in full below:
Letter of June 27, 1778 -
"By a Letter from Mr. Peter Amiel of the 23rd instant, we find he was to have that day the Commission in pocket, and to sett out immediately for this place; in Consequence our Mr. Poreau would give him to morrow a meeting at Lille agreeable to his desire (and with our Chaise)...".
Letter of July 7, 1778 -
"As to Captain Amiel, while paying due justice to his merits, we do not consider ourselves bound by a project that we did not originate and which entails far more than we were willing to risk. We are very mortified that our project does not suit him even though it was far less hazardous than many others.".
Each letter is much lengthier than the brief citations quoted here. But, these are the only direct references to Peter Amiel. Most of the venom of the company of Poreau, Mackenzie & Cie. of Dunkirk, France was reserved for their agent, Francis Coffyn, who was termed as "...the most improper person for such a Trust..." and as "...a to [too] busy man on many objects and in writing...". The major vitriol of this legal issue would devolve into a bitter letter writing campaign to the American Commissioners in France with each party responding to prior attacks upon their character with even greater venom. Peter Amiel even weighed in with a letter to the American Commissioners in France on July 9, 1778 supporting the claims of Francis Coffyn. According to the Founders Online, National Archives's document, "Francis Coffyn to the Commissioners, 9 July 1778" in a foot note to this letter, it states that Peter Amiel wrote a letter to the Commissioners on this specific issue supporting Francis Coffyn and requesting them to suspend judgment on the issue until he could reach Passy, France. The reply from the American Commissioners in France and signed by all three of the Commissioners is found in the Founders Online, National Archives document "[11-13 July 1778]", section entitled "Commissioners to Francis Coffyn" and dated "Passy [France] July 13, 1778". This letter to Francis Coffyn, agent of the Poreau, Mackenzie & Cie. of Dunkirk, France, states:
"We have received several late Letters from you, and two this morning by the hand of Captain Amiel, containing abundant Testimonies of your good character...".
Further on in this specific letter to Francis Coffyn, appeared the following brief statement:
"In one of these Letters We received the Bond, Instructions and Commission returned.".
Peter Amiel's defense of the slandered Francis Coffyn seems to have won the day for that gentleman in the hearts and minds of the American Commissioners in France. The statement cited immediately above seems to indicate that the matter was concluded in the minds of the American Commissioners in France. It is not known whether or not the privateer sloop-of-war Alliance ever sailed, or if she did so, under whose colors she sailed out from the port city of Dunkirk, France and into the English Channel where she could have conceivably caused great havoc to the English merchant shipping there.
This preceding incident is only the first of several rather unusual occurrences that appear during the career of Peter Amiel. The second occurrence took place only a brief time after the incident cited above and involves Peter Amiel actually being issued a commission in the Continental Navy by the American Commissioners in France. According to the Founders Online, National Archives document, "The Commissioners to the President of the Congress, 17 September 1778", the three American Commissioners in France were writing to the President of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, PA and detailing what they had achieved to that point in time. About half-way through their recitation of events in France and those pertaining to the conduct of the war from their vantage point, the following statement appears:
"We have also given two or three Commissions, by means of the Blanks with which Congress intrusted Us, - one to Mr. Livingston and one to Mr. Amiel, to be Lieutenants in the Navy. And in these Cases We have ventured to administer the oath of allegiance... We hope We shall not have the Dissapprobation of Congress for what in this Way has been done: but We wish for explicit Powers and Instructions upon this Head...".
This is all that is explicitly stated concerning the matter of Peter Amiel's commission into the Continental Navy of the United States of America. The associated foot note for this specific passage states that "...Muscoe Livingston was commissioned on 19 April ...and Peter Amiel on or about 10 August ...". This date is less than a month following the fiasco with the privateer sloop-of-war Alliance and all the accusations and incriminations between Poreau, Mackenzie & Cie of Dunkirk, France and Francis Coffyn, their agent. The second sentence cited above also indicates that a new oath of allegiance was sworn by Peter Amiel. This is completely understandable due to the first oath of allegiance specifically stating that Peter Amiel was to be captain of the sloop-of-war Alliance being built in Dunkirk, France. By his turning down this appointment after viewing the small size of the sloop-of-war and finding it unsatisfactory, Peter Amiel abrogated this first oath of allegiance to the United States of America. The peculiar nature of this situation demanded that Peter Amiel be administered a second oath of allegiance, this time as a Lieutenant in the Continental Navy. It is in this capacity, first as a lieutenant in the Continental Navy and later as First Lieutenant on board the frigate South Carolina, that Peter Amiel will operate for the remainder of this post.
At some point, most probably almost immediately after issuing this lieutenant's commission to Peter Amiel, Benjamin Franklin found a post for the new Lieutenant Amiel to occupy - a position with none other than Captain John Paul Jones. John Paul Jones was desperate for a ship and was approaching everyone in France who might be able to provide him with a suitable one. According to Morison's work, John Paul Jones, page 177, "one thing Franklin did for [John Paul] Jones was to assign him a bilingual secretary, Lieutenant Amiel, whom the Captain kept busy writing letters.". But, according to Lorenz's work, John Paul Jones: Fighter for Freedom and Glory, page 192, there exists evidence that Captain John Paul Jones and Lieutenant Peter Amiel knew each other prior to Amiel's being assigned by Franklin to Jones's command. Again, according to Lorenz's work, page 222, there is confirmation that Lieutenant Peter Amiel was indeed assigned to the command of captain John Paul Jones - "...he had a secretary, Lieutenant Amiel, who was master of both French and English... in any event, the Captain [John Paul Jones] employed his energies the more in dictating letters for translation into French... The communications of Jones, however, were eminently not an end but a means...".
John Paul Jones also had another task for Lieutenant Peter Amiel - gathering available sailors and directing them to L'Orient where they were to sign on with Jones's squadron that was being assembled to raid British shipping in the waters around Great Britain. According to Lorenz's work, John Paul Jones: Fighter for Freedom and Glory, page 253:
"On the eleventh of this month [April 1779] Jones directed Amiel, who was still with him, to join Matthew Mease, his newly-engaged purser, to enlist available Americans at Paimboeuf and send them to L'Orient. In urgent need of sailors as he was, the Captain disingenuously expressed the hope that the number to enroll would be the greater upon hearing that he was about to sail for America...Despite such misrepresentation, he did not engage above a maximum of thirty men.".
The writer of this blog knows of no concrete, definite information concerning the presence of Lieutenant Peter Amiel on board the Continental Navy frigate Bon Homme Richard on September 23, 1779 when the greatest ship-on-ship sea battle of the American Revolution took place between the aforementioned patriot ship-of-war and the HMS Serapis. He may have been on board and was simply not mentioned as participating in the engagement for one reason or another. He could possibly have been on some detached duty ashore while Jones's squadron cruised the English coastline looking for prizes to take. But, it is known that he affixed his name, along with twenty-nine other "American gentlemen in France", to a petition to Benjamin Franklin to urge the King of France, Louis XVI, to "...graciously be pleased to add the Serapis Ship of war to the infant American Navy.".
The exact nature and wording of this commission extended to Peter Amiel by the American Commissioners in France is unknown to the writer of this blog. But, this did in fact surface at least once again in May 1779. According to the Founders Online, National Archives document, "[May 1779]: entry for 15 May , Saturday," we find the following recorded there:
"Captain Jones this Morning shewed me a Letter from Lt. Browne, desiring or rather apologizing for leaving the Ship, because of the Word (first) in M. Amiel's Commission. I said, I thought Mr. Browne could not serve under M. Amiel. It would be in a manner giving up the Claims of many Lieutenants whose Commissions were dated between his and Mr. Amiels, as well as his own and would expose him to censure. That the Word first was agreed to be inserted by the Commissioners, because We expected that either We or C. Jones would fill up the Commissions to the other Lieutenants of that Ship, and it was intended to give him an Assurance that he should be the first, on board that Ship. It was not so well considered as it ought to have been, to be sure, but could not now be helped. That however the Word first was void, it could not supercede the Date of any former Commission. Mr. Amiel was so urgent to have it in, that it was agreed to, perhaps, too inconsiderately.".
The commission of Peter Amiel as 1st Lieutenant on board the ship-of-war in question, most probably the famous frigate Bon Homme Richard, has never been located by the writer of this blog. But, the writer of this blog does know about the significance of an officer's commission and the date on which it was issued in the 18th century. In brief and very generally speaking, the date of an officer's commission was important because all commissions of officers of equal rank that were issued after his date od issuance meant that technically he was superior to them in that rank on board the ship-of-war. The assumption that the ship-of-war being the famous frigate Bon Homme Richard is based on the phrase contained in the passage above that states "...We expected that either We or C. [Captain] Jones would fill up the Commissions to the other Lieutenants of that Ship...". This implies that the ship-of-war in question was the frigate Bon Homme Richard which was provided by the French government for Captain John Paul Jones's use at some point in early 1779, according to Morison's work, John Paul Jones, page 183-184. Thus, it would appear that even though Peter Amiel was technically still the secretary of Captain John Paul Jones's secretary on board the frigate Bon Homme Richard, he was also the 1st Lieutenant on board the same ship-of-war. If one refers back to the original reference in Morison's work, John Paul Jones, page 177, to Peter Amiel and the reason for his being assigned to John Paul Jones and the frigate Bon Homme Richard, one sees that it was due to Peter Amiel's ability to handle the French language as well as his dual command of English. This ability on the part of Peter Amiel would not have precluded him from high rank among the lieutenants on board the frigate Bon Homme Richard. Also, the reference from Lorenz's work, John Paul Jones: Fighter for Freedom and Glory, page 253, clearly indicates that Peter Amiel was indeed on the roster of the frigate Bon Homme Richard, and according the Founders Online, National Archives document, "[May 1779], entry for 15 May , Saturday", was the 1st Lieutenant on board that same ship-of-war also.
Again, according to the Founders Online, National Archives document, "[May 1779], entry for 15 May , Saturday", probably written by John Adams, one of the American Commissioners in France at the time; Peter Amiel was insistent that the wording of the commission be clear and indisputable concerning his occupation of the position of 1st Lieutenant on board the frigate Bon Homme Richard. Adams states in his journal entry that:
"...it was intended to give him [Amiel] an Assurance that he should be first, on board that Ship. It was not so well considered as it ought to have been, to be sure, but it could not now be helped... Mr. Amiel was so urgent to have it in, that it was agreed to, perhaps, too inconsiderately.".
It appears from this specific wording that the American Commissioners in France were indeed pressured by Peter Amiel, who may have persuaded them that his service so far as well as his devotion to the patriot Cause made him worthy of the position he sought on board the frigate Bon Homme Richard, even as the ship's roster was being filled out with officers, mariners, and marines. Yet, the full passage for the date cited above in the Founders Online, National Archives document indicates that this achieved goal of becoming the 1st Lieutenant on board the frigate Bon Homme Richard brought him into direct conflict with the other officers on board that patriot ship-of-war. At this point, the writer of this blog is uncertain of the exact identity of the "...Lt. Browne..." in question here but, the conflict of serving under Peter Amiel was enough that this officer had chosen to leave the ship instead. Thus, Peter Amiel's position as 1st Lieutenant was causing dissension and discord among the other officers on board the frigate Bon Homme Richard.
The third unusual incident concerning Peter Amiel is of a nature that is encountered here for the very first time in the entirety of this overall blog - the issue of a runaway slave. We know of this situation indirectly from a letter that was written from Benjamin Franklin, American Commissioner in France, to Jean-Charles-Pierre Lenoir, head of Paris police, in 1780. According to the Founders Online, National Archives document, "From Benjamin Franklin to Jean-Charles-Pierre Lenoir, 22 July 1780", this letter was written in response to a petition which has since disappeared. According to the document, this petition took the form of a plea:
"....from Capt. William Robeson of the South Carolina navy, now in Paris, regarding a runaway slave. Robeson had purchased this 'little Negro boy' from Lieut. Peter Amiel. The young man had disappeared on May 31, the eve of Robeson's intended departure for L'Orient. Robeson was forced to delay his journey by several days, during which time he wrote twice to Temple asking him to keep a look-out for 'Mountacue', whom he expected would flee to the neighborhood of his former master in Passy. The captain had notified the police, was prepared to reward the captor, and had left instructions with John Adams on how to proceed once the slave was apprehended.".
By all appearances this should have been the end of the matter. But, in reality, it was only the beginning. At least nine different letters would pass between individuals, both Frenchmen and Americans, in France from July 22, 1780 (the "little Negro boy...Mountacue..." had disappeared on May 31, 1780) until January 8, 1783 dealing in one way or another with this runaway slave. Some of these letters would be from Benjamin Franklin to various different French officials or others associated with the affair. Some would be between Americans in France at the time, questioning the trustworthiness and veracity of Captain William Robeson. Some letters would be addressed directly to Captain Robeson while others would be letters from him to various other individuals involved in this affair, usually Americans. One of these letters is an articulate, impassioned plea from the slave himself, "Jean Montague", written in French and directed to Benjamin Franklin, arguing for his freedom from a legal point of view using both French and English legal precedents.
(Note: For additional information concerning Captain William Robeson and his connection to the frigate South Carolina, see the post entitled "So, Who were the Three Captains with Commodore Alexander Gillon?" - The Cases of John Joyner, John McQueen, and William Robeson/Robertson" and dated "05/15/2015". This specific earlier post provides background information concerning William Robeson and his place with the initial entourage that accompanied Commodore Alexander Gillon to France on behalf of the colony of South Carolina. It does not address the situation illustrated in this post at all due to this specific situation being unknown to the writer of this blog at the time of the writing of the earlier post concerning William Robeson.)
The facts of this strange set of events comes down to us today only through a series of letters that passed between individuals involved in the matter. But for these letters, this event would be unknown to us of the modern time.
(Note: These series of letters related to this specific incident are cited here and are as follows:
Letter, "To Benjamin Franklin from -------- de Rayber, 22 January 1780", (Founders Online, National Archives.)
Letter, "From Benjamin Franklin to Jean-Charles-Pierre Lenoir, 2 July 1780", (Founders Online, National Archives.)
Letter, "To Benjamin Franklin from Jean [Montague], 25 July 1780", (Founders Online, National Archives.)
Letter, "To Benjamin Franklin from William Robeson, 22 January 1781", (Founders Online, National Archives.)
Letter, "To Benjamin Franklin from William Robeson, 9 August 1781", (Founders Online, National Archives.)
Letter, "William Temple Franklin to Jonathan Williams, Jr., 24 August 1781", (Founders Online, National Archives.)
Letter, "William Temple Franklin to William Robeson, 3 September 1781", (Founders Online, National Archives.)
Letter, "William Temple Franklin to William Robeson, 8 September 1781", (Founders Online, National Archives.)
Letter, "To Benjamin Franklin from Jonathan Williams, Jr., 9 January 1783", (Founders Online, National Archives.))
For the sake of brevity as well as clarity, a short chronological narrative of the events concerning Captain William Robeson and "Jean" Montague/"Montgomery" is provided here and is as follows:
pre-May 31, 1780 - William Robeson purchased a "...little Negro boy...", "...Mountacue..." from Lieutenant Peter Amiel, then residing in Passy, France.
May 31, 1780 - only days prior to William Robeson's intended departure from France for the colonies, the slave disappeared. Captain William Robeson suspected he would attempt to "....flee to the neighborhood of his former master in Passy, [France]...".
immediately pre-July 22, 1780 - "Jean" Montague is recovered and, ostensibly, handed over to the Paris Police by whomever apprehended him.
July 22, 1780 - Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to Jean-Charles-Pierre Lenoir, Chief of Paris Police, with instructions concerning the return of the fugitive slave to Captain William Robeson.
July 25, 1780 - "Jean" Montague wrote an impassioned letter in French to Benjamin Franklin making the legal argument for his freedom from Captain William Robeson due to his having set foot on French soil where, technically, slavery did not and could not exist by law.
post-July 25, 1780 - pre-August 8, 1780 - Captain William Robeson recovered "Jean" Montague and departed for Nantes, France with Montague "...evidently 'in the bottom of his Post Chaise,' and arrived some time before August 8, ...".
September 14, 1780 - Captain William Robeson and "Jean" Montague were still in Nantes, France and Robeson wrote to William Temple Franklin stating that he was determined to get to America.
January 22, 1781 - Captain William Robeson and "Jean" Montague were still in Nantes, France. Robeson wrote to Benjamin Franklin asking if he could procure passage on a ship making up a small fleet of French frigates reputed to be headed for Rhode Island. The ship on which Captain Robeson and "Jean" Montague eventually sailed was the Marquis de la Fayette which made up a part of this small fleet of ships-of-war.
June 1781 - after numerous delays, the ship-of-war Marquis de la Fayette sailed and was captured off the southeastern coast of Scotland, probably by a Loyalist privateer. The ship-of-war, carrying Captain William Robeson and "Jean" Montague on board of her, was taken into Leith Roads, Scotland on June 23, 1781. According to Kaminkow's work, Mariners of the American Revolution, page 229, the Marquis de la Fayette was documented as having been captured in June 1781. Kaminkow's work gives no further information on the Marquis de la Fayette.
August 9, 1781 - evidently, Captain William Robeson and "Jean" Montague had been released in a prisoner cartel and had landed in Ostend, which is today in Belgium but, in the 18th century was a northern province of France. On this date, Captain Robeson wrote a letter to Benjamin Franklin informing him that he was in "...a Most distressed and Naked Condition..." and that "...a Mr. John Fottrell Who Was so Politely Obliging as to Advance me the Sum of three Gineuas [Guineas] Which I am to Request the favour of your Excellency to pay on demand.". He also informed Franklin that he was bound for Passy, France. John Fottrell forwarded his request for repayment of the three Guineas to Benjamin Franklin on October 29, 1781. All indications are that "Jean" Montague was with Captain William Robeson at the time of the writing of this letter.
by August 24, 1781 - Captain William Robeson had arrived in Passy, France but, the implications are that "Jean" Montague had disappeared for a second time by this date.
August 24, 1781 - William Temple Franklin wrote a letter to Jonathan Willams asking him if he could trust Captain William Robeson to repay money he had loaned to him. Captain William Robeson actually owed Jonathan Williams quite a sum of money and Williams wrote to Temple Franklin on October 18, 1781 that he was fed up with Robeson and his requests for money while Robeson was trying to get back to America.
September 3, 1781 - Willaim Temple Franklin wrote the following letter to Captain William Robeson, then in Passy, France:
Mr. Raymond is just arrived, & has brought with him your black Servant. They Boy seems desirous of returning to you, provided you send him some Money together with his Freedom. He says the latter was his due immediately on his Arrival in England. He has lodg'd himself some where in Passy, & purposes waiting 15 Days for your Ansr. I offer'd him Bed & Board here without Expence, but he would not accept of it. You will please to let me know, by Return of Post, your Intentions relative to this Black Gentleman, who seems to have a great Opinion of his Importance, & not very willing to let himself be governed by me.
With sincere Regard I am, &ca.
I have seen nothing of your watch.".
September 8, 1781 - Again, William Temple Franklin wrote the following letter to Captain William Robeson, still in Passy, France. One easily notes the overt change in tone of this letter as opposed to the earlier letter of September 3, 1781:
My last was of the 3 Inst.to which I beg leave to refer you.
This serves merely to enclose an Acct: of Mr. Raymonds for yourself & Servant. Montgomery has at last taken my advice & is come to live here. He is very desirous of hearing from you: & I think you had best not delay sending for him, or he may be inticed away from you. He has already had several advantageous Offers made him; which tho' he did not accept, yet he seem'd inclined; & at one time wanted my Consent, giving me for Reason, that he was tired of being idle. I however dissuaded him from taking such a Step. Dispatch on your Part may prevent his leaving you. I have advanc'd him 12 Livs. to by [buy] him shoes & Stockings, which I doubt not you will approve.
I am Dr. Sir &ca."
Evidently, this letter indicates that "Jean" Montague had changed his name to "Montgomery". He seems to have been asserting his new-found independence and sense of self-importance by remaking himself and his own world in the image that expressed his new freedom. Freedom, once tasted or even just perceived, is not easily given up. The Founders Online, National Archives document, "From Benjamin Franklin to Jean-Charles-Pierre Lenoir, 22 July 1780" ends with this foot note:
"Finally, in 1782, only days before their ship was due to set sail from Nantes, Montague once again '[gave Robeson] the slip' and was the subject of more anxious letters to Passy.".
(Note: These letters are dated "May 18, 1782" and "June 4, 1782".)
This foot note indicates that Captain William Robeson and "Jean" Montague/"Montgomery" had been reunited in France, most likely in Passy, and had prepared fro their departure for America. But, whatever the indication, the foot note is clear that for a third time, the "...little Negro boy...." variously known as "Mountacue", "Jean" Montague, and "Montgomery" had once again exercised his choice as a free man or, at the very least, as a man who saw himself as being free.
At this point in this specific post, the writer of this blog feels it necessary to present the individual with whom Peter Amiel was carrying on a correspondence, the fact of which, when discovered by the command staff of the frigate South Carolina, led to Peter Amiel being "cashiered" from the naval forces of the rebelling colonies. This individual was Sir Joseph Yorke, British Ambassador to The Hague, Holland. A brief presentation of biographical information concerning Sir Joseph Yorke will suffice to introduce this distinguished British figure of the late 18th century. According to Newman's article, "Yorke, Hon. Joseph (1724-1792), page 1, he was born Joseph Yorke, third son of Philip, 1st Earl of Hardwicke, on June 24, 1724. He became an ensign in the 2nd Foot Guards in 1741 at the age of seventeen and began an illustrious military career that culminated in him becoming a full General in 1777 during the American Revolution. He was initially sent to the British Embassy in Paris, France in 1749 and then to The Hague as a minister in 1751 until 1761 when he became the British Ambassador in The Hague, a position he would occupy until the outbreak of war between Holland and Great Britain in 1780. He was elected to Parliament several times, giving his only recorded vote on December 26, 1788. He was elevated to the peerage on September 18 of that same year. According to the Wikipedia article, "Joseph Yorke, 1st Baron Dover", page 2, he "...married Christiana Charlotte Margaret, the daughter of Johan Henrik, Baron de Stocken, a Danish nobleman, in 1783. They had no children. He died in December 1792, aged 68, when the barony became extinct. Lady Dover only survived her husband by three months and died in March 1793.".
There exists ample evidence that the reason for Sir Joseph Yorke serving as a diplomat at The Hague for some many years in the late 18th century is that he was very skilled at gathering information for the benefit of the English government. Again, according to Newman's article, page 1, "...Holland was an important center for the [European] continental intelligence service, especially in wartime, and this is reflected both in Yorke's official and in his copious private correspondence; it was also an important station for travelers to the continent - an additional burden for Yorke.". Also, according to Mahoney's work, Gallantry in Action, page 16, "...Sir Joseph Yorke, the British Ambassador to The Hague, in Holland, maintained a very efficient spy system..." that provided him with up-to-date information on events and persons on not only the continent itself but, also in the Dutch colonies aboard. It is feasible to state that from 1761-1780 Sir Joseph Yorke was probably one of the best informed individuals in Europe concerning international world affairs.
Sir Joseph Yorke, the British Ambassador to The Hague, was also aware of the construction of L'Indien which would later be renamed South Carolina. This ship-of-war was being built by a Dutch shipbuilding firm in the famous Staats shipyard in Amsterdam, Holland. According to Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 10:
"...for a while the frigate was ostensibly owned by a French firm in Amsterdam (Horneca, Fizeaux & Company), which claimed that it was an East Indiaman intended for the Far East. London never accepted this explanation, because of the plethora of evidence that the vessel was no such thing, but found it nonetheless convenient for diplomatic purposes to pretend satisfaction with this claim... Nevertheless, Sir Joseph Yorke, Britain's able ambassador to The Hague, demanded strict assurances from the Dutch that the vessel's purpose was commercial.".
Further on in this same text, on page 21, it states that "...Sir Joseph Yorke, the vigilant British ambassador to the Netherlands, and his legion of spies kept a close watch on the ship.". Sir Joseph Yorke knew all too well the potential threat to British shipping and the Royal Navy ships-of-war in the North Sea if a heavily-armed ship-of-war such as L'Indien should slip out of Dutch home waters and be immediately in the geographical vicinity of England herself. Thus, he looked for a source of information as close as possible to the frigate herself. Evidently, he found one - Peter Amiel, 1st Lieutenant on board the frigate South Carolina, of late named L'Indien.
The evidence we have for this concluding statement comes exclusively from the pension application of John Mayrant, "Pension Application of John Mayrant S32390". John Mayrant, who was also a native South Carolinian and served on the frigate South Carolina for her first voyage but, was not on board the frigate when she was captured due to his being on detached duty in Charleston, SC, has been covered in a previous post cited at the beginning of this specific post. To date, the writer of this blog has not encountered any other references to Peter Amiel as 1st Lieutenant on board the frigate South Carolina or in any other manner associated with the frigate herself. The passage from John Mayrant's pension application, though cited above in the first few paragraphs of this specific post, will be cited here in full again for clarity:
"...That deponent having omitted to state above who were the officers on board the South Carolina when she left Amsterdam now adds that Commodore Gillon was commodore. Peter Arniel [Ansiel] was first Lieutenant...that when the Frigate was at Philadelphia just before the capture Thomas White was 1st Lieut. in place of Peter Anirel [Ansiel] who had been cashiered for holding a correspondence with Sir Joseph York [sic: Joseph Yorke] the British Ambassador to the Hague....".
This is again only the pertinent portion of the pension application of John Mayrant as it applies to Peter Amiel, 1st Lieutenant on board the frigate South Carolina for her maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. According to the pension application of John Mayrant, "Pension Application of John Mayrant S32390", page 2, cited above, Thomas White replaced Peter Amiel as 1st Lieutenant on board the frigate South Carolina after the discovery of his secret correspondence with Sir Joseph Yorke, British Ambassador to The Hague, was disclosed. A reference to the post entitled "Bound for New York City, Pt. II: Roster of Captive Americans on board the HMS Quebec - December 20, 1782" and dated "03/25/2015" shows that a Thomas White is indeed listed among the captured American officers on board that Royal Navy man-of-war and that he held the position of 1st Lieutenant on board the frigate South Carolina. This, of course, favorably compares with the citation form John Mayrant's pension application cited above. There is no citation on any of the three British Royal Navy men-of-war carrying captured American crewmen or marines from the frigate South Carolina of a Peter Amiel or Ansiel as appearing among the captured American crewmen or marines. At this point, the record seems to go silent on Peter Amiel, former 1st Lieutenant on board the frigate South Carolina. But, there is one last reference to this shadowy figure in American history. Only information relevant to Peter Amiel is cited here. According to Coldham's work, American Migrations: 1765-1799, page 654, the following information is cited for Christian Amiel:
"Christian Amiel of Charleston SC, Pennsylvania and New York City. Memorials - London 1784, 1785.
She was native of America and daughter of Hibbert Newton who was Collector of Customs in Nova Scotia for 35 years. Her husband, a merchant in South Carolina, at the age of 67 has been obliged to go to the West Indies to obtain support for her and her family. Of her six sons...her [second] son Peter Amiel is a Lieut. of Marines now on half pay, aboard and with a family...".
Much of the information given here, brief though it may be, corroborates with the information already known or inferred concerning Peter Amiel. The mother, Christian Amiel, cites that she is a resident of Charleston, SC. Again, it is known that the early officer contingent which was with Commodore Alexander Gillon in France and Holland, and among which would have been Peter Amiel, were native to South Carolina in general and Charleston, SC specifically. Christian Amiel cited that her husband was a merchant of South Carolina, again corroborating information with that known concerning Peter Amiel. The second citation directly referring to Peter Amiel stated that he was "...a Lieut. of Marines...". This could easily have been attained by an naval officer who previously had been a 1st Lieutenant on board a rebel ship-of-war who had later defected to the enemy and sought commensurate rank in the enemy naval forces. The later portion of this direct reference to Peter Amiel stated that he was "...now on half pay, aboard and with a family...". Though the writer of this blog can find no evidence concerning Peter Amiel's pay status within the British military or where he was geographically at this specific time frame, he does know that Peter Amiel at least had a wife - Charlotte Amiel. According to the Founders Online, National Archives document "To Benjamin Franklin from Charlotte Amiel, 10 November 1778", Charlotte Amiel refers to herself in this letter as "Mrs. Amiel" and the associated foot note states that she is "....Wife of Peter Amiel, who was in the service of John Paul Jones..." at this point in time. So, what ever his family had grown to by the time Christian Amiel filed her memorials in London in 1784 and 1785, Peter Amiel, her second son and a Lieutenant of Marines had a wife and thus technically had a family, whether there were any children of this marriage or not. Thus, in conclusion, the Peter Amiel who is the focal subject of this already-lengthy post seems to be the same Peter Amiel addressed in the memorial of Christian Amiel filed in London in 1784 and 1785 who was a Lieutenant of Marines in the British military establishment.
So, a tentative and possible "order of events" can be speculated at for the military career of Peter Amiel. At some point in time soon after the commencement of hostilities with Great Britain, Peter Amiel most likely traveled from America to France, in search of a commission in the Continental Navy of the fledgling United States of America. He approached and convinced the American Commissioners in France that he was capable and qualified to carry out the duties of an officer in the Continental Navy. He received a commission as a Lieutenant in the Continental Navy and took an Oath of Allegiance to the United States on June 23, 1778, witnessed by all three of the American Commissioners in France - Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Arthur Lee. He was given command of a privateer sloop-of-war Alliance, being built in Dunkirk by the firm, Poreau, Mackenzie & Cie. After viewing the ship at the shipyard where it was being built, Peter Amiel turned down the opportunity to captain this vessel-of-war due to its small size. Next, in May 1779, and under the auspices of Benjamin Franklin, he was assigned as interpreter/secretary to Captain John Paul Jones, who was seeking a new ship-of-war to cruise off the coast of England, disrupting and damaging English shipping. Jones used the skills of his new bilingual Lieutenant Peter Amiel, finally securing the use of an old converted merchantman which he rechristened the Bon Homme Richard. It is not known for sure whether or not Peter Amiel was actually on board the frigate Bon Homme Richard during the now-famous engagement with the HMS Serapis on September 23, 1779. In March 1780, Peter Amiel affixed his name, along with twenty-eight other "...American gentlemen in France...", to a document requesting the King of France, Louis XVI, to allow the captured Serapis to be incorporated into "... the infant American Navy.". At some point while he was in France, the actual date is undetermined, Peter Amiel became 1st Lieutenant on board the frigate South Carolina which finally sailed from The Texel, Holland for America on August 4, 1781. At some point after the sailing of the frigate South Carolina from The Texel, Holland but prior to the departure of the frigate from Philadelphia, PA on its final brief cruise approximately on December 19, 1782, it was discerned by the command staff of the frigate South Carolina that 1st Lieutenant Peter Amiel had been holding a secret correspondence with Sir Joseph Yorke, British Ambassador to The Hague. For this serious indiscretion on the part of 1st Lieutenant Peter Amiel, he was cashiered from the patriot naval forces. Most likely, shortly after this action against him, Peter Amiel fled rebel-held territory, probably making his way to British-held New York City where he offered his services to the British Crown. Probably due to his lengthy naval experiences with the patriot forces, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant of Marines in the Crown Forces and was such when his mother filed her claim for lost property in England in both 1784 and 1785.
But, ... and this portion of this post is purely conjectural... what if Peter Amiel had always had loyalist leanings and had gone to France with the express intent of "disrupting and obstructing" patriot efforts to support their Cause from France and Holland? He arrived and took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America, fooling the three American Commissioners in France as to his true intent. When he declined the command of the privateer sloop-of-war Alliance, it set off a "war of words" between the shipbuilding firm, Poreau, Mackenzie & Cie, and one of their agents, Francis Coffyn. Ultimately, these accusations and slurs were damaging to personal characters, stymied cooperation between the American Commissioners in France and European entities, and drew Benjamin Franklin into this same fray as a type of arbitrator. Peter Amiel used his influence to support the company agent in his battle against his previous employers. The result was that the project of building the Alliance was abandoned.
Next, after Peter Amiel was assigned to John Paul Jones as his bilingual personal secretary/interpreter, Peter Amiel insisted on being commissioned as the 1st Lieutenant on board the frigate Bon Homme Richard. He would have known that by doing so he would create dissension among the other officers, particularly the native-born American officers, who would disdain to serve under a French-speaking, ethnically French officer. His rigid maintenance of his position of superiority among the lieutenants appeared to be a stance of pride in his own abilities but, actually succeeded in spreading hostilities and dissension on board the frigate Bon Homme Richard to the point where Lieutenant Browne left the ship.
Even in the case of the runaway slave, Jean Montague, Peter Amiel used the situation to delay and keep William Robeson, one of the South Carolinian sea captains who had accompanied Commodore Alexander Gillon to France in search of frigates to protect the coast of South Carolina, from returning to his home state in America. Jean Montague would escape from William Robeson a total of three different times, always just prior to William Robeson's intended departure date from France. Amiel would have known that Captain Robeson would delay his departure in an effort to recover his escaped property. As a result, it ultimately took Robeson years to reach the United States, which he did as the war was winding down to its conclusion. Peter Amiel would have kept at least one significant American sea captain out of the fray by possibly directing Jean Montague as to when and where to escape and evade Captain Robeson.
After war broke out between Holland and Great Britain in 1780, Sir Joseph Yorke was clearly instructed by the Dutch government to leave Holland. Most likely, long before this event, Sir Joseph Yorke had successfully recruited Peter Amiel as a British spy. He used Peter Amiel to gather information concerning the frigate South Carolina and the threat it could potentially present when it left Holland, bound for America. Even after Sir Joseph's departure from Holland, the secret correspondence continued, right up to the day it was detected by the command staff of the frigate South Carolina and Peter Amiel was cashiered from the ship and the service of the United States. When this took place, what was actually discovered that alerted the command staff to the imminent danger presented by Peter Amiel, the trial that cashiered him, and how he ended up in British service is all unknown to us today. The writer of this blog has been unable to locate any further information on these different facets of the life of a shadowy character who somehow ended up as the 1st Lieutenant of the frigate South Carolina. Then, except for an aging mother's claim for losses sustained during the American Revolution, we lose sight of Peter Amiel. What he did after the American Revolution, where he settled down with Charlotte Amiel, whether they had any children, and where he ended his days are a complete mystery like the man - Peter Amiel.