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Series of Manuscript Naval Orders issued by the French naval Minister of War Antoine de Sartine, during the earliest days leading up to and the commencement of French Naval participation in the American Revolution, 1776-1778

folio, 99 orders, 137 pages, in very good, clean and legible condition.

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Splendid series of naval orders issued by the French Naval Minister of War Antoine de Sartine (1729-1801) in the period leading up to and during the commencement of French Naval participation in the American Revolution. These were official copies sent to "intendants de marine" - in this instance J. Mistral at Le Havre. They bear his original signature as well as a secretarial signature of Sartine. The sole originals would of course have been retained by the ministry at Fontainebleau.

     Sartine had previously been Lieutenant General of the Police of Paris and was known for his organizational skills. His organizational skills are clearly evident in these orders. As such he was particularly well equipped to place the Navy on a sound footing for war. Notably, he removed authority from bureaucrats and functionaries and placed it in the hands of competent naval officers. The orders cover a wide variety of issues including the mundane day to day aspects of operating a navy. Many of the orders appear to concern solely English ships and prisoners many thousands of Loyalists served as officers and crew on English ships during the Revolution. These materials flesh out both Sartine's role and that of Naval offices in general.

   Sample quotes and abstracts of documents in the collection:

    "Les frégates ou corvettes qui viendront au Havre pour prendre des bâtiments sous leurs escortes et qu'ils seront en partance. Il faudra eviter de laisser sortit les batiments neuter qui pourraient donner avis des convois aux Ennemis a l'éxcéption de ceux qui sont chargés pour le compte du Roi et qui se range sous leurs escortes en partant des ports ou des rades ou meme de les empeché autant qu'il sera possible, lorsqu'ils les rencontreront a la mer."

     Efforts must be made to prevent ships from neutral countries to report our convoys and other naval movements to the enemy, etc.

     Model of an oath of honour for a prisoner of war (translated)

     "I, the undersigned (name, surname) before now (his rank) on the (type of ship) Anglais (name of the ship and name of the master) and now a prisoner of war in port, GIVE MY WORD OF HONOUR to M. (name) Commissioner ... of those charged by the port police as prisoners of war, that I will not leave (name of city, town or village) etc, etc.... and will not talk [of the war] during my detention as a prisoner of war, nor make any correspondence directly, indirectly to England, etc.

     One page divided into three columns - one each for Brest, Toulon, and Rochefort - listing the various items of clothing worn by the sailors from each port, which were all quite different.

    19 February 1777 one page

    Orders are given for the design of new uniforms for Commissaires, etc., includes colors and types of fabric, etc.

     14 July 1777, two pages

     Apparently ships had been leaving from Lorient without obtaining proper Letters of Health. This was indicated as particularly true for ships heading to the coast of Africa (slavers?). Such papers will now be mandatory as the resultant costs are far more onerous than the cost of the papers if obtained in advance.

     21 July 1777, one page

    Sartine's agent in Gibralatr informs him that Captain Alexandre Dujardin of Fecamp who had been lent 138 sols has been found by Vincent Jaret de Felcamp, commander of the naval ship l'Aimable Genevieve now based in Gibraltar, and that Dujardin was living in the same town and was even a neighbor. Sartine requests that Dujardin's property be seized until repayment is made.

    2 August 1777, one page

    Among Sartine's earliest provisions to prepare for war. All vessels bound for the Americas are to report their intended destination. They are to be given orders as circumstances will require and also to ensure that the sailors should be used only for trade or for service to his Majesty.

    13 August 1777, one page

     Sailors from Dieppe and Fecamps are barred from heading to the herring shoals, as most such sailors are actually in the service of the King, and are now needed for service on His vessels.

     24 August 1777, one page

     The current state of all vessels in Normandy, along with their armaments, munitions, & cargoes must be reported. This information should be collected with some precipitation and could prove very useful in the near future ...

     22 September 1777, one page

     Rather remarkable offer of amnesty to all sailors who have deserted their ships if they return to the service of the King. As seen in other orders, Sartine was gravely concerned that his navy would not have enough seamen to launch a major sea war against England, both in Europe, Africa, and the Americas.

     22 October 1777 and 11 January 1778

     A French spy in England warns that a French pilot named Laurent is on board the British frigate La Therir. Sartine wants to know if the frigate could be captured, as its destination is unknown and the pilots knowledge could prove dangerous to France. At present the whereabouts of the frigate are unknown. Watch should also be kept to see if the pilot should at any point try to slip into France to visit his family. The second letters warns all military officers that said Laurent is a dangerous man and should be captured as quickly and secretly as possible, as to prevent current expeditions becoming more difficult.

     3 November 1777, one page

     Pierre Antoine Gratarol, a member of the Venetian Senate, has apparently escaped from that city and is seeking refuge in a French port. It is requested that research be done to locate him and, if found, to hold him in a safe place, etc. This is followed by his description: rather short with a white complexion and reddish hair with blonde eyebrows. He has a large nose. He of course speaks Italian in a pleasant manner, and by vanity only assumes that he speaks French correctly.

     Note: Gratarol was a Secretary of the Senate and a widely notorious rake and libertine who had too many assignations with the wrong women.

    11 November 1777, two pages

     Preparation for war.

     The Naval Ministry has been informed from different sources that merchant shipowners are exceeding the number of seamen currently employed or in training. The King has ordered a review of all ships so that they will employ only the minimum crew indispensably necessary, and that sailors who are replaced must be so only due to documented death, desertion, or convalescing from long illness where they summer (and more).

     14 February 1778, two pages

      Just days after the Treaty of Alliance!

      The revenue for seamen must be reviewed. Vessels capable of being armed are not to debark on long voyages. They may only go short distances, as they may be needed very promptly and ordered to the King's service [for the war] and much more.

    22 February 1778, one page

     Restrictions are made on the supplying of armaments to fishing fleets and for the Colonies and for the trafficking in slaves, as resources must be preserved [for the coming hostilities]. Iceland and Newfoundland are mentioned.

     7 March 1778, two pages

     Sartine issues orders concerning the fleet. [It appears that he wanted to prevent ships and sailors from being absent over long voyages.] Aid is ordered for the delivery of fuel to the colonies, particularly the Iles de Vent, [as they would soon prove strategic]. Crews were limited to six seamen and six novices to preserve others for the service of the King. No expeditions for cod were to be approved and fishing vessels could no longer be armed.

     9 May 1778, one page

     Neuville, a lieutenant in the regiment at Martinique has deserted and "stealthily escaped from the colony." All intendants should be on the lookout for him and if found he should be immediately placed under arrest.

    23 June 1778, one page

    Orders for the arrest of Louis Alexandre Aubrey, a sailor from Felcamp, who deserted his ship at Havre. He is to be placed in jail to suffer until the first good opportunity comes to ship him out on a man of war.

    24 June 1778, two pages

    The Minister of War gives orders to help the arming of privateers providing an arsenal of 12 and 8 pound cannons for boats with a 95 foot keel, or to provide hard cash in lieu of guns, 800 livres for a 12 pound cannon, 600 pounds for an 8 etc., Sartine states that he has no doubt, moreover, that the ship owners will give me appropriate evidence of their zeal to compete with a view towards the goals of his Majesty. Kindly tell them that I will note and realize their provisions, etc.

    11 July 1778, two pages

    Orders for the sale of prize ships including merchantmen from England, principally captured by corsairs from Jersey and Guernsey. [Who fought for whoever paid]. Lots of detail concerning contacting the proprietors of the ships, methods of reclamation, etc.

     22 July 1778, two pages

     The same as the letter of June 24, 1778 but with further clarifications concerning payment to officers and crews etc.

     30 July 1778, one page

     Sartine gives the order after the taking of an English sloop The Betzy, by a privateer - The Ferret, (of Fecamp). The Minister gives orders concerning a passenger of the sloop "he would not be put in jail but on the contrary provided with rations as appropriate [as if he were locked up] You will do the same for prisoners on parole or bail, etc.

     9 August 1778, one page

     Neutral ships shall have liberty of navigation, but measures must be taken to avoid the abuse of ships flying under neutral flags.

       12 August 1778, one page

       Orders to Commissaires, etc., concerning the treatment of women found aboard captured   ships. If with their husbands they are to be treated in whatever fashion is accorded to the husband based on his rank, etc.

     19 August 1778, one page

     Sartine orders the sale of the effects of Christian Speerburgh, sailor on board the captured ship Betzy, who died in captivity the month prior. The proceeds are to be used to pay for care for other invalids.

       31 August 1778, one page

       The French navy shall be organized to allow provisioning of the [Caribbean] colonies by neutral vessels and by providing whatever facilities may be available at any given time. This to be accomplished with the fewest sailors possible, as crews must be reserved for the war ships of the King. There for it will be necessary to rely on inexperienced volunteers and the disabled to complete the crews, and all such shall be under the protection of the King.

      5 September 1778, one page

      Orders concerning prisoners of war.

      10 September 1778, two pages

     Ships taken as prizes of war shall be inventoried and sold as quickly as possible to benefit the coffers of the King. Also sales shall be paid in cash and not in bills of exchange. In this manner all will be of inestimable value in the eyes of the [capturing] crew, who would not likely return to sea without having received their share.

    12 September 1778, one page

    The Minister of War gives orders to make known as quickly as possible the names of sailors who have died in a crossing or been killed in battle, so that their families may be informed in a timely manner.

    16 September 1778, one page

     Order to give freedom to the captain of an English Sloop which a corsair from Boulogne has led St Vallery under the caution of Mr. Harrison, a merchant from Fecamp whose submission shall be in the form usual in the last war. The same freedom shall be given to the prisoners of the General Staff... care must be taken to distribute the prisoners in different cities of the interior, etc.

     24 September 1778, one page

     Sartine writes a formal notice to Captain Fiquet of the privateer La Racrocheuse. He thanks him for his combat against the English, and assures him that His Majesty will not leave unrewarded those captains who have distinguished themselves by the number of ships captured and other "good deeds". Sartine has "no doubt" that the owners of Fiquet's ship will spare no effort to find him command of a more considerable vessel, etc.

     For more on Fiquet see:

     http://www.bmlisieux/normandie/dubosc30.htm where his separate battles against two superior English cruisers are described as "beautiful feats." The author also mentions the exact document offered here and mentions that Fiquet was to be included on the list for Royal rewards.

    19 October 1778, one page

     "De l'organisation des depenses qu'ocasionnenent les prisonniers faits par ses corsairs des etats unis avec celle des prisonniers faits par les batiments francais.

     Organization of expenditures occasioned by prisoners captured by corsairs of the United States and those of France.

     November 1778, two pages

     Sartine demands the fair sale of all prize ships, and requires exact details of their armaments if privateers. Also to report with great accuracy all ships conducted to various ports, their crew, and their cargo. Also to provide the names of all English soldiers held in all departments, and their status as prisoners, paroled on oaths of honour, or on bail, etc.

    3 December 1778, four pages

    Treatment of prisoners by the "archers de la marine." [The "archers" were naval arresting officers and guards.] Prisoners are to be fed in the most economical way. They are to be fed seven days a week. Their rations shall consist of cheese, bread, beef, peas, and fava beans., etc. Sick or injured prisoners are to be treated properly. All grades of officers [named] are to be given the right to contact the English government. Captains of corsairs are to be given their [local] liberty of taking an oath of honour. The amount to be spent on each category of prisoner is listed by their rank.

    22 December 1778, two pages

    Assistance for French prisoners held in England. Methods for exchange, monetary allowances, provision for medical care, clothing, shoes, etc.