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1779. adm. Darby, to join the former, for the safe escorting the convoy to a certain distance. Mr. Sartine, upon obtaining information of this order, hurried the Brest fleet under count d'Orvilliers to sea. There were not at the last moment, sailors sufficient to man it; but neither this, nor the non-arrival of two ships expected from Toulon, could prevail with him to risk losing the opportunity on the one hand of intercepting Darby on his return, and on the other of securing the junction of the French and Spanish sleets. Eight thousand land forces were put on board to serve as marines, and to supply the defect of sailors. With this kind of equipage did
. the fleet fail on the 4th of June. There was a general exultation visible in every Frenchman's countenance at Paris, mixed with surprise, upon hearing that their fleet was sailed, and that there was no British force at sea to oppose them. Not a word was put into the gazette of France of d'Orvilliers' sailing. It is asserted, that Sartine being asked, why he did not let a thing so public, and so interesting, go into the gazette, his answer was— "The English ministry will not know it so soon any other way." Darby however, narrowly escaped, to the great disappointment of the keenest expectations of the . French, who really looked upon his division as a sure prey. Foreigners are astonished at the present management of the .British marine. They look back to former, wars, when it was deemed a most consequential service, and the most concise mode of crippling the marine os France, and rendering their projects abortive, to block up the harbours of Brest and Toulon. When d'Orvilliers, had sailed, a profound secrecy reigned at the court of France as to his destination: but by the 6th of July,
Certain advices were received of his having joined the 1779, Spanish fleet, upon the 24th of June. Before the junction, though not its apparent certainty, a manifesto was June presented by the marquis d'Almodovar, the Spanish am- * bassador, accompanied with the notice of his immediate departure. The manifesto established this fact, that Spain had taken a decided part with France and America against Great Britain^ It cost the court of Versailles great pains to goad the catholic king's ministers to a decided resolution in the councils of Madrid; and after all, it has been said by a respectable authority, " That there had been no declaration from Spain, if the English fleet had been at sea," in force and in season to have prevented the junction, which was regarded as that on which the very salvation of France depended. The spirits of the French were as drooping as can be well conceived, till they had heard of that event, and of the arrival of the two reinforcements forwarded to count d'Estaing *.
When the Spanish ambassador once knew that d'Orvilliers sailed on the 4th of June, and that the British grand fleet remained at Spithead on the 14th, he must assure himself, that the junction of the French and Spanish ones would take place, and could not be prevented by the other; and that therefore he might proceed without any demur to deliver the manifesto. This event will, most probably, be more favorable in the issue to the American states, than success in the Spanish mediation on the terms his catholic majesty proposed, which were'—That the two crowns of Great Britain and France should disarm and agree to a universal suspension * Political Memoirs.
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1779- of hostilities;—That the plenipotentiaries of both should meet at an appointed place to settle their respective differences ;—That a like suspension should be granted by Great Britain to the American colonies [as they were stiled] which should not be broken, without giving to his catholic majesty an anticipated notice of one year, that he might communicate it to the said American provinces; and that there should be a reciprocal disarming and a regulation of the limits not to be passed by either, as to the places they might respectively occupy at the time of ratifying this adjustment;—That there should come to Madrid one or more commissioners of the colonies and of his Britannic majesty, to agree in settling the preceding particulars and others relative to the firmness of the said suspension, and that, in the mean time, the colonies should be treated as independent in acting* The contents of the manifesto were laid before both houses of parliament the day after its being presented, and were accompanied with a message from the king. They both concurred unanimously in resolving to support with spirit and vigor the war against the house of Bourbon. An answer was transmitted by his majesty's secretary, lord Weymouth, to the marquis d'Almodovar,
j j. dated July 13th, ten days after the rising of parliament. This answer was received when a state-paper was nearly printed off at Madrid, and which related the motives that-induced the Spanish monarch to withdraw his ambassador, and act hostilely against Great Britain. This paper asserts, that the British ministry, while they rejected the proposals made by Spain, were insinuating themselves at the court of France by means of secret emissaries, and making great offers to her to abandon the 9 colonies, Colonies, and to make a peace with Britain; and at the 1779*. fame time were treating, by means of another emissary with Dr. Franklin, to whom they made various proposals to disunite them from France, and to accommodate matters with Britain, not only holding out Conditions iimilar to those which they had rejected, when coming through his catholic majesty, but including offers much more favorable to the Americans.
Count d'Orvilliers having received instruction, steered with the combined sleets, amounting to 66 ships of the line, for Plymouth. The coasts of Normandy and Brittany, being at the same time crowded with troops, and the ports in the bay and channel with shipping, exhibited the appearance of an intended invasion of England or Ireland. D'Orvilliers passed Sir Charles Hardy, who was cruising in the bay with near 40 ships of the line, (having sailed .from Spithead the day on which the Spanish manifesto was presented) without their having the least knowledge of each other. He appeared off Au Plymouth in the evening, and the greatest part of the 16. two following days; but without making any attempt, which had it taken place immediately, must have succeeded, as the town was altogether in a defenceless state, with " neither men, capable of standing to the guns, nor rammers, sponges, or other implements for loading them *." The inhabitants and the neighbouring country were in the greatest confusion and in the utmost alarm. But on Wednesday the 18th, it providentially began to blow almost a storm at east, which continued till the 2ld, and forced the fleet below Plymouth; and
* Mr. H—b—t's declaration. Gentleman's Magazine for 1780, p. 109.
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1779. the wind remaining strong in the same point for some days, prevented its return no less than Sir Charles Hardy's coming into the channel *. The Ardent of 64 guns, on her way from Portsmouth to join Sir Charles, mistaking the combined for the British fleet, was taken in sight of Plymouth. D'Orvilliers ranged about the Lands End, the Scilly Islands, and the chops of the channel, till the end of the month, without seeking to return and make an attack upon Plymouth. He might conclude, that it would be now too late, the first opportunity having been lost; especially as a very great sickness prevailed among the sailors and soldiers on board the fleet. Thus by a coincidence of circumstances, Plymouth, with the dock, the naval magazines, &c. were happily preserved, notwithstanding the criminal neglect of administration in not putting the place into a proper state of defence. It is a fact, that there was delivered to one of the ministry, on the 28th of July, a letter from France, acquainting him with the destination of the combined fleet, and the intention of attacking and destroying Plymouth.
3,0°' The wind favoring, Sir Charles Hardy gained the entrance of the channel in sight of the combined fleets, without their being able to prevent him. The enemy pursued him as high up as Plymouth, but did not venture much further. The sickness increasing on board the combined fleet to a most extreme degree, and their ihips being otherwise much out of condition, and the equinox approaching, count d'Orvilliers thought it necessary to abandon the British coasts, and repair to Brest early in September. The whole country round about *'Gentleman's Magazine fcr 1779, p'4-zi—423.