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 observes to Robert Morris that it ‘effectually alarmed England, prevented the great fair at Chester, occasioned insurance to rise, and even deterred the English merchants from shipping in English bottoms at any rate, so that, in a few weeks, forty sail of French ships were loading in the Thames, on freight, an instance never before known.’ In the spring of 1777 the commissioners sent an agent to Dover, who purchased a fine, fast-sailing English-built cutter, which was taken across to Dunkirk. There she was privately equipped as a cruiser, and put in command of Captain Gustavus Conyngham, who was appointed by filling up a blank commission from John Hancock, the President of Congress. This commission bore date March 1, 1777, and fully entitled Conyngham to the rank of captain in the navy. His vessel, although built in England like many of our cruisers, was not armed or equipped there, nor was his crew enlisted there, but in the port of a neutral. This vessel was finally seized under some treaty obligations between France and England. The commissioners immediately fitted out another cruiser, and still another. It was also affirmed that the money advanced to John Adams for traveling expenses, when he arrived in Spain a year or two later, was derived from the prizes of these vessels, which had been sent into the ports of Spain. Captain Conyngham was a very successful commander, but he was made a prisoner in 1779. The matter was brought before Congress in July of the same year, and a committee reported that this ‘late commander of an armed vessel in the service of the States, and taken on board of a private armed cutter, had been treated in a manner contrary to the dictates of humanity, and the practice of Christian civilized nations.’ Whereupon it was resolved to demand of the British Admiral in New York that good and sufficient reason be given for this conduct, or that he be immediately released from his rigorous and ignominious confinement. If a satisfactory answer was not received by August 1st, so many persons as were deemed proper were ordered to be confined in safe and close custody, to abide the fate of the said Gustavus Conyngham. No answer having been received, one Christopher Hale was thus confined. In December he petitioned Congress for an exchange, and permission to procure a person in his room. Congress replied that his petition could not be granted until Captain Conyngham was released, ‘as it had been determined that he must abide the fate of that officer.’ Conyngham was subsequently released. The whole number of captures made by the United States in this contest is not known, but six hundred fifty prizes are said to have been
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