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Répertoire des Acte de Dépôt Faits au Consultat

Répertoire des Acte de Dépôt Faits au Consultat by BARBÉ-MARBOIS, François [Joseph Priestley, Marquis de Lafayette, Jean Audubon, Robert Morris, Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont, David Rittenhouse etc] (1778)
Author: BARBÉ-MARBOIS, François [Joseph Priestley, Marquis de Lafayette, Jean Audubon, Robert Morris, Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont, David Rittenhouse etc]
Title: Répertoire des Acte de Dépôt Faits au Consultat de Philadelphie Depuis le 15 Novembre 1778, extrait des Cartons cottés Actes de Depots &c. A 1778 .79 .80 .81 .82 .83.
Year: 1778
Publisher: Unpublished
Place: Philadelphia
Dust Jacket: No
Signed: No
Price: £90,000
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THE OFFICIAL FRENCH MANUSCRIPT RECORD OF FRANCE’S INVOLVEMENT IN THE AMERICAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE and the early years of the new Republic as told through hundreds of financial transactions and legal deposits and reports made at France’s Consulate in North America’s temporary capital, Philadelphia.

Folio-sized unpublished manuscript (25x35cm) bound in half yellow paper-covered boards with blue paper corners and flat-back spine, probably an American stationer’s binding; paper with bunch of grapes watermark. Recently restored and resewn with new lower cover and endpapers; archival paper repairs to tips of several early leaves. Toning to paper. Occasional original documentary inserts pinned or pasted to leaves. Paginated: pp 267 (manuscript) pp 268-322 (blanks), c 80,000 words. Provenance: London collection of Bernard Hearn, 1975.

Translated the title runs:

Directory of Deposits Recorded at the Consulate in Philadelphia Since November 15, 1778, and taken from the Records of Deposits for the years 1778 .79 .80 .81 .82 .83…., circa 80,000 words

This consular Directory or Register was initiated in accordance with French law by the Consul General to the French Legation in Philadelphia, Francois Barbé-Marbois (French negotiator of the Louisiana Purchase), a few days before the signing of the Treaty of Paris which ended the American Revolutionary War. The manuscript begins with 25 pages of summary retrospective transactions that cover the war years 1778-1783. These entries reveal the details of gigantic loans from the French state as well as numerous transactions involving figures such as Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont (French ‘Founding Father of the American Revolution’, Robert Morris (‘financier of the Revolution’), Jean Audubon (father of John James Audubon) and the Philadelphian statesman, William Bingham, as well as a single transaction involving the Marquis de Lafayette.

Subsequent transactions were recorded as they occurred from 1783 onwards and in much finer detail by Barbé-Marbois (around 200-300 words for each entry) and his successors, notably Le Ray de Chaumont. Each transaction was signed-off by consular officials and the individuals involved, so Joseph Priestley concluded a huge transfer of funds from his British iron-master brother-in-law John Wilkinson via this register. Particularly interesting is the section of the manuscript which deals with the restructuring of American debt to France that followed the ratification of the new constitution.

François Barbé-Marbois set out the remit of the manuscript on the first page, writing in French as throughout - probably secretarial - but witnessed in his hand. Dated to August 19, 1783 (two weeks before the signing of the Treaty of Paris) Marbois decrees that: 'Ce Registre a été commencé par nous Consul Général pour recevoir conformément aux ordreres reglemens l'enregistrement de tous de dépots qui seront fait en la Chancellerie de notre Consulat.' (This Register was begun by us Consul General to receive, in accordance with the regulations, the registration of all the deposits which will be made in the Chancellery of our Consulate.) Marbois who signs himself 'Marbois' at the tail of the page explains that the retrospective entries for 1778-1783 represent a summary of the more significant or unresolved acts from recent years while expressing his intention to set out future registrations in full, 'Et le présent Registre Signé par premiere et derniere a été cotté et paraphé a chaque page par notre Vice Consul, et par le premier deputé en exercise. Fait a Philadelphie le dix neuf aout mil Sept cent quatrevingt trois. Marbois.' [And this Register signed at the beginning and end was stamped and initialled on each page by our Vice Consul, and by his first deputy...] In order to ensure its legal status Barbé-Marbois has indeed initialled the head of every leaf of the manuscript, recto and verso, blanks included, next to the foreedge - in all Barbé-Marbois’s initials appears some 644 times in the manuscript.

The text of the register begins on the recto of the leaf following Barbé-Marbois’s preamble with the manuscript entries laid out in six columns which assign a number, date, a precis of events, value of any effects deposited, nature of the money (pounds, continental dollars etc) and observations, which may include later insertions that record repayments or redemptions. This retrospective section of the manuscript which relates to the period 1778-1783 continues until page 25 and introduces many of the key players of the war years. The Philadelphia financier Robert Morris first appears on 8 August 1779 with a ‘Depot fait par M Robert Moris au profit de Pierre Jaque Sebastien L Ray de Chaumont de la somme de… 196500’ [‘Deposit made by M Robert Morris for the benefit of Pierre Jaque Sebastien L Ray de Chaumont of the sum of… 196500’] On January 8 1780 appears the Marquis de Lafayette, once again with Morris as intermediary, and also involving the soldier and future Congressman Theodorick Bland with a ‘Depot fait par le S. Robert Moris d’une troisieme letter de change du 3 Juin 1778 a l’ordre du Colonel Theodoric Bland tirée par Mr Le Marquis de la Fayete de la somme de 125 Pounds Sterling’ [‘Deposit made by S. Robert Moris of a third bill of exchange of June 3, 1778 to the order of Colonel Theodoric Bland drawn by Mr Le Marquis de la Fayete of the sum of 125 Pounds Sterling]. One of the characteristics of the records of the war years is the transfers of sometimes very large sums of money, between the French and American authorities, presumably as loans and their repayments which were channelled through the French Consulate in support of the War of Independence against France’s hated adversary. So, on the 8 December 1779, ‘Depot du Sr. William Macreery … a Baltimore pour Compte et risque de Mssrs Samuel et John Hans Delap Neg.s a Bord[eau]x en papier monoye la somme de - 130,000’ - the second of two similarly sized deposits of loan certificates.

Jean Audubon, the French lieutenant father of the artist John James Audubon appears on 15 December 1780, with a deposit of 96,800 Continental Dollars which, we are informed, was withdrawn by Audubon himself on June 2, 1790, acting on behalf of a company operating in St Domingue - now Haiti. Other such transactions involved Simeon Deane (brother of Silas Deane), Bechet de Rochefontaine, Jacques Segond and Mathew Irwin. The events of the war years sometimes appear entirely in retrospect as in the claim made by the ‘Dame de Chaumont’ (Ray de Chaumont’s wife) apparently for compensation following a fire at the French Consulate in Philadelphia in January 1780: ‘Janvier 1780 Un incendie considerable ayant consumé la maision Consulaire ainsi que quantite d’effets et papiers dependant du Consulat …’ [A considerable fire having consumed the Consular household as well as a quantity of effects and papers held by the Consulate ...’] (pp47-8)

As the record came up to date, August 1783, (p26) the keepers of the Register switched to much longer entries, each running to about a page and witnessed in person by their participants and consular officials at the time of the transaction, notably the Philadelphia merchants the brothers Terrasson, Jacques Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont and Jean Holker. The variety and scope of these transactions will require years of research but examples include figures such as the engineer Louis de Villefranche and ‘Jacques Louis Duhamel Capitaine du Brigantine le Gen.l Washington’ and David Rittenhouse (p.59) issuing altered loan certificates from New York. Maritime power is much in evidence with the disposal of many ships as prizes: ‘Depot d’acte de liquidation d’une prise appellee Le Racoon', the arming of the Brig Le Hazard and, crucially, the resurfacing of French loans to Pennsylvania. Patrick Henry, Governor of Virginia features in complex agreements witnessed on 5 May 1790 and later that year (29 July 1790) the Jewish kabbalist Jacob Mayer is the subject of a claim - ‘reparation d’injures par le sieur Jacob Mayer Negociant Americain’. Figures from the future Napoleonic regime sporadically appear in this phase of the Consular record, such as the future commander Francois Etienne Kellermann (5 May 1790).

Following the French Revolution in July 1789 the Register shows a four month gap and again, after the execution of Louis XVI, duly converted to the new Republican calendar in 1793. The impact of the French revolution can be seen in Joseph Priestley’s singular appearance in the Philadelphia manuscript in September 1793 (p 109) where he seems to have sought the French Consulate as a safe haven for a far reaching agreement with his brother in law, the iron tycoon John Wilkinson, after his hasty exit from England, pursued by counter-revolutionaries. In the Register the chemist and natural philosopher witnesses the deposit of a document which he had passed before a London notary earlier in the year, a ‘Billet d’agreement de 125 millions fait a Paris… de la nouvelle compagnie… etablie en France le tout par S John Wilkinson marchard de fer en Broseley [England] and Joseph Priestley…’ [Ticket of approval of 125 million made in Paris… of the new company… established in France, the whole by S John Wilkinson iron merchant in Broseley [English Midlands town] and Joseph Priestley…] The next but one entry after Joseph Priestley’s involved a visit from Pierre Etienne Duponceau (p110) the linguist of indigenous languages and later President of the American Philosophical Society: the Philadelphia Consulate must have been an extraordinary place to be at this time.

Entries from the 1790s frequently reflect the revolutionary Caribbean in St Domingue (Haiti) and Guadeloupe which was invaded by the British in 1794. On the 7th Brumaire, Year 3, (1794, p120, also pp 157, 162) Andrew Ducomet the ‘Jeune Commandant en chef au fort St Charles’ [young Commander in Chief at Fort St Charles - later Fort Delgrès, Guadeloupe] deposited at the Consulate the formal records of the abandoned French fort including letter books and documents rescued from the military defeat: ‘Un Registre intitule Demande & Mouvement du fort St Charles’ and signed by General Collot (Governor of Guadeloupe and later a French spy in Ohio and Mississippi). The loss of Guadeloupe recurs in the submission of the artist and novelist Jules Honore Coussin Blanc (p129) who made his report through the Philadelphia Consulate regarding the ‘tribunal du district de la Basse Terre Guadeloupe’, its financial shortfall and everything ‘qu’attendre la conquete de la colonie par les anglais’ [that went with the conquest of the colony by the English].

In 1801 the Register details an elaborate reorganisation of the debt relationships between France and the USA which begins with copied documents in English from American brokers: ‘We do certify that the highest Market Value of three per ct debt of the United States on this Day the third of September 1801 - is fifty six and a quarter per cent. Signe Clement Biddle, Thomas McEven, James Glentworth, G Eddy Stock Brokers. Purchased by order of M. L.A. Pichou Commissary Generl.’ The American debts which went back as far as 1782 are laid out in complex tables over subsequent pages in order to detail the ‘Etats des Certificats du Loan Office issus de l’etat de Pennsylvanie… portant interet a 6%...’ [State of the Loan Office Certificates from the state of Pennsylvania… bearing interest at 6%].

In November 1815 the Register observed the return of the Monarchy with a formal declaration by the Consul to ‘Sa Majeste tres Chretienne pres les Etats Unis.’ The Répertoire des Acte concludes with three decades of reduced and ultimately infrequent entries for the years 1815 to 1850 that occupy the final 40 manuscript pages.
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