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Julien Alexandre Achard de Bonvouloir

Julien Alexandre Achard de Bonvouloir

French envoy
Julien Alexandre Achard de Bonvouloir
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro French envoy
Is Diplomat
From France
Type Politics
Gender male
Birth 10 May 1749
The details (from wikipedia)

Biography

Julien Alexandre Achard de Bonvouloir (10 May 1749 Passais-la-Conception - 1783) was a secret French envoy to the American colonies, in 1775.

Family

His ancient family from Poitou and Normandy was divided into three branches: Achard de Bonvouloir, vente and Achard de Leluardière. The eldest Achard had the right to lead the Bishop of Angoulême for saving the city from the infidels. The Achard also fought against the Saracens, a cross commemorates this battle; on it was recorded "The Achard, the Tison, the neighbor across the country have driven the Saracens.

His brother was Luc René Charles Achard de Bonvouloir.

Bonvouloir was a 'prodigal son'. He had immigrated to St. Domingue, where he volunteered in the Régiment du Cap fr:Régiment du Cap. He traveled in America and then went to London. He mainly wanted recognition for his efforts, and hoped to become a commissioned officer. He had no espionage experience, and did not speak English.

Vergennes' instructions

Adrien-Louis de Bonnières, duc de Guînes, the French ambassador to the Court of St. James's, proposed him for the mission: he had recently returned from America, and was willing to undertake a secret mission for 200 louis d'or.

The foreign minister Vergennes gave him detailed instructions. He was not to represent himself as an official agent of France, with the cover as an 'Antwerp merchant'. He could not make any commitments, but rather assure the Americans of French sympathy. He was to tell the Americans that the French had no designs on Canada, and hint that French ports would be open to trade. He was to contact Benjamin Franklin, who had visited Paris in the 1760s.

Mission

He set sail for America on September 8, 1775. It was a rough crossing, the journey took twice as long as usual. He had one acquaintance, who might provide access to Franklin: Francis Daymon was a merchant who had been born in Paris and immigrated to Philadelphia, where he married an American. Daymon spoke English well and supplemented his income by tutoring people in French. And he was a part-time librarian, with Franklin's Library Company of Philadelphia.

Bonvouloir contacted Daymon. When the librarian told Franklin about the encounter, Franklin was wary: this could be a British spy; however, after some further deliberation, felt the benefits justified the risks. In spite of Bonvouloir's fervent disavowals, it was clear he was acting on the orders of the French government.

Meetings

It was agreed that members of the Committee of Correspondence would meet with him. Carpenter's Hall was chosen for a night-time rendezvous that would involve only four men: Franklin, fellow committee-member John Jay, Francis Daymon and Bonvouloir. A larger group would only attract unwanted attention. Daymon was needed to act as an interpreter. Franklin was far from fluent in French at the time, and it was important that no misunderstandings arise. There were three long meetings, between December 18 and 27, 1775.

Franklin's house on High Street was only about a block from the hall. The second floor of Carpenter's Hall was divided into two large rooms. The east room housed the Library Company's books, where the library directors met, while the west room was home to its many scientific devices and equipment.

John Jay later recalled Achard de Bonvouloir as an "elderly, lame gentleman, having the appearance of an old, wounded French officer." He rigidly adhered to his instructions: "I made them no offer, absolutely none." But Franklin and Jay assumed that he was a French agent. They wanted to know if France would aid America, and at what price. He said yes, France might come to the rebels' aid, but he did not know what the conditions would be; he promised to forward the request for military engineers. They asked about the possibility of obtaining arms and munitions, in exchange for American commercial goods. He stressed the French government would not take part in such transactions, but business would be outsourced by private French merchants.

Franklin and Jay were encouraged that France was interested in helping the American cause. The secret Committee of Correspondence was encouraged by the meetings, and on March 2, 1776, they appointed Connecticut lawyer and revolutionary leader Silas Deane as a special envoy to negotiate in Paris with the French government.

Reports

As soon as the meetings were over, Achard de Bonvouloir sent messages back to France. On December 28, he penned an account of both the clandestine encounters at Carpenter's Hall, and his impressions of the general situation:

As I expected I found this country in an incredible turmoil. The Confederates [rebels] are preparing themselves extensively for the coming spring and despite the severity of the season, they continue the fight. They besieged Montreal, which surrendered, and are presently close to Quebec, which I think will do the same soon... They are well entrenched near Boston... They have an unbelievable eagerness and goodwill: it is true they are led by capable people. Everyone here is a soldier, the troops are well clothed, well paid and well armed. They have more than 50,000 regular soldiers and an even larger number of volunteers who do not wish to be paid. Judge how men of this caliber will fight. They are more powerful than we could have thought, beyond imagination powerful; you will be astonished by it. Nothing shocks or frightens them, you can count on that. Independency is a certainty for 1776; there will be no drawing back..

This was an exaggeration: Washington's Continental Army never had more than 18,000 to 20,000 men at a time, and usually the figures were much lower; the troops were badly paid, badly clothed, and had to endure periods of sickness and semi-starvation.

French aid

Achard de Bonvouloir's positive report reached France on February 27, 1776; it gave Vergennes ammunition to persuade King Louis XVI to aid the rebellious colonies. France and Spain were not ready for open hostilities with Britain, but they agreed to secretly aid the rebellion. Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais through a dummy company, Hortalez & Cie, was set up to funnel arms and supplies to America. While still maintaining an official neutrality, France was fully committed to providing substantial secret aid to the Americans.

Aftermath

Achard de Bonvouloir went to Canada, where he was captured and imprisoned by the British. He returned to France, June 1777, and helped by his brother, went back to America in hopes of becoming a merchant. He was captured by the British, landed in France, in July 1778, and unsuccessfully sought Franklin’s help in 1778. He managed to get a commission in the French navy, sailed to India in 1781, and died there in 1783.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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