Prudence, week 2

(The pictures above are of the Continental Frigate Confederacy;  John & Sarah Jay;  Conrad Alexandre Gerard de Rayneval)

This week, we will talk together about how John Jay used Prudence in dealing with being shipwrecked and the sulking of Conrad Alexandre Gerard de Rayneval, the French Ambassador to the Continental Congress.

The Continental Congress chose John Jay for an urgent mission in September of 1779 — he would go to Spain as Minister Plenipotentiary.  Spain hadn’t officially recognized the new United States — John’s mission was to negotiate for that recognition, and obtain money and military assistance in the War for Independence.  John was told to sail for Spain at the end of October.

John’s mission was dangerous in several ways.  Crossing the Atlantic by sailing ship was especially hazardous during winter — there were frequent storms then.  Also, the British Navy was hunting for American ships, and would capture or sink them.  John and his wife Sarah decided to make the voyage on board the Continental Frigate Confederacy, a 32-gun warship, and not a regular merchant ship.  With them went the French Ambassador, Rayneval, and his wife Mariette Nicole.

About a week into their voyage, the Confederacy ran into a strong winter storm and was dismasted.  The rudder also broke and started pounding holes into the sides of the ship, letting in water.  The ship was drifting, completely out of control.  It took several days for the sailors to jury rig a mast that would carry one sail, and fix the rudder well enough so they could steer again.

John, Captain Harding, and Rayneval had to decide what to do now.  The Captain recommended sailing south for the island of Martinique — it was only about 500 miles away, and the weather would get calmer as they got further south.  He thought this was the safest thing to do.  Rayneval insisted they continue east to Spain, even though it was over 3,000 miles away, the ship was badly damaged, and they could well run into more winter storms.  He made it clear that he expected the Americans to do it his way, and got pretty pushy about it.

John talked this over privately with Captain Harding and his officers.  They all agreed emphatically that trying to get to Spain was now too dangerous.  John thought so to, but didn’t want to quarrel with Rayneval — the new United States needed all the help it could get from France.  He asked Captain Harding and his officers to write up a report on why it was safest to go south.  After reading this, Rayneval told them that if that was the way they all felt about it, he just wouldn’t bother to give his opinion anymore — he started to sulk.

John told Captain Harding that he should make the decision.  The Captain immediately set the ship on course south for Martinique.  The Confederacy arrived safely a few weeks after the accident, in mid-December.  From there, John and Sarah were able to reach Spain in a new ship.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  John Jay understood his mission to Spain was personally risky.  It wasn’t just the winter storms, but his ship might be captured or sunk by the British — who would put him in jail for being a rebel.  He also knew the United States needed help from Spain in the War of Independence.  Do you think it was prudent of him to accept the risks of his mission?
  2.   After the Confederacy was badly damaged, continuing east for Spain became very dangerous — one officer said “they were at great risk of perishing in the ocean.”  But John’s mission was very important.  Was sailing south for Martinique the prudent course to take?  Why?
  3.   Rayneval went on sulking over not getting his way all the way to Martinique.  John tried hard to improve relations with him, even though he was behaving poorly.  Was it prudent for John to care about Rayneval’s hurt feelings — or should he have just told him to jump in the ocean and swim to Spain, if he was in such a big hurry?

Please share your answers to these questions, and your thoughts about Prudence, with our school community by using the form below.

© T.R. Booker, 2018

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