J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

“Full restitution to the French proprietors”

In John Burke’s Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry, I came across this story about Dr. Joseph Fox (1729-1785) of Falmouth, England.

As a Quaker, Fox felt an “attachment to the principles of peace, and of a resolution not to participate in profits derived through war.” That produced a problem during the Revolutionary War.
Joseph had a small share in two cutters, with other owners, who, at the commencement of hostilities with France, in 1778, armed these vessels as letters of marque, in order to capture French merchantmen. He remonstrated against this proceeding, and offered to sell his share, but in vain; the majority was against him.

The enterprise was successful, and some valuable ships were captured. His co-partners then endeavoured to prevent him from receiving his proportion of the proceeds, but he insisted upon it, and lodged the amount in the British funds, not disclosing the circumstance to any of his family, but resolving at the first opportunity to make full restitution to the French proprietors.

On peace being restored, in 1783, he took measures for that purpose, and in the following year commissioned his son, Dr. Edward Long Fox [1761-1835], to proceed to Paris, where he first communicated the circumstances to him by letter. Much delay and difficulty obstructed the settlement of the business, and early in 1785, while it was yet in progress, Mr. Joseph Fox died.

A notice was inserted in the Gazette de France, of the 25th February, in that year, and applications in consequence being speedily made by most of the sufferers, the sum of £22,000 was restored to the principal claimants, who made a spontaneous acknowledgment in the same Gazette . . .

A small sum still remained in the hands of Dr. Fox, the equitable proprietors of which could not be discovered, and the breaking out of the [French] revolutionary war and other circumstances, prevented the disposal of it for many years. At length, in 1818, this sum having increased to about 15,000 francs, he again proceeded to Paris, and, after instituting various enquiries as to the best means of its appropriation, he placed this amount in “the treasury of the invalid seamen of France,” for the relief of “non-combatants” of the merchant service…
The Foxes’ mission got some attention from the British press, such as the Edinburgh Magazine in 1785.

Dr. Fox’s Wikipedia page includes a more verbose version of the same story, apparently derived from a pamphlet titled “The Prize Money Restored” and published by some later generation of the family. Surprisingly, that text seems to exist on the open web only on Wikipedia.

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