Petition Regarding a 'Disloyalty Hoax', 1706-1707

In 1706 an incident arose in the British Province of New York (which today is New York City) involving bogus letters written in French supposedly by an expatriate Frenchman (Capt. Benjamin Faneuil) living in America. Capt. Faneuil was thought to be hostile to the British because several unsigned letters attributed to him were opened aboard a British vessel (by Capt. Newenhuysen) who was carrying mail to England. The British sloop, Constant Abigail was supposedly overtaken and boarded by a French Privateer who demanded that the mail sacks be opened for the purpose of robbery. In so doing, the letters were read. These letters ostensibly contained sentiments which suggested that the loyalty of the French expatriate Huguenots in America was to France at a time when France and Britain were at war with one another. Evidently there were elements within the colony that sought to foster contempt for the French Huguenots in New York at a time when Britain and France were exchanging hostilities.

"Meanwhile, the people of the entire province and partly of the city, were thrown into a panic (afterward known as the "French Scare") by rumors to the effect that the French fleet were about to transfer their operations from the West Indies to the seaports of the English colonies, especially that of New-York. The fear of such an event taking place seems to have so greatly permeated the minds of the people, almost to the exclusion, at this time, of all other topics, that it is singular, that, scarcely any writer upon the colonial history of New-York at this period should have alluded to it.

"Yet it was a question, that during the entire administration of Gov. Cornbury this deeply [concerned] the community. This is manifest by the different measures continually taken by the colonial government to avert such a catastrophe. [Forts were erected or strengthened - cannon placed etc. In July 1706, a French privateer off New Jersey caused great concern and reports from Maryland about French attacks and the capture of seven ships, added to the worries.]

"In fact one would suppose that during the years 1704-06 an intense fear of a French invasion occupied the people to the exclusion of all other topics. " [The author notes that in this time frame the NY Council Minutes "relate almost entirely to the defense of New-York City"]

Source: Memorial History of the City of New York
by James Grant Wilson,
Pub. by New York History Co., 1892 (pp 69-72)

When this 'disloyalty' was discovered, it caused a backlash against the French expatriates living in New York. For example, correspondence bound for France on British vessels was ordered to be thrown overboard. However, the Huguenots, including Capt. Benjamin Faneuil, were in fact loyal to Britain and they sought to expose the perpetrators of this hoax by collectively writing a petition to Lord Cornbury denouncing the individual(s) responsible and requesting that an investigation take place. Later, when Capt. Faneuil was exonerated, they petitioned Lord Cornbury again requesting permission to publish the court's decision.

This is how the 'Disloyalty Hoax' unfolded:
1. Feb 10
French Protestant refugees petition Lord Cornbury to investigate claims of former French prisoner of war Capt. Morris Newenhuysen, regarding an alliance between the refugees and French citizens, to capture New York. [Petition not signed by Daniel Crommelin].

2. Feb 24
John van Brugh, shipmate of Newenhuysen, gives his deposition, attesting he found some letters on a French ship which he gave to Newenhuysen, who read them and tossed them overboard.

3. Feb 25
Newenhuysen makes a deposition that while prisoner on a French privateer he came across letters, seemingly from Benjamin Fanueil of New York, inviting the French to capture the city. Commissioners Thomas Wenham, R. Mempesson and John Barborie report the two depositions to the governor, with the notation that they showed Newenhuysen letters written in French and that he understood "very little or nothing of either of them."

4. Mar 4
Lord Cornbury's examination and verdict. The council exonerates Benjamin Fanueil.

5. Mar 9
The French refugees in New York petition Lord Cornbury to do what he can to stop the rumors flying around the colony and to publish pertinent documents proving the accusations false. [Petition signed by Daniel Crommelin].

Source: Alfred V. Wittmeyers's book:
Registers of the Births, Marriages and Deaths
of the Eglise Francoise a la Nouvelle York From 1688 to 1804
and Historical Documents relating to the French Protestants in New York...

- Edited by Rev. Alfred V. Wittmeyer, 1886

Main title under which this was found is:
Collections of the Huguenot Society of America - Volume 1.
Digital book found at website

"The French Protestants Refutation of Charges against them of disloyalty to England."

A Full and just Discovery of the weak and slender foundation of a most pernicious slander
Raised against the French Protestant Refugees Inhabiting the Province of New-York,
but more particularly affecting Capt. Benjamin Faneuil, a Person of considerable note amongst them.

Printed and Published by Lisence [sic] of His Excellency Edward Viscount Cornbury, Capt. General and Governeur in Chief of the said Province in favor of justice.
[ Reprinted from the Documentary History of New York Vol 1 ]

1. First Petition by the Huguenots to Lord Cornbury

P. 353
...To his Excellency Edward Viscount Cornbury. Captain General and Governeur in Chief of the Provinces of New- York, New- Jersey and the Territories depending thereon in America and Vice Admiral of the same.

The Humble Petition of some of the French Protestant Refugees inhabiting in the City of New-York, in behalf of themselves and others.

Humbly sheweth unto your Excellency That there is lately arrived in this city, one Morris Newinhuysen, who in the year 1706, being Mate aboard a Vessel bound from here to England, was taken by the French and made a Prisoner of War.

That since his arrival, a very infamous, pernicious and detestable Report is clandestinely and industriously spread abroad amongst the Inhabitants of this City and Province, of a certain Correspondence said to be maintained by some of the French Protestants here, with the inhabitants of France tending to the taking and destruction of this City by her Majestys declared enemies, which has been discovered by said Newenhuysen by letters which were found ( as is said ) on board the said vessel, and were by him seen, opened and read after his being taken.

Which your Excellencys Petitioners are in good hopes will prove altogether false and untrue, it being a crime of so high a nature in itself, and so much abhorred by your Excellencys Petitioners and been as yet unable, by legal proofs, to fix the slander and Infamy on any particular Person and so very uneasie under so general an Accusation, and having good reason to believe that it takes its original and rise from the said Morris Newinhuysen.

They therefore make the humble Application to your Excellency to cause the said Morris Newinhuysen, and all others who may appear concerned, to be strictly examined upon the same Report, that if any such offence in this respect, be found out, they may be punished according to the nature of their crime, and the innocent be protected and secured from the great damage and hurt of the infamy so vile and great a crime in such methods as shall seem most agreeable to your Excellencys great prudence and Justice.

And your petitioners as in duty bound, shall pray &c

Stephen De Lancey, Paul Droilhet
Elias Nezereau, Augustus Jay
Abraham Jouneau, Jean Cazale
Thomas Bayeux, Benjamin Faneuil

Feb. 10 1707/8

[You will note that Daniel Crommelin did not sign this first petition, but on the second one, he did.]

2. Deposition of Capt. John Van Brugh - excerpts

P. 356 "Examinations"

That he [Capt. John Van Brugh] was taken by a French Privateer about 50 Leagues from the Lands End of England on or about the 9th day of November 1706...

[found] "letters to the effect, that if the French would come to New-York, the place lay in disorder"
Sworn Feb 24, 1708

3. Capt. Newenhuysen's Deposition

P. 354 "Examinations"
- Morris Newinhuysen of the City of New-York, Marriner, being Sworn on the Holy Evangelists, saith -

That being Master of the Sloop Constant Abigail, whereof John Van Brugh was Captain, he was taken in the said sloop the 9th of November 1706 about fifty leagues of [sic] Scilly, by a French Privateer.

That after he was taken, one John Thompson, Boatswain of the Sloop and one of the Frenchmen belonging to the Privateer, were together in the Cabbin of the Sloop, opening the letters, in hopes to find a piece of money, for he could not read. That the said Thompson called the Deponent to come into the Cabbin to him where there was a candle burning.

That Thompson told this Deponent there was some letters directed to France, which he desired the Deponent to read, because, perhaps they might find some Bills of Exchanges in them; whereupon the Deponent looking he found some of them were not signed, and said he believed there was Roguery in them because they were not signed.

That amongst these letters there was one pretty near three sides, wherein was something mentioned, according to

P. 355
the best of this Deponents understanding, to this effect. That if the French Squadron that took Nevis had come hither, they would have met with less resistance. That the letter being writ in French and the Deponent understanding very little of that language, he could not make out the whole sence [sic] of the letter.

That this Deponent likewise saw at the same time several other letters directed to France, which seemed by the character to be writ by several persons, two of which said letters were signed by Piere [sic] Bontecou but that he read neither of the said letters signed by the said Bontecou.

That by the said Captain von Brugh's directions, he looked over the letters sent from this place, on board the said Sloop for England, and put them in a bag, and the bag into the said Van Brugh's chest but that he did not then perceive say letters directed to France.

That this Deponent about a day or two after he saw the said von Brughen [ note spelling variation] in France, he acquainted him with what he had discovered in the aforesaid letter.

And further this Deponent saith not.

M. Van Niewenhusen
Sworn before a Committee of the Council the 25th of February 1707

**** On same page is this:
George Clarke
New York April 19, 1708
The afore written is a true copy of the Original in my Office.
Geo. Clarke

4. Lord Cornbury's Decision

P. 357
Order of Council Exonerating at a Council Captain Faneuil
held at Fort Anne in New-York the 4th day of March 1707-8

[In this time period another serious outbreak of yellow fever likely caused many of the inhabitants to flee to New Jersey and elsewhere.]

Present His Excellency Edward Viscount Cornbury
Rip Van Dam Esqr
John Barberie
Thomas Wenham
Adolphe Philipse Esqrs

...Having considered the Deposition of Morris Newenhuysen and John van Brugh...
declares unanimously, that they do not think there is any ground to suspect Captain Faneuil of holding a Correspondence with France, nor to prosecute him here on the aforesaid Deposition.

By order of His Excellency in Council
Geo. Clarke

5. Petition for Leave to Print the Proceedings and Exoneration

P. 358

To His Excellency ( Gov. General etc etc )
The Humble Petition of some of the French Protestant Refugees...

Humbly sheweth unto your Excellency that upon their former petition on this behalf your Excellency was graciously pleased to search out the bottom and foundation of a certain false Rumor, in clandestine manner spread abroad, of some of the Inhabitants... having held and maintained a Correspondence ( with some in France ) discovering the weakness and strength and fortifications of this province, and how easily it might be made a conquest to the French, her Majestys declared enemies.

[ They thank him and continue ]

The rumors thereof... & others means has in a strange manner overspread the whole Province and altho, it be variously with great uncertainty, yet yet with of pernicious consequences to all the French Refugees in general and disturbs their peace and quiet, and obstructs that affection and famialarity which they had formerly enjoyed with the other Inhabitants of the Provinces, to their just grief........

They therefore humbly Pray, may it please your Excellency to.. let them have Copys of all Minits and Entries.... together with a Lisence to the Printer to imprint the same..... for the clearing and vindication of their Reputation in this respect...[ etc]

Stephen De Lancey
Elias Nezereau
Abraham Jouneau
Thomas Bayeux
Paul Droilhet
Jean Cazale
Daniel Crommelin
John Auboyneau
Francis Vincent
Alexander Allaire
Benjamin Faneuil