Gustavus Conyngham [1747-1819]

Fast writes of Conyngham not only in this story, but as a secondary character in his unpublished screenplay, "Benjamin Franklin Part III: Franklin in France." Not much had been written about Conyngham in 1944, when One-Man Navy was published in Woman's Day (reprinted in its entirety a year later as Conyngham in Patrick Henry and the Frigate's Keel, except for the deletion of the final three words of Conyngham's description of the Revenge: "She was trim, small, but fast as a witch.").
Fast writes in his introductory paragraph, "You won't find his story in the histories, not even his name." And in his closing paragraph, "Conyngham was forgotten; even his name isn't in most histories." There was no article in the 11th (1911) edition of the Britannica, none in Chambers's Biographical Dictionary (1967), none in Webster's Biographical Dictionary (1976). But his name is beginning to appear. Below is the article from the New Encyclopædia Britannica (15th edition, 1993):

Conyngham, Gustavus (b. c. 1747, County Donegal, Ire.--d. Nov. 27, 1819, Philadelphia), American naval officer who fought the British in their own waters during the United States War of Independence.
Conyngham was taken to America in his youth and apprenticed to a captain in the West Indian trade. Advancing to shipmaster, he was employed to bring gunpowder from The Netherlands at the outbreak of the American Revolution but became stranded in The Netherlands. The American commissioners in France supplied him with a commission dated March 1, 1777, and sent him forth from Dunkirk, Fr., in May in an armed lugger. He captured a packet plying with mail between England and The Netherlands and brought it and another prize back to Dunkirk. Upon British protest, Conyngham and his crew were imprisoned, the prizes restored, and the captain's commission confiscated. The commissioners secured his release, supplied him with a new commission and the cutter Revenge and sent him again on a cruise out of Dunkirk. Sailing around the British Isles and operating off Spain and in the West Indies, he took 29 prizes in the ensuing two years, but he was finally captured, carried to England, and threatened with death as a pirate. Amid threatened reprisals on the part of the Continental Congress, Conyngham escaped to The Netherlands, where, in 1780, he joined John Paul Jones in a cruise in the frigate Alliance.
From the end of the war in 1783 until his death in Philadelphia in 1819, he waged a hopeless fight to gain recognition by Congress of his rank in the Navy. Almost a century after his death the commission that the French had confiscated and that could have substantiated his claim was found in the collection of a Parisian autograph dealer.


Books about Conyngham:

Jones, Charles Henry [1837-1911]. Captain Gustavus Conyngham; a sketch of the services he rendered to the cause of American independence. [Philadelphia] The Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution, 1903. 32 p. front., plates (part col.) ports. 26 cm.

Neeser, Robert Wilden [1884-], ed. Letters and papers relating to the cruises of Gustavus Conyngham, a captain of the continental navy, 1777-1779. New York, Printed for the Naval history society by the De Vinne press, 1915. liii p., 1 ., 241, [1] p. front., plates, ports., facsims., fold. tab. 24 cm. (Publications of the Naval History Society. vol. 6; 600 copies printed for the Society only.)
óReprint of the 1915 ed. 1970, by Kennikat Press, Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat American Bicentennial. liii, 240 p. illus., facsims., port. 22 cm. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN: 0804612803)

Coleman, Eleanor S. Captain Gustavus Conyngham, U.S.N.: Pirate or Privateer, 1747-1819. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1982. xii, ill., 183 pp. 21.5, 23 cm. Bibliography: p. 183. ISBN 0-8191-2692-6 : $20.75 ISBN 0-8191-2693-4 (pbk.) : $9.50

Crawford, Michael J., ed. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. Volume 10, American Theatre: October 1- December 31, 1777; European Theatre: October 1-December 31. 1996. GPO Stock No. 008-046-00167-7, hardback, $55.00. In a campaign of eight weeks, the British win control of the Delaware River below Philadelphia, with loss of two warships and hundreds of casualties. Sir Henry Clinton directs a combined army and navy expedition up the Hudson River as a diversion in Lt. Gen. John Burgoyne's favor, capturing four forts, burning Kingston, and compelling Americans to destroy two Continental Navy frigates. A New England expedition fails to retake Newport. Continental Navy ships Alfred and Raleigh refit in France, where John Paul Jones arrives in Ranger. Gustavus Conyngham, in Continental Navy cutter Revenge, operates out of Spanish ports.

Fast could conceivably had access to either or both of the first two.


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