The Sad Story of Pierre Landais Part Deux

Within hours of Captain John Paul Jones relieving him of command of the frigate Alliance, Landais began scheming to get his ship back. Rather remain in port, he went to Paris to meet with the American delegation. Franklin and Deane told him that as the squadron commander, Jones had the power to relieve him of his duties.

Arthur Lee, who was constantly feuding with the other two members of the mission – Silas Deane and Benjamin Franklin – thought otherwise. Lee told Landais that his commission was given to him by the Continental Congress and neither Franklin nor Jones could relieve him.

While Jones was ashore, Landais rounded up all the seamen and officers who he was sure supported Jones and held them below under armed guard.  He then announced that he was back in command of Alliance.

Instead of confronting Landais, Jones went to Paris where Franklin wrote orders to Landais to leave the ship. He also convinced the French Minister of Marine to issue an arrest warrant for Landais.

Armed with these documents, Jones returned to L’Orient only to find that Landais had sailed the ship to nearby Port Louis. Seeing Franklin’s orders, the French Port Captain placed a boom across the harbor mouth and provided Jones with a force to take back Alliance. Landais threatened the attackers with cannon fire and they, with Jones’ consent, withdrew. The boom was removed and Alliance with Landais in command, left for Philadelphia with a half dozen passengers, one of whom was Arthur Lee and his cargo on board.

During the voyage, Landais’ eccentric, quarrelsome and often bizarre behavior caused several incidents with the passengers and crew. On at least three occasions, the ship’s crew refused to obey his orders. Ultimately, Landais was confined to his cabin and the other officers encouraged First Lieutenant, James Degge to take command of Alliance and sail to Boston, the nearest U.S. port.

With the ship safely docked, Landais was ordered off the ship and he refused and had to be forcibly removed. The Board of Admiralty in Boston directed the Continental Navy to conduct two court martials. One would examine Captain Landais’ conduct and the other would determine if Degge and other conspired to mutiny.

Alliance’s next captain, John Barry, was the president of the two boards. Landais was found guilty of four infractions: (1) refusing to obey lawful orders; (2) allowing private goods (Lee’s) to be carried on a naval vessel; (3) not setting an “good” example for his passengers and crew; and (4) not vacating the ship when relieved and ordered to do so. His sentence was “to be broke and rendered incapable of serving in the Navy in the future…”

Degge, on the other hand, was acquitted of all charges. Yet, he was not allowed to stay in the Navy.

After his conviction, Landais returned to France. England and France were again at war in 1792 and he was given command of a French frigate. His command lasted less than a year before a mutiny forced him to return to Brest where Landais was relieved of command. He traveled to New York to sue the new U.S. government for prize money owed to him for ships taken while Alliance was under his command. In 1806,the Congress paid him $4,000 and rejected all other claims. Another attempt to be paid what he believed was the remaining prize money failed in the U.S. Senate in 1815. Landais died in New York City several years later, an impoverished, unhappy man.

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