The Americans believed, Bonvouloir wrote, "that they won't be able to hold [the colonies] without a nation that protects them by sea," and understood that France was in the best position to provide that help. Afraid to carry this message to Guines personally, "for the matters are so delicate that with all the good will possible, I tremble as I walk," he sent the missive in care of a trusted messenger.
Information providers such as Bonvouloir often neglect at their peril the fact that information can flow in two directions. Bonvouloir did not know that his message from America to France contained a highly inaccurate rebel assessment of the Continental forces—as about to seize Boston, Montreal, and Quebec, and as
consisting of fifty thousand well-dressed paid soldiers and an even larger number of unpaid volunteers. The reality was far more pallid: Washington's army numbered at most twenty thousand; Montreal's small British force had voluntarily vacated the town, but the Americans could not hold it; and the Continental army was on the verge of being definitively repulsed at Quebec. Moreover, Bonvouloir asserted, the Americans were potent and highly motivated. "They are more powerful than we could have thought, beyond imagination
powerful; you will be astonished by it. Nothing shocks or frightens them, you can count on that. Independency is a certainty for 1776; there will be no drawing back."
Despite American and French efforts to maintain the secrecy of the assignations with Bonvouloir, the British government—whose spies were indeed everywhere—knew of the chevalier's mission before he landed in Philadelphia, including details of his ship and its captain's political stripe. In London this news heightened
officials' concerns regarding a potential alliance between France and the American colonies. For the Americans to be meeting with Bonvouloir meant to the British that what they had feared, a mutual courtship of France and America, had begun.
A Mutual Courtship
"The true science of a sovereign."
In Philadelphia, even before the close of 1775 the Committee of Secret Correspondence received verification of Bonvouloir's contention that supplies could readily be obtained from France. Two French export-import traders showed up on Congress's doorstep wanting to provide those supplies and bearing introductions from merchants in Rhode Island and from Washington, to whom after meeting they had sent "two bottles of the Ratifia of Grenoble, three of fruit preserved in Brandy, one dozen of oranges and fifty Small Loaves of Sugar."
Such gifts the traders may have deemed necessary because they were aware that Americans didn't like the French. A dozen years after the close of the French and Indian War, Americans retained a strong residual fear of and distaste for all things Gallic. Washington and some of his current top commanders had served with the British against the French in that war, and none had been able to forget how the French had repeatedly urged their Native American allies to commit savage acts on American settlers, and engendered a fear of their forcibly converting all of New England's Protestants to Catholicism.
Even as Catholicism's grip on the governance of France loosened, Americans continued to demonize the religion and its adherents. In 1773 a friend and correspondent of Franklin's, the Congregationalist reverend Samuel Cooper, gave the annual endowed lecture at the Brattle Street Church in Boston on the "tyranny, usurpation, fatal errors, abominable superstitions, and other crying wickedness" of the Catholic Church. In June 1774 many Americans railed against Britain's recently passed Quebec Act, which struck down the
requirement that Canada's Catholics pledge allegiance to Protestantism and restored French civil law throughout a territory extending a thousand miles along the upper Midwest, a measure seen as enabling the spread of Catholicism to the detriment of Protestantism. A scholar of religion in that period, Michael S.
Carter, writes that to New England Protestants in 1775, Catholicism was less a religion than "a form of spiritual and intellectual slavery and that was the antithesis of their free, rational, and pure religion." Another scholar, Glenn Moots, suggests that "anti-Catholic rhetoric was more about politics than it was about theology," since Catholicism was equated with encouraging tyrannical rule.