First American Floats Across English Channel

In January, 1785, Dr. John Jeffries, a Boston physician, made an eventful trip across the English Channel in the balloon of aviation pioneer, Francois Blanchard.

Jeffries, a Loyalist during the American Revolution who doctored the British Navy and left with the British troops for Halifax, was also an avid hobbyist ballooner. Blanchard was a well-known early participant in the early balloon flights which inspired a “balloonmania” in Europe. Decorative items and even clothing were detailed with images of balloons or styled au ballon.  There was even a hairstyle dubbed à la Blanchard.

Jeffries financed Blanchard’s entire trip, though he was taken aboard only under strict conditions, having had to promise Blanchard he would jump overboard if necessary to reduce the weight. Preparing to depart, Blanchard put on a weighted girdle to up his weight and avoid taking Jeffries “which wasn’t very fair,” in the words of the 1916 account of Some interesting Boston events.

Blanchard did not go over the side during the three hour voyage, but spectators lining the cliffs of Dover saw the men discard:

“first their ballast, then Dr. Jeffries’ pamphlets, next their biscuits, apples, etc., then the ornaments of the car, and even the only bottle they had with them (the contents of which have never been disclosed!). Finally as they neared the French coast, the balloon again descended so rapidly that they began to throw over the clothes that they were wearing, one article of apparel after another, and when finally Dr. Jeffries caught hold of the topmost branch of one of the trees on the shore of the Continent and arrested the progress of the balloon, it was necessary for them both to search for an entirely new supply of clothing.”

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