Adams Papers

Arthur Lee to Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, 22 January 1779

Arthur Lee to Benjamin Franklin and John Adams

Jany. 22d. 1779


M. Monthieu calld on me yesterday, but I was too ill to see him. I suppose it was to urge the payment of his demand, which I am by no means yet satisfyd is due.1 The Papers he has given in, instead of vouching <it>, render it suspected. The only true and sufficient Voucher is the receit which Mr. Williams did give, or ought to have given to M. Peltier de Doyer at the time he sa<id>ys he deliverd to him the goods chargd to the Public. It is impossible that men one year engaged in Merchandize, coud have faild the one asking and the other giving a Receit for goods really deliverd. It is to no purpose to remark the contradictions and defects of the Papers given in. They are abundant, but the want of the necessary and usual receit gives such an appearance to the business that I cannot think myself justifiable in giving my consent to pay the demand. I am only sorry that I have consented to the payment of so much already on the faith of a man who had no receit to shew.2

I have the honor to be, with the greatest respect and esteem &c. &c.

A L.

P.S. The delivery of Mr. Williams’s receit is the more necessary, as it is that only which shoud satisfy us, that the Articles deliverd were for the public and make Mr. Williams accountable for them, as having been receivd by him for the public use. The evidence Mr. Peltier has given in to us, says only, that he delivered certain Articles to Mr. Williams, but not to whose use nor with any mark or numbers, nor has it any date of year, month, day or place. We know perfectly well that Mr. Williams was shipping goods for himself and others as well as for the Public. It might therefore be true that M. Peltier did deliver such goods, but it will not enable us to determine for which of these uses they were deliverd. Neither does Mr. Williams in his Letter say that what he receivd was for the public use, nor does he specify what he has receivd, so as to render himself liable for the re-delivery.

N.B. M. Montieu had assurd us that he had the receit and woud send it to us.

Tr (ViU: Lee Papers); notation at the head of the letter: “LetterBook N. 4. p. 203. Honble. B. Franklin & John Adams”; at the foot of the letter: “L’Orient 15th. May 1780 Examined with the Letter book & found to be a true copy. John G. Frazier Joseph Brown Junr.” The letterbook has not been found. The transcript, made when Lee was awaiting passage to America, probably was prepared to support his case against the charges made by Silas Deane.

1John Joseph Montieu’s demand concerned his contract of 6 Aug. 1777 with Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane. Under its terms he was to supply 6,000 uniforms, 12,000 pairs of stockings, 100,000 pounds of copper, 22,000 pounds of copper sheeting and nails, 20,000 pounds of English tin, and 4,000,000 flints at a cost of 456,300 livres (PCC, No. 83, II, f. 387–390). The merchandise reportedly was received and then shipped by Jonathan Williams from Nantes on the Duchesse de Grammont, which sailed on 7 April and arrived in Portsmouth, N.H., on 20 June 1778 (Misc. Papers of the Continental Congress, Reel No. 5, f. 445–446, 449–452; PCC, No. 102, II, f. 357; Williams to the Commissioners, 14 April 1778, Franklin, Papers description begins The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree, William B. Willcox (from vol. 15), and others, New Haven, 1959– description ends , 26:286).

To support Montieu as well as to absolve himself from any liability in the matter, Williams wrote to him on 23 Dec. 1778 and enclosed documents that Montieu then submitted to the Commissioners in support of his claim. These were Williams’ letter of the 23d, in which he acknowledged receiving the goods from Peltier du Doyer; an undated receipt from Doyer stating that he had received the merchandise from Montieu and delivered it to Williams; and a statement by John Langdon, dated 30 June 1778, stating that the supplies had been received at Portsmouth.

The documents were probably first submitted to Benjamin Franklin who, in a letter written before 28 Dec. (RC, with Lee’s reply attached, MH-H: Lee Papers), noted that the receipts had been submitted and that Montieu (and by implication he also) “earnestly requests that his Accounts may be finished.” When Lee did not reply, Franklin and JA, in a letter to him dated “Monday 3/4 after 11. Clock” [28 Dec.], wrote: “Monthieu is here, and being bound to Nantes is desirous of settling his accounts [and] beg Mr. Lee to come, directly if he can, and bring any of Mr. Monthieus Papers if he has any” (CtY: Franklin Papers). Lee’s response to the first letter is dated 2 Jan.; no reply to the second letter has been found.

By 30 Dec., Arthur Lee had examined the documents submitted by Montieu. In a report of that date Lee took the same position regarding his claim as in the present letter, although in more detail, notably regarding the lack of information on the numbers, weights, and quality of the goods received, the date of Williams’ letter to Montieu, and the absence of a receipt made out by Williams at the time the merchandise was received from Peltier du Doyer (PCC, No. 102, II, f. 358–360). It is not known whether Lee showed his report to either Franklin or JA, but in his reply of 2 Jan. to Franklin’s letter of [ante 28 Dec.] he reiterated the objections contained in his report and then or later added the following to his letterbook copy of it: “Dr. Franklin who was always urging us to pay M. Monthieu’s demand without farther examination and whose importunity prevaild upon us to pay him a considerable part, upon his promise to send us Mr. Williams’s Receit; was perfectly satisfyd with the above pretence of receits” (PCC, No. 102, IV, f. 136). Lee’s objections were ultimately without effect, for in the end Montieu was paid 426,300 livres (the stockings apparently not received) by the departments of Clothing and Military Stores (Foreign Ledgers, Public Agents in Europe, 1776–1787, DNA:RG 39 [Microfilm], f. 335).

2The last payment to Montieu was on 11 Nov. 1778, for 150,713 livres (vol. 6:362), and that had been authorized by Franklin and JA. However, neither that entry nor the one in the Foreign Ledgers (f. 14) indicates whether or not it was part of the money owed him under the terms of the contract of 6 Aug. 1777.

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