William Lee to the Commissioners
Frankfort Jany. 23d. 1779
In consequence of directions to me from the State of Virginia, to endeavour to obtain from the French Ministry a quantity of Canon, arms and ammunition, for the use of that State,1 I applyed accordingly to Count de Vergennes, when his Excellency replyed, that was a business in the department of the Secretary at War, and that he tho’t it best to get you to apply to Prince Mont Barry for them: accordingly I am now to request that you will endeavor to procure these articles, of which a List will follow this, for the State of Virginia, which will not only be a service to that State, but of an essential benefit to the common cause of America.
The State is willing to engage to pay for these things, as soon as ever circumstances will permit it, to send their Commodities to Europe for that purpose. I have no doubt of your willingness to render the State this Service and if you are fortunate enough to succeed, on your informing me at what Ports in France these articles can be most conveniently deliver’d, I will endeavour to have them convey’d to Virginia.
I have the Honour to be with the Highest Consideration Gentlemen Your most Obedt. & most Humble Servt.
RC (PPAmP: Franklin Papers); addressed: “To The Honourable Benjamin Franklin, Arthur Lee & John Adams Esqires Commissioners from the United States of America, to the Court of Versailles at Paris”; docketed, probably by William Temple Franklin: “Wm Lee Jany. 23 1779.”
1. On 19 May 1778 the Council of Virginia requested Patrick Henry to order William Lee, the state’s agent, to procure the arms and ammunition needed to fortify Yorktown. No action was taken on Lee’s request to the Commissioners. In a reply to Lee’s renewed request of 30 March, Franklin denied having seen the original and asked whether the supplies had not already been obtained by Arthur Lee. Not until 17 June, in reply to yet another letter from Lee, did Franklin state, in terms indicating his lukewarm support for the project, that he had applied to the French government. The matter apparently ended on 1 Sept., when Lee, having heard nothing more, informed Franklin that he should take no further action (H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia, 3 vols., Richmond, 1926–1929, 1:276; Letters of William Lee, ed. Worthington C. Ford, 3 vols., Brooklyn, 1891, 2:611–614; Cal. Franklin Papers, A.P.S. description begins I. Minis Hays, comp., Calendar of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin in the Library of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1908; 5 vols. description ends , 2:91, 136; Lee Family Papers, Microfilm, Reel 6, f. 197–198). For accounts by Lee of his own and his brother’s efforts to procure arms, see his letters to Benjamin Franklin of 27 June 1779 and to Thomas Jefferson of 24 Sept. 1779 and 15 Aug. 1780 (Letters of William Lee, 3:695–696; Jefferson, Papers description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen (from vol. 21), and others, Princeton, 1950– description ends , 3:90–93, 551).