Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to William Strahan, 4 July 1744

To William Strahan

ALS: Yale University Library; also duplicate: University of Pennsylvania Library

Philada. July 4. 1744


I receiv’d your Favour per Mr. Hall, who arriv’d here about two Weeks since, and from the short Acquaintance I have had with him, I am persuaded he will answer perfectly the Character you had given of him.7 I make no doubt but his Voyage, tho’ it has been expensive, will prove advantageous to him: I have already made him some Proposals, which he has under Consideration, and as we are like to agree on them, we shall not, I believe, differ on the Article of his Passage Money.

I am much oblig’d to you for your Care and Pains in procuring me the Founding-Tools; tho’ I think, with you, that the Workmen have not been at all bashful in making their Bills. I shall pay a Proportion of the Insurance, &c. to Mr. Read,8 and send you a Bill of Exchange by the very next Opportunity.

I thank you for Mr. Dobbs’s Piece. I wish that publick-spirited Gentleman may live to enjoy the Satisfaction of hearing that English Ships sail easily thro’ his expected Passage. But tho’ from the Idea this Piece gives me of Capt. Middleton, I don’t much like him, yet I would do him the Justice to read what he has to say for himself, and therefore request you to send me what is publish’d on his Side the Question.9 I have long wanted a Friend in London whose Judgment I could depend on, to send me from time to time such new Pamphlets as are worth Reading on any Subject (Religious Controversy excepted) for there is no depending on Titles and Advertisements. This Favour I take the Freedom to beg of you, and shall lodge Money in your Hands for that purpose.

We have seldom any News on our Side the Globe that can be entertaining to you on yours. All our Affairs are petit. They have a miniature Resemblance only, of the grand Things of Europe. Our Governments, Parliaments, Wars, Treaties, Expeditions, Factions, &c. tho’ Matters of great and Serious Consequence to us, can seem but Trifles to you. Four Days since our Naval Force receiv’d a terrible Blow. Fifty Sail of the Line destroy’d would scarce be a greater Loss to Britain than that to us: And yet ’twas only a new 20 Gun Ship sunk, and about 100 Men drowned, just as she was going out to Sea on a privateering Voyage against the King’s Enemies.1 She was overset by a Flaw of Wind, being built too sharp, and too high masted. A Treaty is now holding at Newtown in Lancaster County, a Place 60 Miles west of this City, between the Governments of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, on one Side, and the united Five Nations of Indians on the other. I will send you an Account of it when printed, as the Method of doing Business with those Barbarians may perhaps afford you some Amusement.2

We have already in our Library Bolton’s and Shaw’s Abridgements of Boyle’s Works. I shall, however, mention to the Directors the Edition of his Works at large; possibly they may think fit to send for it.3

Please to remember me affectionately to my old Friend Wigate,4 to whom I shall write per next Opportunity. I am, Sir, Your most obliged humble Servant

B Franklin

Addressed: To  Mr Wm Strahan  Printer  London

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7David Hall (1714–1772), born in Edinburgh; a journeyman first in Watts’s printing office in London, then with Strahan. On the latter’s recommendation BF employed him as a journeyman, 1744, intending to set him up in a printing office, presumably in the West Indies. Hall’s voyage to Philadelphia was expensive, he came down with jaundice, and he thought BF was reserved about revealing his intentions. Replying to Hall’s unhappy complaints, Strahan assured him that BF’s terms were “very fair,” advised him “to trust to his Generosity... and he will deal honourably by you,” and predicted that Hall would “have all the Reason in the World” to like BF, “for he seems to me by his Manner of writing to have a very good Heart, as well as to be a Man of Honour and Good Sense.” Strahan to Hall, March 9, June 22, 1745, MSS, APS. BF’s reserve thawed and he became so pleased with his industrious new journeyman, that instead of setting him up in a distant partnership, like Timothy, he made him his partner in Philadelphia, Jan. 1, 1748. “He took off my Hands all Care of the Printing-Office,” BF wrote in his autobiography, “paying me punctually my Share of the Profits. This Partnership continued Eighteen Years, successfully for us both.” Par. Text edit., p. 300. When the partnership expired in 1766, Hall carried on the business with a new partner. As Hall and Sellers, the firm continued to publish the Gazette and Poor Richard’s Almanack, and to print paper money, the Assembly’s Votes and Proceedings, and the laws of the province. DAB. Many of Strahan’s letters to Hall, 1750–73, are printed in PMHB, X–XII (1886–88), LX (1936).

8James Read (1718–1793), a relative of Deborah Read Franklin, who had met Strahan in London, 1739–40.

9The controversy was between Arthur Dobbs (1689–1765), a wealthy, public-spirited Irish landlord, and Christopher Middleton (d. 1770), F.R.S., a scientific navigator, and captain for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Dobbs’s reading had convinced him that there was a practicable Northwest Passage; he got the Admiralty to organize an expedition of discovery and persuaded Middleton to command it, 1741. On his return, 1742, Middleton reported no passage west from Hudson’s Bay, but only a fresh-water river, Wager Strait (now Bay). An anonymous letter led Dobbs to suspect that Middleton had accepted a bribe from the Hudson’s Bay Company not “to look in to those Places where he had Reason to expect a Passage” and to conceal his discoveries by falsifying his records and charts, and he made the charge before the Admiralty. Middleton replied publicly in A Vindication of the Conduct of Captain Christopher Middleton (London, 1743). Dobbs answered in Remarks upon Capt. Middleton’s Defence (London, 1744), which is “Mr. Dobbs’s Piece” for which BF thanks Strahan. An acrimonious quarrel ensued: Middleton issued four more pamphlets, and Dobbs two. Middleton’s reputation suffered for a time, especially after Dobbs persuaded the Admiralty to send out a second expedition, 1746. Its findings, however, confirmed Middleton’s report. Dobbs was governor of North Carolina from 1754 until his death. DNB; DAB; Desmond Clarke, Arthur Dobbs, Esquire, 1689–1765 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1957).

1The episode was reported in full in Pa. Gaz., July 5: “Sunday last [July 1] the Tartar, Capt. Mackey, sail’d down the Bay in order to proceed on his Cruise, but being (as ’tis said) over-masted, and not well ballasted, she was unfortunately overset, by a slight Flaw of Wind, near the Capes, and sunk immediately in about 8 Fathom Water. The Captain with about 60 Officers and Seamen were saved in her Long-boat, and went ashore at the Cape; 14 were taken up by Capt. Plasket in a Pilot Boat; and Capt. Claes, who was coming in from Barbadoes, ran his Vessel near the Ship, and took up 47. The rest perished. ’Tis expected she will soon be weigh’d, and with some Alterations, fitted out again, as she is a most extraordinary Sailor; so that we hope our Enemies will hardly hear of the Misfortune, before they find they have no great Reason to rejoice at it.”

2BF printed the treaty, announcing its publication September 6. It is printed in facsimile in Carl Van Doren, ed., Indian Treaties Printed by Benjamin Franklin, 1736–1762 (Phila., 1938), pp. 41–79. The meeting took place June 22–July 4 at the Court House in the recently incorporated town of Lancaster.

3Peter Shaw’s abridgement of Boyle’s Philosophical Works (2d edit., London, 1738) is listed in the Library Company’s catalogue of 1741. Richard Boulton’s Works of Boyle “Epitomiz’d” (London, 1699), was purchased in 1744. The Library acquired the five-volume edition of Boyle’s Works (London, 1744), about which Strahan had written, in 1769, when it incorporated the collection of the Union Library Company.

4John Wigate (or Wygate) was a journeyman in Watts’s printing office in London when BF worked there, 1725. Better educated than most printers, he was “a tolerable Latinist, spoke French, and lov’d Reading.” BF taught him to swim. The two became warm friends, and Wigate proposed that they travel through Europe together. Par. Text edit., pp. 122–4. He was clerk under Middleton on the search for the Northwest Passage, and gave evidence against his commanding officer in the hearings at the Admiralty.

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