Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Edward Penington, 9 May 1761

To Edward Penington6

ALS: American Philosophical Society

London, May 9. 1761


I inclose you a Letter from your Kinsman Mr. Springet Penn, with whom I had no Acquaintance till lately, but have the Pleasure to find him a very sensible discreet young Man, with excellent Dispositions, which makes me the more regret that the Government as well as Property of our Province should pass out of that Line.7 There has, by his Account, been something very mysterious in the Conduct of his Uncle Mr. Thomas Penn towards him.8 He was his Guardian; but instead of endeavouring to educate him at home under his Eye in a manner becoming the eldest Branch of their House, has from his Infancy been endeavouring to get rid of him. He first propos’d sending him to the East Indies: when that was declin’d, he had a Scheme of sending him to Russia; but the young Gentleman’s Mother9 absolutely refusing to let him go out of the Kingdom, unless to Pensilvania to be educated in the College there; he would by no means hear of his going thither, but bound him an Apprentice to a Country Attorney in an obscure Part of Sussex; which after two Years Stay, finding that he was taught nothing valuable, nor could see any Company that might improve him, he left and return’d to his Mother, with whom he has been ever since, much neglected by his Uncle, except lately that he has been a little civil to get him to join in a Power of Attorney to W. Peters and R. Hockley1 for the Sale of some Philadelphia Lots, of which he is told three undivided fourth Parts belong to him; but he is not shown the Right he has to them; nor has he any Plan of their Situation by which he may be advis’d of their Value; nor was he told ’till lately that he had any such Right, which makes him suspect that he may have other Rights that are conceal’d from him. In some Letters to his Father’s elder Brother Springet Penn2 whose Heir he is, he finds that Sir William Keith survey’d for him the said Springet a Manor of 75,000 Acres on Susquehanah, which he call’d Springets-bury,3 and would be glad to know what became of that Survey, and whether it was ever convey’d away. By searching the Records, you may possibly obtain some Light in this and other Land Affairs that may be for his Interest. The good Inclinations you have shown towards that Interest, in a Letter that has been shown to me, encourage me to recommend this Matter earnestly to your Care and Prudence; and the more private you carry on your Enquiries for the present the better it will be. His Uncle has lately propos’d to buy of him Pensbury Manor House,4 with 1000 Acres of that Land near the House, pretending that his principal Reason for desiring it, was not the Value of the Land, but an Inclination he had to possess the antient House of the Head of the Family, and a little Land round it just to support it. You know the Situation of that Manor, and can judge whether it would be prudent to sell the Part propos’d from the rest, and will advise him concerning it. He has refus’d to treat about it at present, as well as to sign the Power of Attorney for the Sale of the City Lots; upon which his late Guardian has brought in an Account against him, and demands a Debt of £400 which he urges him to pay, for that as he says he very much wants the Money, which does not seem to look well. Not only the Land Office may be search’d for Warrants and Surveys to the young Gentleman’s Ancestors, but also the Record Office for Deeds of Gift from the first Proprietor and other subsequent Grants or Conveyances. I may tell you in confidence, that some Lawyers here are of Opinion, that the Government was not legally convey’d from the eldest Branch to others of the Family; but this is to be farther enquir’d into, and at present it is not to be talk’d of. I am, with much Esteem, Sir, Your most humble Servant

B Franklin

Mr E. Pennington

Endorsed: B Franklin May 9 1765

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6Edward Penington (1726–1796) was a successful Philadelphia Quaker merchant, an assemblyman (1761–62), and a judge of the Court of Common Pleas. Elected a delegate to the First Continental Congress, he refused to serve and was subsequently twice arrested on suspicion of being a Tory. DAB. His grandfather Edward Penington (1676–1701) was a half-brother of Gulielma Springett (1644–1694), who was William Penn’s first wife; she was the great-grandmother of Springett Penn (1739–1766), whose Pa. estates are the subject of this letter. Thus Edward Penington and young Springett Penn were second half-cousins once removed. Since the Proprietor Thomas Penn was the son of William Penn’s second wife, he and Penington were not related. But because Penington lived in Pa. and was related, however distantly, to Springett, Thomas Penn chose him to represent the youth in a Pa. land transaction, an action the Proprietor almost immediately regretted. Penn to Richard Peters, Dec. 8, 1759, Penn Papers, Hist. Soc. Pa.; see also above, pp. 260–2.

7In 1731, after years of litigation, John, Thomas, and Richard Penn, the sons of William Penn by his second wife, bought the claims of their elder half-brother’s son, William Penn 3d (father of Springett) to the soil and government of Pa. The transaction, so far as it related to government, was not completed until 1744.

8Thomas Penn was Springett’s great-uncle, not uncle.

9Anne Vaux Penn (d. 1767), William Penn 3d’s second wife.

1William Peters (1702–1789), lawyer, judge, and register of the Admiralty (1744–71), succeeded his younger brother Richard as secretary of the provincial Land Office, serving from 1760 to 1765. DAB under “Richard Peters (1744–1828).” Richard Hockley was the provincial receiver general.

2Springett Penn the elder (1701–1731).

3The warrant of survey for Springettsbury (in York Co., Pa.), signed by Governor Keith and dated June 18, 1722, is printed in Pa. Col. Recs., III, 184–5. A re-survey, ordered by Gov. James Hamilton in 1762 but not completed until 1768, showed that the manor contained 64,520 acres. 3 Pa. Arch., IV, no. 63.

4A two-story brick mansion built by William Penn. Pennsbury Manor, on which the house stood, contained 8431 acres and was about twenty-five miles from Philadelphia on the Delaware River near the present Tullytown. PMHB, LIX (1935), 91–3.

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