Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Thomas Moffatt, 12 May 1764

From Thomas Moffatt5

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Newport Rhode Island May 12th 1764


Three days ago on my return from an excursion of pleasure I was favourd with Yours of Aprill 7th.6 Some years are past since I kept a register of the Barometer, Thermometer &c. and from it I find that on Decr. 31st 1751 Fahreenheits thermometer fell two lines below Cypher and next day or Janr. 1st in the morning the mercury was at the same station but before evening rose up three lines above blank and next morning eight. This was the greatest degree and continuance of cold I ever knew at Newport. I do not remember that ever the mercury mounted up to Eighty four in Summer but once in Agust 21st 1759. I should be fond of knowing the extent or utmost heat you have observd in summer at Philadelphia.7

I never saw any fever like unto that describd as the yellow or bilious fever though I have often heard of it but on visiting the persons I always found the characters or type of that distemper wanting. That fever being the confessd offspring of heat and moisture may be brought into Philadelphia in your hot season and may even be communicated to others but will I suppose be much milder than in the Climate proper to generate and produce it and therefore will decline or dysappear with the first temperate and cool weather.8 Violent exercise in some habits or constitution may induce fevers of the greatest rapidity with other circumstances attending the yellow fever but [I] suppose the difference would be very conspicuous in many points at least it appears so to me.

I do not think our College will ever be executed in any respect otherwise I would have sent you the Act and Charter.9 It would perhaps have been better if all foundations of this sort in America had been united or conjoind to the first as they are all too narrow and poor at bottom to produce the liberal fruits of art and knowledge.1

We are agitated here with imperfect rumours from home about our Charter. The (few) Friends to regular and good government are wishing for a deprivation while the Herd deplore it as a Calamity.2 I salute you with the greatest esteem and respect and am Sir Your most Obedient Humble Servant

Thomas Moffatt

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5Thomas Moffatt (c. 1702–1787), Scottish-born physician, studied at Edinburgh and Leyden, and followed his uncle John Smibert, the painter, to Newport in 1729. There he practiced medicine, collected art, and became librarian and director of the Redwood Library. He established a snuff mill and brought Gilbert Stuart, father of the painter, from Scotland to manage it. A member of a club of Newport conservatives, Moffatt strongly supported the strengthening of royal authority in the colonies, as this letter shows. During the Stamp Act disturbances he was hanged in effigy, his house was sacked, and his paintings, books, and scientific instruments destroyed. The British government compensated him by appointment as collector of customs at New London. In 1775 he took refuge in Boston with the army and then went to England, where he lived out his life on a pension of £200. Henry Wilder Foote, John Smibert, Painter (Cambridge, Mass., 1950), esp. pp. 34, 46–7; Edmund S. and Helen M. Morgan, The Stamp Act Crisis Prologue to Revolution (Chapel Hill, [1953]), pp. 47–52, 145–8, 301.

6Not found.

7This would probably have been on Sunday, June 18, 1749, when the temperature in Philadelphia reached 100° F. See above, IV, 336; VIII, 110.

8For Dr. John Mitchell’s writings on yellow fever, see above, III, 17–21, 41–4; and for the Philadelphia epidemic of 1747, above III, 179, 228, 276.

9The charter of the College of Rhode Island (now Brown University) was voted by the two houses of the General Assembly, March 2 and 3, 1764, although the governor did not affix his signature until Oct. 24, 1765. An organizational meeting took place Sept. 5, 1764. Considerable controversy occurred because of rivalries between the denominations, chiefly the Baptists and Congregationalists, over control of the institution. William C. Bronson, The History of Brown University, 1764–1914 (Providence, 1914), pp. 34–5, 501.

1In May 1759 Francis Alison of the College of Philadelphia had passed on to Ezra Stiles a suggestion from Thomas Clap of Yale for a somewhat more limited association among the colonial colleges. It would have called for uniformity on plan of education and college laws and refusal by any college to admit a student expelled by another without prior consultation. Franklin B. Dexter, ed., Extracts from the Itineraries and other Miscellanies of Ezra Stiles, D.D., LL.D. 1755–1794 with a Selection from his Correspondence (New Haven, 1916), p. 423.

2At this time Rhode Island politics were inflamed by a personal feud between two leaders, Samuel Ward (above, V, 504 n) and Stephen Hopkins. Moffatt and his conservative friends, particularly Martin Howard, Jr., disgusted by what seemed an excess of democracy, started a campaign in the spring of 1764 for the revocation of the charter of 1663 and the establishment of royal government in the colony. E. S. and H. M. Morgan, Stamp Act Crisis, pp. 47–50. Their newspaper articles are discussed with quotations in Bernard Bailyn, ed., Pamphlets of the American Revolution 1750–1776, I (Cambridge, Mass., 1965), 524–7.

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