Benjamin Franklin Papers

Franklin’s Ostensible Withdrawal from the Walpole Company: Two Letters, [on or after 24 January 1774]

Franklin’s Ostensible Withdrawal from the Walpole Company: Two Letters

I. AL: Library of Congress
II. ALS: New York Public Library; draft:1 Library of Congress

Franklin had for some time been playing a minor role in the affairs of the Walpole Company. The greater his unpopularity in Whitehall, the less the promoters of the grant wanted to emphasize his connection with them. He was well aware that he was a liability, according to William Strahan, and as early as 1771 had offered to withdraw.2 Thomas Walpole did not accept the offer at the time, but by the beginning of 1774 the situation had changed. Although a committee of the Privy Council had instructed the Attorney and Solicitor General the previous October to draw up a grant to the Company,3 the law officers had done nothing. They were ignoring their instructions, Samuel Wharton complained, in order to sabotage the whole scheme.4 The Attorney General put the matter differently: the grant would not be made, he said, while one of the grantees was a man who merited no favor from the crown.5 Many interests opposed the grant for diverse reasons,6 and Franklin’s being a shareholder strengthened their hand; developments in Massachusetts were making its agent an albatross around the Company’s neck. Walpole must have decided that he could wait no longer. With the note below he enclosed the suggested draft of a letter, predated January 12, renouncing Franklin’s ties with the Company. The American copied the draft with a few changes, and returned it.

Several aspects of this transaction are puzzling. First, why did Walpole act when he did, and then ask to have the reply predated; was it mere coincidence that the 12th was the day after the preliminary hearing before the Privy Council on the petition from Massachusetts? Second, why did he not leave Franklin to write his own letter, instead of suggesting to him one with an oddly structured argument? Third and most important, what was the meaning of the episode? On the surface Franklin withdrew from the Company; as he said to Bishop Shipley, “I have declin’d my Share in the Ohio Purchase.”7 In fact he did nothing of the sort, but remained an active if silent partner.8 Soon after his return to America he was one of four principals who signed a power of attorney for the Company.9 He continued to pay the charges on his two shares until 1777, when he negotiated the return of his unexpended balance.1 In 1778 he asked to have back this letter of resignation and, when Walpole sent it to him, appended a memorandum, in which he explained that the shares were still valid and would, he hoped, benefit his descendants; his reason for resigning had been to obviate the Attorney General’s objection to the grant.2


Monday 24 Jany. [1774]

Mr. Walpole presents his compliments to Dr. Franklin, and sends him hereinclosed the plan of a letter submitted to his consideration and if Dr. Franklin approves it Mr. Walpole desires it may be dated the 12. of this month.

Addressed: To / Dr. Franklin / Cravenstreet / Strand


Cravenstreet, Jan. 12 [i.e., on or after Jan. 24]. 1774


Being told that some Persons in Administration have suggested, That my Conduct in Affairs between this Kingdom and North America do not by any means entitle me to such a Mark of Favor from Government, as that of being a Proprietor in the Grant of Lands on the Ohio, to be made to yourself and Associates, I think it necessary to inform you, That I never considered the Agreement with the Treasury for these Lands as a Matter of Favor, unless it was such from us to Government, by showing them that the Lands they used to give away might produce something to the publick Treasury. The Agreement for them was fair and publick,3 at a Price fully adequate to their Value; and as the Lords of Trade have superadded several considerable Charges more than are immediately relative to the Expence of supporting the Government of the Colony (which, besides the Purchase-money and Quit Rent, is all we contracted to pay) and have rated that Support enormously high, in my Opinion, for an infant Colony, I can4 never consider the Purchase of those Lands as a Favour from Government, nor a great Bargain to the Purchasers. I do therefore desire that you will strike my Name out of the List of your Associates, and hereafter not look upon me as one of them. I wish you however all Success in your hazardous Undertaking, and am, with great Esteem, Sir Your most obedient and most humble Servant

B Franklin

Honble. Thomas Walpole Esqr

Endorsed: Paper that may be of Consequence to my Posterity5

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

1The draft, enclosed in Walpole’s letter (I), is in the hand of an amanuensis often used by Samuel Wharton, who doubtless composed it. BF penciled on it the changes noted below that he made in his ALS.

2Above, XVIII, 65.

3Above, XX, 328 n.

4To Thomas Pitt, Jan. 25, 1774, Dartmouth Papers, Staffordshire County Record Office, D(W) 1778/II/795. This document, like others from the same source printed and cited later in this volume, was made available to us by courtesy of the Earl of Dartmouth.

5From BF’s memorandum discussed below.

6See Lewis, Indiana Co., pp. 137–40.

7Below, March 10, 1774.

8Rumors to that effect soon reached Philadelphia. “Its given out,” Thomas Wharton wrote Walpole on May 2, 1774, “that notwithstanding he has resigned his share in the Ohio Colony, yet when all’s finished he is to be reinstated, you best know how this affair stands.” PMHB, XXXIII (1909), 330–1.

9Below, April 11, 1775.

1To Walpole, Jan. 12, and from him, Feb. 1, 10, and March 5, 1777. All but the first, which is in private hands, are in the APS.

2The memorandum, dated July 14, 1778, is with his ALS in the New York Public Library.

3The draft reads “As a Matter of Favor; But as a fair and publick Agreement.” The agreement was by the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury on April 7, 1770, to the purchase money and quitrents proposed by Walpole and his associates. [Samuel Wharton,] Statement of the Petitioners in the Case of the Walpole Company ([London, 1771?]), p. 15.

4The draft reads “supporting the Colony (which is all We contracted to pay) And I can,” etc. The “considerable Charges” added by the Board of Trade, in its report of May 6, 1773, were £10,000 from the proprietors as security for the salaries of officials in Vandalia: Kenneth P. Bailey, ed., The Ohio Company Papers … (Arcata, Cal., 1947), p. 275.

5BF’s endorsement was made after Walpole, as explained in the headnote, returned the letter to him, and presumably refers less to it than to the attached memorandum.

Index Entries