Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from David Finney, 27 February 1774

From David Finney8

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Newcastle, Febry. 27th. 1774.


Being under the necessity of prosecuting an Appeal to the King and Council, respecting some Lands in Kent County on Delaware, am induced to direct the Appeal from our Supreme Court and Law proceedings, to your care and management; in confidence, that from the Friendship which I have understood subsisted between you and my deceased Uncle David French, (of Newcastle) and the knowledge you have of my Father, Doctor John Finney, of the same place, you will be pleased to negotiate the affair for me.9

I therefore hope Sir, That you will on receipt of the Papers, herewith transmitted, lay the State of my Case before such Counsel as you approve of, to whom be pleased give such Fees as you think proper.1

I have by this Conveyance, sent you a Bill of Exchange for £50 Sterling. One of same tenor and date, together with another Copy of the Law proceedings in my Cause, and a Volume of our Acts of Assembly, I expect you will receive by the Brigantine Recovery Captn. Lawrence from Philadelphia.

I intend to send you by the next Conveyance from Philada. another Bill of Exchange for 50. or £60. Sterling.2 If more than those Sums are requisite in the prosecution of my Suit I shall thankfully pay your Order the amount of such deficiency, or remit it to you, and make you an honorable recompence for your trouble on this occasion.

I am limited (by our Laws) to Eighteen Months in the Ent’ring of the Appeal,3 so that no time is to be lost in the prosecution of it, if the Counsel shall be of opinion that the Issue will probably terminate in my favor.

My friend, Mr. John Dickinson,4 and some other eminent Lawyers here, are of Opinion, that my Appeal is founded in Law and Equity, and my Opponents have offered me a considerable Sum not to prosecute my Appeal.

If any further instructions are necessary to be transmitted, please direct to me at Newcastle. I am, Sir, Your most humble Servant

David Finney

P.S. My Father presents his most respectful Compliments to you.

B Franklin Esqr

Endorsed: Quy is it Oct. 20. 1769 or Oct. 21

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8Finney (d. 1806) was American by birth and supposedly educated in Ireland; he returned to establish a successful law practice in New Castle, Del., and in later life became a judge. Gregory B. Keen, “The Descendants of Jöran Kyn, the Founder of Upland,” PMHB, VII (1883), 466–9.

9David French (d. 1742), a poet in his youth, became a lawyer and held a number of appointive and elective offices in Delaware. His brother-in-law, Finney’s father, practiced medicine for half a century in New Castle and became one of its wealthiest citizens; he was alive when this letter was written, but died shortly afterward. Ibid., III (1879), 221–3; IV (1880), 234–9. Neither he nor French nor David Finney has appeared in earlier volumes.

1The appeal to the Privy Council and a lengthy statement of the case, which were presumably enclosed with this letter, are among BF’s papers in the APS. BF engaged Thomas Life as Finney’s solicitor (Finney to BF, July 10, 1781, APS); Richard Jackson rendered an opinion in May, 1774, which is also among BF’s papers. The case was extremely involved. It grew out of an entailed estate left to David French by his father, with reversion in sequence to the lines of several sisters, among them Finney’s mother. Finney claimed the inheritance through her, against two other groups of claimants who had acquired parts of the land; one of the two rested its case on a Delaware statute of doubtful legality. The appeal reached the Privy Council in October, 1774, was referred to a committee, and apparently died after the war broke out; Finney later inquired somewhat wistfully what had happened. Acts Privy Coun., Col., V, 402–3; Joseph H. Smith, Appeals to the Privy Council from the American Plantations (New York, 1950), p. 653; the Finney letter cited above.

2He did not send the second bill. BF, a few months after he returned home, sent Life £100 to continue the case in London, and noted that half that sum was a loan of which he expected prompt repayment. Memorandum Book, 1757–76 (APS), entry of Sept. 13, 1775.

3By a provision in a local statute passed in 1760: Laws of the State of Delaware … (2 vols., New Castle, Del., 1797), I, 377.

4Undoubtedly BF’s old political opponent, the author of Letters from a Farmer. He was an outstanding lawyer, and he had roots in Delaware; see above, XI, 10 n.

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